China Takes Nuclear Weapons Underwater Where Prying Eyes Can’t See

China is preparing to arm its stealthiest submarines with nuclear missiles that could reach the U.S., cloaking its arsenal with the invisibility needed to retaliate in the event of an enemy strike.

Fifty years after China carried out its first nuclear test, patrols by the almost impossible-to-detect JIN class submarines armed with nuclear JL–2 ballistic missiles will give President Xi Jinping greater agility to respond to an attack.

The nuclear-powered subs will probably conduct initial patrols with the missiles by the end of this year, “giving China its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent,” according to an annual report to Congress submitted in November by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Deploying the vessels will burnish China’s prestige as Xi seeks to end what he calls the “cold war” mentality that resulted in U.S. dominance of Asia-Pacific security. Since coming to power, Xi has increased military spending with a focus on longer-range capacity, including plans to add to the country’s tally of a single aircraft carrier.

“For the first time in history, China’s nuclear arsenal will be invulnerable to a first strike,” said independent strategist Nicolas Giacometti, who has written analysis for The Diplomat and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s the last leap toward China’s assured nuclear-retaliation capability.”

China’s nuclear-defense strategy is engineered to provide retaliation capability in the event of attack from nuclear powered nations as far away as the U.S. and also from Russia and India, according to Felix Chang, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

“China is going to have to reassure their adversaries that those submarines are under positive control at all times,” said Malcolm Davis, an assistant professor of China-Western relations at Bond University on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Lacking Transparency

“High-confidence assessments of the numbers of Chinese nuclear capable ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads are not possible due to China’s lack of transparency about its nuclear program,” the U.S. report to Congress said. The Pentagon hasn’t provided an estimate of the size of China’s nuclear warhead stockpile since 2006, according to the report.

U.S. Satellites

The U.S.’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities — from satellites to high-altitude drones, such as the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk — can monitor vast areas of territory and detect mobile intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, he said. Any information gleaned could be transmitted to U.S. strike assets, from long-range high-speed missiles to B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers, to take out the launchers before they fire.

Right now, China has three of those — the JIN class — and is likely to add two more by 2020, according to the Commission’s report. Each could carry 12 JL-2 missiles, which after a decade of development “appear to have reached initial operational capability,” it said.

First Use

“We must continue to modernize our nuclear capabilities,” Admiral Harry Harris said Dec. 2 at his nomination hearing to become commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, when asked how the U.S. should respond to China’s build up. Harris said that he considered North Korea, which is developing its own nuclear arsenal, to be the biggest threat to security in Asia.

Full article: China Takes Nuclear Weapons Underwater Where Prying Eyes Can’t See (Bloomberg)

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