USA and China's Nuclear Capabilities: A Brief Comparison
USA and China’s Nuclear Capabilities: A Brief Comparison” provides a concise examination of the two nations’ nuclear capabilities, focusing on land, sea, and air-based systems.

Satellite images have revealed China’s recent construction of numerous silos in its desert regions, purportedly designed to house intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). These developments signal China’s growing nuclear capabilities as it moves closer to matching the United States across land, sea, and air.

This article will provide an overview of how the current nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and China compare, focusing on their respective land, sea, and air capabilities.

Land-Based Systems: Minuteman III vs. DF-41 ICBMs

USA and China's Nuclear Capabilities: A Brief Comparison
Minuteman III

The United States has held a nuclear weapons lead since World War II, with its Minuteman III ICBMs constituting a key part of its triad capabilities. However, President Xi Jinping has rapidly grown China’s nuclear capabilities.

China currently has an estimated 400 warheads, with projections suggesting it could reach 1,500 by 2035. In contrast, the U.S. is restricted to 1,550 operational warheads.

China’s nuclear modernization efforts are not solely focused on increasing the number of warheads but also involve advancing its launchers in all three triad areas. In the land-based segment, China’s DF-41 ICBM is a significant development.

USA and China's Nuclear Capabilities: A Brief Comparison

This missile is capable of being deployed from silos or mobile systems and can carry multiple warheads using a Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) system. The DF-41 has a range of up to 9,300 miles, surpassing the Minuteman III’s range of over 6,000 miles.

Sea-Based Systems: Ohio-Class vs. Jin-Class Submarines

USA and China's Nuclear Capabilities: A Brief Comparison

In the sea-based segment, China’s Jin-Class submarines, armed with JL-2 missiles, are considered noisier and less stealthy than their U.S. counterparts, the Ohio-Class submarines with Trident II missiles.

JL-3 ballistic missile capable type 094 submarine

The JL-2 has a range of approximately 3,800 nautical miles, limiting China’s ability to target the U.S. mainland from waters near its coast. However, China is developing the JL-3 system, with an estimated range of over 5,400 nautical miles, potentially placing the U.S. West Coast within striking distance.

Air-Based Systems: B-21 vs. H-20 Stealth Bombers

USA and China's Nuclear Capabilities: A Brief Comparison

In the air-based segment, China is developing the H-20 Stealth Strategic Bomber, with an estimated range of 6,200 miles. Although not yet operational, this bomber could significantly extend China’s reach into the Western Pacific, including U.S. territories like Guam.

USA and China's Nuclear Capabilities: A Brief Comparison

In contrast, the U.S. has unveiled the B-21 stealth bomber, equipped with long-range nuclear cruise missiles. Despite China’s advancements, the U.S. maintains a significant advantage in air capabilities.


China’s rapid expansion of its nuclear capabilities reflects its ambition to be recognized as a major nuclear power. While it is improbable that either nation will deploy nuclear weapons, the growing nuclear stockpile of China could impact global strategic stability.

The Biden administration’s efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict through arms control talks have faced challenges, with China insisting that the U.S. should reduce its stockpile first. In the context of China’s economic and political rivalry with the U.S., its nuclear expansion underscores the complexities of global strategic dynamics.