China has started building more than 100 nuclear missile silos, experts have claimed.
Satellite images are said to have captured 119 silos being constructed in the desert near Yumen – more than 1,300 miles west of capital Beijing.
The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California, which obtained the commercial images, said the identical structures resemble existing silos designed to launch China's nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, according to The Washington Post.
The Communist nation is thought to have about 300 nuclear weapons – a relatively low number when compared to other superpowers. Russia and the US are understood to possess about 11,000 between them.
It is feared the new silos could prove China is expanding its arsenal.
The construction work suggests China is looking to strengthen its nuclear capabilities, Jeffrey Lewis, a director and lead researcher at the James Martin Center, told The Post.
"If the silos under construction at other sites across China are added to the count, the total comes to about 145 silos under construction," Lewis told the US newspaper.
"We believe China is expanding its nuclear forces in part to maintain a deterrent that can survive a US first strike in sufficient numbers to defeat U.S. missile defences."
He also warned the silo could fire multiple warheads as far as 9,300 miles – putting the US mainland within reach.
The alleged building work is concentrated across two sites – two miles apart – in a desert basin west and south-west of Yumen.
Many of the silos remain covered and hidden, a tactic China has reportedly previously done at its other silo sites, the Washington Post reports.
At uncovered spots, the satellites captured excavation work, with circular holes – typical of silo builds – being dug in the ground.
One image appears to reveal building work on a control centre.
China has ramped up its nuclear weapons programme recently, according to Pentagon officials.
In April, the US's nuclear forces commander Admiral Charles Richards warned of China's "breathtaking expansion" of its missile programme.
The country has also reportedly added a new nuclear submarine to its growing naval fleet.
"Defense Department leaders have testified and publicly spoken about China's growing nuclear capabilities, which we expect to double or more over the next decade," defence department spokesman John Supple told the Washington Post.
For years, satellites have been used to spot new missile silos and are relatively easy to find by trained analysts.
Despite mounting international pressure, China has so far refused to enter discussion about arms controls with the US and Russia.
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