China May Begin Naval Nuclear-Deterrence Patrols in 2014: Pentagon

A nuclear-powered submarine of the Chinese navy prepares to dive in this undated photo. The Pentagon on Thursday said China will probably start naval nuclear-deterrence patrols later this year.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
June 5, 2014, 10:47 a.m.

China will prob­ably be­gin con­duct­ing nav­al nuc­le­ar-de­terrence patrols this year, the U.S. De­fense De­part­ment said on Thursday.

Beijing has nev­er be­fore had a cred­ible sub­mar­ine force that would give it the cap­ab­il­ity to launch sub­merged long-range nuc­le­ar mis­siles. The Asi­an power last year was of­fi­cially as­sessed to be field­ing three Type 094 Jin-class stra­tegic sub­mar­ines. However, a fleet com­pris­ing at least four nuc­le­ar-armed sub­mar­ines is gen­er­ally un­der­stood to be the min­im­um quant­ity ne­ces­sary for a coun­try to be able to main­tain around-the-clock de­terrence patrols.

In a con­gres­sion­ally man­dated an­nu­al re­port on the People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, the Pentagon con­cludes “China is likely to con­duct its first nuc­le­ar de­terrence patrols with the JIN-class SSBN in 2014.”

The 87-page re­port notes the Chinese navy “places a high pri­or­ity on the mod­ern­iz­a­tion of its sub­mar­ine force.” The Pentagon es­tim­ates that China could ex­pand its Type 094 fleet to as many as eight ves­sels be­fore it starts con­struct­ing a next-gen­er­a­tion Type 096 ves­sel.

The Jin-class sub­mar­ines are un­der­stood to be armed with the new JL-2 long-range bal­list­ic mis­sile, which has an es­tim­ated range of nearly 4,600 miles. A Novem­ber 2013 re­port by a con­gres­sion­ally es­tab­lished com­mit­tee fore­cast that the JL-2 mis­sile could be put in­to ini­tial op­er­a­tion­al use be­fore the year was over.

The De­fense De­part­ment re­port does not of­fer a spe­cif­ic es­tim­ate of the cur­rent size of China’s nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al. In­de­pend­ent ex­perts have placed the num­ber at around 250 war­heads. The Pentagon does note, however, that China is ex­pand­ing the size of its mo­bile in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­sile stock­pile with the ad­di­tion in re­cent years of the Dong­feng 31A mis­sile. A more cap­able ver­sion, the Dong­feng 41, is still be­ing de­veloped, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment.

The com­bin­a­tion of the ex­pec­ted start of nav­al nuc­le­ar-de­terrence patrols and the growth in its mo­bile ICBM ar­sen­al “will force the [People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army] to im­ple­ment more soph­ist­ic­ated com­mand-and-con­trol sys­tems and pro­cesses that safe­guard the in­teg­rity of nuc­le­ar re­lease au­thor­ity for a lar­ger, more dis­persed force,” the Pentagon says.

The de­part­ment re­port briefly touches on China’s de­vel­op­ment of coun­ter­meas­ures against U.S. bal­list­ic mis­sile de­fenses, which in­clude [mul­tiple in­de­pend­ent reentry vehicles], de­coys, chaff, jam­ming, and thermal shield­ing.”

Beijing pub­licly op­poses Wash­ing­ton’s ef­forts to build an in­teg­rated re­gion­al mis­sile shield with al­lies Ja­pan, South Korea and Aus­tralia. Chinese cy­ber hack­ers were re­por­ted last year to have stolen the designs of a num­ber of U.S. mis­sile de­fense sys­tems in use in East Asia. Ex­perts be­lieve the hacks were aimed at learn­ing how to bet­ter foil the an­ti­mis­sile tech­no­logy.

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