China is reportedly eyeing up the prospect of high-speed “doomsday trains” capable of zooming around the country with high-powered missiles onboard.
The idea is to use a high-speed railway to carry intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), keeping them constantly on the go to avoid enemy detection. The so-called “doomsday trains” could even be used as a platform to launch the missiles, using highly reinforced railway tracks and foundations to absorb the deep shock of the blast. In theory, these ICBMs could be loaded with nuclear warheads.
The grand plan is still very much in its blueprint stage, but it’s the subject of a national research project funded by the central Chinese government led by Yin Zihong, associate professor of civil engineering with Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
They’ve reportedly just published a new peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Southwest Jiaotong University looking into the pros and cons of this plan.
“Compared with heavy-haul railways, high-speed railways operate faster and more smoothly. This means that on high-speed rails, the mobility, safety and concealment of military vehicles would be greater,” the researchers wrote in the study, per the SCMP.
During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union both previously had similar plans up their sleeve to use trains to either move or deploy nuclear weapons. The idea of railcar-launched ICBM hasn’t picked up much steam in recent years, but it appears to be making somewhat of a comeback. China tested an ICBM “cold launch” from a railway in 2015, while North Korea demonstrated their train-launched ballistic missiles in 2021.
China is one of nine countries confirmed to possess nuclear weapons, alongside the US, Russia, France, the UK, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea. After successfully testing nuclear bombs in the 1960s, China has since maintained an arsenal of an estimated 350 warheads, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. This nuclear stockpile is comparatively modest compared to the US and Russia, which possess around 5,500 and 6,300 nuclear warheads respectively.
China became the first nation to propose and pledge a “no first use” nuclear policy, keeping most nuclear warheads detached from their missiles during peacetime. Conversely, most states with nuclear weapons – including the US and Russia – maintain policies that would permit their first use in a conflict.
While their nuclear stocks are comparatively “minimal” to other geopolitical giants, China is almost certainly a world leader in the domain of high-speed rail. The country is home to the biggest high-speed railway network in the world, with a total length of 40,000 kilometers (24,854.8 miles) of track capable of zipping trains at speeds of 200 to 350 kilometers per hour (120 to 220 miles per hour).
Perhaps with a little bit more research, this well-oiled system of high-tech railways could be hurtling ICBMs across the country at unbelievable speeds too.