This video shows you that China’s Nuke: Everything You Always Wanted to Know.
With its first Nuke test on October 16, 1964, China joined the other victorious allies of WWII in the Nuke club, both cementing and unsettling the [email protected] order. Hard experience of the American Nuke threat during the Korean [email protected] and the divorce from the Soviet Union, propelled China [email protected] the bomb in ways familiar to those observing North Korea’s current quest. Mao Zedong himself said in 1956, “…if we don’t want to be bullied, we have to have this thing.”
But China for all its size has made itself a limited Nuke power. It has demonstrated its ability to build very big bombs but chose to test and make few of them. The size of China’s arsenal is a highly guarded state secret, but estimates put it in the several hundreds, not thousands. Beijing can hold armies and cities at risk, but not make the rubble bounce several times over.
During the palmy days of the 1950s, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shared technical, industrial and military knowledge and material with its new communist sibling. However, by the early 1960s the relationship was on the rocks, inflamed in part by Soviet alarm at Mao’s erratic behavior and Chinese irritation over the USSR’s support of India. Without Moscow’s promised bomb prototype and fissionable material the Chinese had to do it themselves.
The first Chinese Nuke device, code-named “596” for “June 1959” when it began, was like the Soviet Union’s and Britain’s first bombs, in that it was a close copy of the “Fat Man” implosion bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Its yield – 22 kilotons – also closely matched the others but its fuel was pure Uranium-235 rather than plutonium. The CIA knew of China’s upcoming test from its new Corona spy satellites and the State Department sought to reduce the impact of the test by announcing it in advance.
Nonetheless the advent of China as the world’s fifth Nuke power caused an uproar. Taiwan wanted U.S. backing for either a preemptive strike or its own nukes. (Neither came.) U.S. analysts had missed China’s U-235 production and wondered what else they’d missed. Diplomats began exploring non-proliferation talks with the Soviets. But doubts still floated about China’s Nuke status. Sure, they now had the bomb, but could they fight with it?
Mao was determined to prove it. On May 14, 1965, less than six months after the first test a PLAAF H-6 bomber dropped a [email protected] version of the 596 at the Lop Nur Test Site in Xinjiang. The third test a year later in 1966 tested the first “boosted” design fortified with Lithium-6 fusion fuel. It yielded an impressive 250 kilotons. But China still got the “Rodney Dangerfield” treatment from foreign defense thinkers.
So on October 27, 1966 a DF-2 intermediate-range ballistic mi$$ile flew 550 miles over populated parts of China to Lop Nur where its 12-kiloton [email protected] detonated 180 feet over the Gobi Desert. It was the second all-up Nuke mi$$ile test ever conducted after the U.S. Frigate Bird test of 1962, and it quieted doubts about China’s nukes.
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