China is building a sprawling network of missile silos, satellite imagery appears to show

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The likely missile field, comprising 120 silos that could potentially house weapons capable of reaching the United States mainland, was documented by researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies using satellite imagery supplied by commercial satellite company Planet Labs Inc.

The researchers compared satellite photos taken during the past four months with images captured within the past week, finding the missile site covering a grid of hundreds of square kilometers in China’s Gansu province, said researcher Jeffrey Lewis, a Chinese nuclear weapons expert who examined the images with colleague Decker Eveleth, the first person to spot the silos.

Lewis told CNN on Friday that most of the silo construction, which has yet to be completed, has likely occurred in the past six months.

“It’s really a startling pace of construction,” he said, adding that the scope of the buildup was also surprising.

“It’s a lot of silos,” Lewis said. “It’s much larger than anything we expected to see.”

Reports of the likely new missile field came just a day before Chinese leader Xi Jinping said in a nationalistic speech on the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary that China’s rise is a “historical inevitability” and it will no longer be “bullied, oppressed or subjugated” by foreign countries.

“Anyone who dares to try, will find their heads bashed bloody against a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people,” Xi added, in comments that later appeared to be softened in the government’s own English language translation.

Satellite images appear to show four Chinese missile silos at various stages of construction.

New protection for China’s ICBMs

Though researchers have identified 120 likely silos, there is no indication they are in use, or will be used into the future. However, analysts said the silos, placed in a grid pattern, at 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) intervals, could be used to house Chinese-made DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The DF-41, also known as the CSS-X-20, is estimated to have a range of 12,000 to 15,000 kilometers (7,400 to 9,300 miles) and could be equipped with up to 10 independently targeted nuclear warheads, according to the Missile Threat Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“It is projected to be able to strike the…