Home Top News China Set For Nuclear Weapons Test? What Satellite Images Show

China Set For Nuclear Weapons Test? What Satellite Images Show

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China Set For Nuclear Weapons Test? What Satellite Images Show

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Construction of multiple shafts into hill-features in Lop Nur. Click here for high-resolution pic

New Delhi:

Satellite images first published in a detailed New York Times report indicate the possible reactivation of China’s Lop Nur nuclear test facility in the remote Xinjian Autonomous Region in the northwest of the country.

The images, which have since been procured by NDTV, appear to indicate that China may soon be in a position to conduct full-fledged nuclear tests or, possibly, subcritical nuclear explosions. Subcritical experiments simulate nuclear explosions by using chemical explosives.

Maxar Imagery shows multiple shafts/tunnels carved into hillsides into Lop Nur, the Chinese nuclear test site.

Maxar Imagery shows multiple shafts/tunnels carved into hillsides into Lop Nur, the Chinese nuclear test site. Click here for high-resolution pic 

China conducted its first nuclear test in Lop Nur in 1964

China conducted its first nuclear test in Lop Nur in 1964. Click here for high-resolution pic

An effort by China to step up nuclear testing would indicate Beijing’s interest in testing and qualifying some of its newest nuclear warhead designs fitted on a host of new-generation ballistic and cruise missiles.

The analysis by The New York Times is based on evidence provided by Dr Renny Babiarz, a leading international geospatial intelligence expert. Dr Barbiarz, a former Pentagon analyst, spent years studying satellite imagery of the Lop Nur facility where China conducted its first nuclear tests on October 16, 1964.

“The activity at Lop Nur comes at one of the most sensitive moments in US-China relations,” says The New York Times. “President Biden has said that he’s trying to ‘stabilise’ an increasingly contentious relationship and, at a summit meeting last month with Xi Xinping, China’s leader, sought a measure of accord.”

A recent network of roads is being constructed in desolate areas in Lop Nur. c c

A recent network of roads is being constructed in desolate areas in Lop Nur. Click here for high-resolution pic

China, for its part, has dismissed the report saying that it was “clutching at shadows, groundlessly whipping up a ‘China nuclear threat’.”

The images from Lop Nur over the last few years show a process of upgrading the facility.

“By 2017, an old site with a handful of buildings had turned into a slick, ultramodern complex ringed by security fences,” says The New York Times. “Its new structures included a bunker protected by earthen berms and lightning arresters, making it ideal for handling high explosives.”

Significantly, the images show the construction of a new airbase in the area, the construction of multiple shafts into hill-features and, perhaps, the smoking gun – a large drilling rig that was almost 90 feet tall.

A large drilling rig, almost 90 feet tall, appears to indicate the drilling of a vertical shaft in which a nuclear explosive device can be placed for a test. c c

A large drilling rig, almost 90 feet tall, appears to indicate the drilling of a vertical shaft in which a nuclear explosive device can be placed for a test. Click here for high-resolution pic

A recent image acquired by Dr Babiarz ¬†showed “not only the derrick but a stack of drill pipes and an adjacent pit of lubricating fluid for keeping the drill bit moving even deeper.” Dr Babiarz estimates that the borehole “was meant to go down at least a third of a mile,” similar in depth to vertical shafts constructed by the US at its Nevada test site.

The images also show a mini-township, believed to be a support facility for activities at Lop Nur. Within the township, known as Malan, is a rig which appears to be identical to the one at the Lop Nur site, which is located hundreds of kilometres away. This is thought to be “a training site for shaft drillers.”

The township of Malan is believed to be a support facility in Chinas Lop Nur nuclear test range. c c

This mini-township, Malan, is likely a support facility for activities at Lop Nur. The rig in this mini-township (in red circle) appears identical to the one at the Lop Nur site. Click here for high resolution pic.

China’s rocket force, a key elite part of its military arsenal, controls Beijing’s nuclear triad of nuclear missiles launched from the air, sea and land. This operates under an integrated command and control system and is in the midst of a radical expansion.

A report of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey says, “The current expansion of China’s missile forces suggests a possible departure from China’s previously restrained second-strike nuclear posture to a posture capable of deterring at multiple levels of conflict and an increased shift towards nuclear warfighting.”

The report also says that a little more than a decade back, China possessed around 50 intercontinental ballistic missiles. “The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force is now on track to deploy more than 1.000 ballistic missile launchers by 2028, including at least 507 nuclear-capable launchers.”

Images emerged a few years ago indicating the construction of a new airbase to service Chinas nuclear test facilities in Lop Nur. c c

Images emerged a few years ago indicating the construction of a new airbase to service China’s nuclear test facilities in Lop Nur. Click here for high-resolution pic

For India, which declared a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing after the 1998 tests in Pokhran, any Chinese effort at reactivating its Lop Nur range is bound to have a profound impact on regional security.

India, which has a far more modest nuclear arsenal than China, conducted a series of five nuclear explosions in May 1998, the second of its tests after the first one in 1974. While these achieved their primary objective of giving India the capability to build fission and thermonuclear devices, India is now bound to rely on computer simulations to predict the yields of any nuclear weapons that it designs.

Of all the nations known to have nuclear weapons, only Pakistan has conducted fewer nuclear weapons tests. The Army Control Association says the US has conducted 1,030 tests between 1945 and 2017, the USSR/Russia 715, France 210, while China and the UK have conducted 45 tests each.

Pakistan detonated two nuclear devices in counter-tests following India’s 1998 Pokhran explosions, while North Korea, the newest entrant into the nuclear-weapons club, is believed to have conducted six tests.

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