| by Emily Cipriani

News Stories, People

Aerial view of Yumen with dots showing nuclear silo construction locations
Intercontinental ballistic missile silos under construction in Yumen, Gansu Province, China.

Decker Eveleth MANPTS ’24 has identified nuclear silos under construction in China.

Before even setting foot in an Institute classroom, Decker Eveleth has already made an impact in the nonproliferation world. During his recent fellowship at the Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), Eveleth and two other researchers discovered 120 nuclear silos under construction in China’s northwestern province of Gansu. Eveleth, who will start his MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies at the Institute this fall, and his team utilized open-source satellite imagery to reveal construction activity in central China for the possible deployment of at least 250 additional land-based, nuclear-armed, long-range ballistic missiles.

The Arms Control Association says, “Their work has prompted a public debate about how the United States and China can avoid an arms race driven by mutual concerns about vulnerability to nuclear attack.”

Eveleth identified the silos by scouring commercial satellite images while interning as a nonproliferation fellow at CNS. His research benefited from images provided by a space imaging company in San Francisco called Planet, which frequently updates its photos. This allowed Eveleth to track the timing of silo construction and identify that building began in March 2020 with most of the construction occurring after February 2021. Eveleth and the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at CNS, Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, believe the silos are most likely meant for a Chinese intercontinental range-ballistic missile called DF-41, which can reach the U.S. mainland. Combined with silos under construction across the rest of China, this research brings the total number of silos currently underway to 144 silos, suggesting that China may be seeking to strengthen its nuclear deterrent strategy. Lewis commented that Eveleth “devised a clever search strategy to find the Chinese missile silos under construction. We thought they might be out there, but there were many more than either of us expected.”

Eveleth’s discovery expands upon previous research he performed with Lewis and David La Boon, in which he created an open-source map of China’s missile brigades. Eveleth’s discovery earned him a nomination for Arms Control Person of the Year, a major international award granted by the Arms Control Association, as well as a feature in the “Ones to Watch” category of Bloomberg’s “50 People Who Defined 2021.”

More information about Eveleth’s research can be found in coverage by the Washington Post, Lewis’s post on the Arms Control Wonk blog, Lewis’s column in Foreign Policy, as well as the Global Time’s condemnation.