Dismissing China’s Jin SSBN class is wrong
Nuclear disarmament advocates like Hans Kristensen (a lifelong anti-nuclear activist) and Jeffrey Lewis both dismiss China’s Jin class of ballistic missile submarines as obsolete and comparable only to the Soviet Delta III class, with Lewis wrongly calling the Jin class “a good deterrent – for the 1960s”.
But they are wrong. And as advocates of America’s unilateral disarmament, they have an incentive to lie, specifically, to minimize and downplay the Chinese threat.
And the Jin class is hardly an obsolete deterrent fit only for the 1960s.
Kristensen and Lewis base their false claims on two false arguments: that the Jin class is noisy, and that the range of its SLBMs is sufficient only to reach Alaska and Hawaii. Lewis has even said that he’s willing to sacrifice Anchorage (where two of my friends live) for Taipei.
But they are wrong.
While the first Jin class boat was indeed noisy, as depicted by the Office of Naval Intelligence, this is not a problem for the Chinese Navy. If the Jin class patrols in constrained, congested waters like the Sea of Japan or the Philippine Sea, it’s quiet enough to avoid detection in these noisy, congested waters where it’s hard to distinguish it from other naval vessels or from civilian ships.
And if it patrols in the vast swathes of the open Pacific Ocean, as I suspect it does, the vast size of that ocean – the largest body of water on Earth – makes it extremely hard to find a Jin class boat, because you don’t know where to look for it. To find it, you’d have to search the entire ocean, and no navy will ever have the resources to do that.
Moreover, in the last 11 years, the USN’s anti-submarine warfare skills have atrophied disastrously as a result of the DOD’s previous, obsessive singular focus on COIN wars. The Navy’s P-3 Orion crews, for example, have spent little time training for ASW, and almost all of their time conducting ISR missions over Afghanistan and Iraq. The P-3 Orion fleet has also shrank disastrously in numbers, its replacement (the P-8 Poseidon plane) has been delayed and orders are insufficient, and the S-3 Viking carrier-borne ASW plane has been retired. The Chief of Naval Operations himself has admitted that the Navy’s ASW skills have atrophied.
Such skills and capabilities will take many years, if not decades, to regain.
As for the JL-2, multiple sources confirm that the JL-2 has a range of 8,000 kilometers. That gives the Jin class the capability to target all of America’s West Coast – from Alaska all the way south to San Diego, and all cities and military facilities there – while staying west of 160 degrees east, far from the CONUS and not far from their homeport. To be within range of the entire West Coast of the CONUS, including San Diego, they’d have to sail just slightly east of Japan, to slightly more than 150E. To be within range of Seattle, they can actually stay west of Japan, in the Sea of Japan. To hit targets as far as Houston, they’d have to sail just slightly east of Hawaii.
This is far better than “a deterrent suitable for the 1960s”. China’s navy already has submarines and missiles that can target America’s West Coast while being relatively close to their homeport, west of 160E, thanks to the JL-2′s 8,000 km range. This is a feat that the Soviet Navy did not achieve until the 1980s.
When the first Soviet ballistic missile submarines wre commissioned and went on patrol, they had to patrol relatively close to America’s coasts – just 300 kms away from them. This was due to their missiles’ short range.
But as the range of Soviet ballistic missiles significantly increased, their subs became capable of launching these SLBMs far away from America and close to their homeports, north of the GIUK gap. These areas far away from the US, close to their homeports, were considered “bastions” by the Russians.
The deployment of Typhoon class SSBNs armed with long-ranged SLBMs gave the Soviet Navy the capability to hit the US while being in their homeports.
Look at the maps here.
In the 1980s, the Delta I class, armed with the new SS-N-20 SLBMs, was able to target the CONUS while being far away from it and patrolling nearby Greenland and Alaska.
The deployment of even longer-ranged SLBMs gave Soviet submarines the ability to target the CONUS while being between Scotland and Greenland (the Yankee class) or north of Scotland behind the GIUK gap, as well as around Kamchatka and nearby Vladivostok in the Sea of Japan (the Delta II/III class). In other words, the Delta II/III class, with newer SLBMs, could stay close to its own homeports in the Pacific Ocean (Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky), in home waters around Kamchatka and Vladivostok, and still hit the West Coast; or stay safely behind the GIUK gap and still hit the East Coast. The following map illustrates this.
But the Soviets didn’t achieve that feat until the late 1980s.
China has already achieved that feat. It has already achieved what the Soviet Union needed four decades to accomplish. As I stated earlier, the JL-2 SLBM’s range, 8000 kms, allows Jin class SSBNs to hit the entire West Coast of the US while still being relatively close to home, west of 160E. Here’s a map illustrating this. The area marked in red is the approximate area closest to China from where a Jin class boat could launch its SLBMs at any point on the West Coast. It’s just slightly east of 150E longitude.
In the 1980s, in the Soviet Union, newer, longer-ranged SLBMs such as the SS-N-23 and the R-29 Sinyeva gave the Russians even greater capability. By the late 1980s, their SSBNs could stay in homeport, or around it in home waters near the Kola Peninsula, and still hit the CONUS.
Of course, the Russian Navy’s even newer and longer-ranged SLBMs, the R-29M Sinyeva and the SS-NX-30 Bulava, have an even longer range. But the Russian Navy’s SSBNs can already hit most of the US while being in homeport or in Russian territorial waters.
In conclusion, the Jin class, which consists of 5 boats soon to be joined by a sixth one, is a very formidable deterrent, with the ability to hide in the congested, noisy waters nearby the Asian landmass and the vast swathes of the Pacific Ocean where the Navy wouldn’t know where to find it. Making the job even easier for China, the USN’s anti-submarine-warfare skills have atrophied and will take many years, if not decades, to regain. Moreover, the JL-2 SLBM’s long range (8000 kms) allows the Jin to target all of America’s West Coast while still being relatively close to home, west of 160E, just east of Japan.
And the further east, the further out to the Pacific Ocean the Jin class ventures, the more targets in the US its missiles can hit.
Furthermore, contrary to Hans Kristensen’s lie, the JL-2 can carry 3-4 warheads (or up to 8, according to MissileThreat.com), not just one. Each Jin class boat can carry 12-24 missiles, thus carrying up to 96 of them; so China’s 5-boat Jin class (soon to be joined by a sixth Jin) can carry at minimum 240, and up to 480, warheads.
In other words, Kristensen and Lewis have been proven dead wrong yet again. This is no surprise, because both of these anti-defense, anti-nuclear hacks have an agenda to lie (in this case, to minimize and downplay the Chinese nuclear threat), because any evidence that China is a greater threat than they admit would be a threat to their agenda of unilaterally disarming the US. Given that the Chinese nuclear threat is far greater than they admit, though, such an agenda would be downright suicidal and disastrous for the US.