The U.S. government is reporting that China, after decades of trying, is on the verge of fielding a true underwater leg of its nuclear deterrent, with new long-range missiles tipped with nuclear weapons on board its fleet of new long-range submarines. And that could transform the Pacific into a tense militarized zone reminiscent of the Atlantic during the Cold War.
On November 14 the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission will release its annual report to Congress, and that report will contain some sobering language about new Julang-2 missiles China plans to field in two years. (Drafts of the report, created by a Congressional mandate, have already been leaked.)
According to the report, JIN-class submarines, two of which have already been put to sea, would carry nuclear tipped missiles. Naval intelligence documents estimate five such submarines will be ready for service. The submarines and the JL-2 missile combination will give Chinese forces “a near-continuous at-sea strategic deterrent,” according to the report, and Beijing is “on the cusp of attaining a credible nuclear triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and air-dropped nuclear bombs.”
The JuLang 2 SLBM is said to have a maximum range of 8,000km and is capable of carrying 3~4 multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV),
each with a yield of 90kt; or a single warhead of 25-~1,000kt yield. The JuLang 2 SLBM is an important step for China towards a credible sea-based nuclear retaliation capability.
The JIN class submarines are also called the Type 094 submarine.
South China Sea Islands may be needed to make a safe haven for nuclear submarines
Japan Times reports that according to Sumihiko Kawamura, a former rear admiral and commander of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s antisubmarine air wing, Beijing has a more critical but less-articulated goal that, if achieved, could tip strategic military superiority from the United States to China in the Pacific.
Kawamura believes Beijing is trying to turn the South China Sea into “a safe haven” for its nuclear-powered submarines, which are armed with ballistic missiles that can reach the United States. For that purpose, seizing the Senkakus — just 190 km east of Taiwan and close to the northern gateway to the South China Sea — is indispensable.
Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) are considered China’s only viable option to maintain a strong nuclear deterrent against the U.S., because America has identified all of China’s ICBM silos and could easily destroy them in a pre-emptive nuclear strike, he says.
If Beijing maintains a second-strike capability with SLBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland, Kawamura says, this risk would possibly dissuade America from intervening in a major conflict involving China.
“This is directly related to the nuclear strategy of China. China will never give up the Senkakus,” the former vice principal of the Joint Staff College of the Self-Defense Forces.
Kawamura indicated the MSDF has the capability, with the U.S. Navy, to contain China’s submarines within the South China Sea, which is partially enclosed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The MSDF’s nonnuclear “ultraquiet” submarines, working together with the U.S. Navy, can find, track and even sink any Chinese submarine that tries to enter the Pacific Ocean by crossing anywhere along a sea line that runs from the Japanese main islands to the Philippines via Okinawa and Taiwan, Kawamura said. The Chinese navy calls the line the First Island Chain, given its strategic importance.
“(We can) sink Chinese submarines anytime we want if it comes to a showdown” in the Pacific Ocean, said Kawamura, who in August published a book detailing a possible Japanese-Chinese military clash over the Senkaku Islands.
“No option is left (for China) except for trying to make the South China Sea a safe haven and defending submarines carrying nuclear missiles there,” Kawamura said.