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Defence & Aerospace

China takes nuclear weapons underwater where prying eyes can’t see


Fishermen look at a Chinese nuclear submarine sails past Yalong Bay in Sanya, south China's Hainan Province.

Fishermen look at a Chinese nuclear submarine sails past Yalong Bay in Sanya, south China’s Hainan Province.

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.

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 Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s the last leap toward China’s assured nuclear-retaliation capability.”

China’s nuclear-defence 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.

Nuclear ‘Hedge’

While China doesn’t view North Korea as a direct nuclear risk, officials are concerned about what might happen if North Korea threatened South Korea or Japan and the region became unstable, Chang said.

China’s nuclear-armed submarines will be “useful as a hedge to any potential nuclear threats, including those from North Korea, even if they are relatively small,” he said.

The deployment of the submarines could pressure China to assure foreign militaries that its navy chiefs and political leaders can communicate with and control them. Chinese and U.S. ships and planes are coming into greater proximity in the Pacific as China asserts its claims to territory in the South China Sea and East China Sea, risking near misses or a clash.

Former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in an interview in January that ex-President Hu Jintao “did not have strong control” of the People’s Liberation Army. The “best example,” Gates said, was China’s roll out of its J-20 stealth fighter jet during a visit he made in January 2010. The event seemed to catch Hu unaware, Gates said.

‘Positive Control’

Since coming to power Xi has tightened his grip on the military, taking over as head of the Central Military Commission in November 2012, when he became Communist Party chief. Hu waited about two years before becoming chairman of the commission.

“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.

“Positive control” refers to the procedures to ensure the CMC’s absolute control of its nuclear assets, such as the authorisation codes it would send to submarines, where, after verification by the commander and probably two other officers, missiles would be launched.

‘Potential Enemies’

“It demands that China set up appropriate command and control infrastructure to ensure that the CMC can keep in touch with the submarines, even when they are at sea and under the water,” said Davis. “The U.S., U.K., France and Russia all maintain such communications capabilities for ensuring positive control” of their submarines at sea.

By assuring potential enemies that weapons will only be fired if ordered by central command, China’s military would increase the deterrent value of its nuclear-armed submarines, he said.

“Those assurances are likely to be made at the highest level military-to-military meetings behind closed doors,” Davis said. Otherwise China is largely expected to keep its nuclear capabilities secret.

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.

China’s defence ministry did not reply to faxed questions about when regular patrols by nuclear-armed JIN-class submarines would begin, or China’s nuclear strategy.

The modernisation of China’s nuclear forces is focused on improving the capacity to deter other nuclear powers, said Giacometti, speaking by phone from Brussels.

Until 2006, its only ballistic missile able to deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental U.S. was the liquid-fuelled, silo-based DF-5A, he said. These were considered vulnerable because fuelling takes a few hours during which the missile must remain in its silo. To protect them, China built mock silos and adopted a policy of secrecy that made a disarming first strike harder to execute.

In 2006, China introduced the land-based mobile DF-31A ballistic missiles, whose 6,959-mile (11,200 kilometre) maximum range could reach the U.S. The missiles are solid-fuelled, so can be fired almost immediately if warheads are pre-fitted, Giacometti said.

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.

In comparison to the land-based launchers, nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines that rarely need to surface are much better at hiding.

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.

Coastal Waters

The JL–2’s range of about 4,598 miles means China could conduct nuclear strikes against Alaska if it unleashed the missiles from waters near China; against Alaska and Hawaii if launched from waters south of Japan; against Alaska, Hawaii, and western continental U.S. if fired from waters west of Hawaii; and against all 50 U.S. states if launched from waters east of Hawaii, the report said.

“The big scoop would be determining where those submarine patrols will take place,” said Chang.

The submarines are expected to initially confine themselves to China’s coastal waters and the South China Sea where they could roam with little chance of detection. For the missiles to reach Hawaii or the continental U.S. the submarines would need to foray into the western Pacific and beyond, which Davis from Bond University said would be “more challenging because they’d have to run the gauntlet of U.S. anti-submarine capabilities.”

China’s advances are cause for concern in some parts of the U.S. defense establishment.

First Use

“We must continue to modernise 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.

Analysts don’t expect China to modify its longstanding “no-first-use” nuclear policy that states its weapons will only be used if China comes under nuclear attack.

Having enhanced its nuclear-deterrence capability, China may begin to communicate more about the planned evolution of its nuclear forces, Giacometti said.

“More openness on China’s side might then open up more space for confidence-building measures and lay the ground for future arms control discussions,” he said.

Source: Bloomberg – “China Takes Nuclear Weapons Underwater Where Prying Eyes Can’t See”

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About chankaiyee2

Author of the book "Tiananmen's Tremendous Achievements" about how with the help of Tiananmen Protests, talented scholars with moral integrity seized power in the Party and state and brought prosperity to China. The second edition of the book will be published within a few days to mark the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Protests All the parts in the first edition remain in the second edition with a few changes due to information available later and better understanding. There are also some changes for improvements of style. The new parts are Chapters 12-19 on events in China after the first edition was published: The fierce power struggle for succession between reformists and conservatives; Xi Jinping winning all elders’ support during his mysterious disappearance for 2 weeks in early September, 2012; and Xi Jinping Cyclone. Chan Kai Yee's new book: SPACE ERA STRATEGY: The Way China Beats The US An eye-opening book that tells the truth how the US is losing to China. The US is losing as it adopts the outdated strategy of Air-Sea Battle while China adopts the space era strategy to pursue integrated space and air capabilities: It is losing due to its diplomacy that has given rise to Russian-Chinese alliance. US outdated strategy has enabled China to catch up and surpass the US in key weapons: Hypersonic weapons (HGV) that Pentagon regards as the weapon that will dominate the world in the future. Aerospaceplane in China’s development of space-air bomber that can engage enemy anywhere in the world within an hour and destroy an entire aircraft carrier battle group within minutes. Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, anti-ASAT weapons, stealth aircrafts, drones, AEW&C, etc. The book gives detailed descriptions of China’s weapon development based on information mainly from Chinese sources that the author monitors closely. U.S. Must Not Be Beaten by China! China is not a democracy. Its political system cannot prevent the emergence of a despotic leader or stop such a leader when he begins to bring disasters to people. A few decades ago, Mao Zedong, the worst tyrant in world history did emerge and bring disasters to Chinese people. He wanted to fight a nuclear war to replace capitalism with communism but could not bring nuclear holocaust to world people as China was too weak and poor at that time. If a despot like Mao Zedong emerges when China has surpassed the US in military strength, world people will suffer the misery experienced by Chinese people in Mao era. China surpassing the US in GDP is not something to worry about as China has the heavy burden to satisfy its huge population, but China surpassing the US in military strength will be world people’s greatest concern if China remains an autocracy. US people are of much better quality than Chinese people. What they lack is a wise leader to adopt the correct strategy and diplomacy and the creative ways to use its resources in developing its military capabilities. I hope that with the emergence of a great leader, the US can put an end to its decline and remain number one in the world. China, US, space era strategy, air-sea battle, space-air bomber, arms race, weapon development, chan kai yee

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