On Saturday, during the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Reagan Presidential Library, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, a political admiral whom President Obama appointed Chief of Naval Operations in 2011, dismissed China’s entire ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) fleet as not being credible. He furthermore said:
“For a submarine-launched ballistic missile to be effective it has to be accurate, and you have to be stealthy, and survivable and I’ll leave it at that.”
This wasn’t the first time that a senior DOD official dismissed the military threat posed by China, nor will it be the last, I suspect. But throughout all human history, underestimating and dismissing the enemy has ALWAYS cost dearly those who did so – including the US. China is, militarily, far stronger than any US official and most think-tankers and journalists are prepared to admit – it is, in fact, already almost as strong as the US. Dismissing the Chinese threat will lull the American people into a false sense of security and cause America to be unprepared for this threat.
And specifically, dismissing the JL-2 missile and the Jin class of SSBNs is a particularly foolish and disqualifying error.
As far as accuracy goes, the JL-2 is pretty accurate – with a circular error probable (CEP) of just 300 meters, similar to modern Western missiles. CEP is the measure used by virtually all military men and defense analysts to measure ballistic missile accuracy.
As far as stealthiness and survivability goes, this is also no problem for the Chinese navy. While some have claimed that Jin class submarines are noisy, so are the US Navy’s Ohio class ballistic missile submarines – probably even more so because they are obsolete 1970s’ technology, while the Jin class is a 21st century class of submarines.
Moreover, the basic JL-2 variant (the one currently in service) has a range of 8,000 kms, which means it can strike any target on the West Coast while being just east of Japan, at 150E. If it sails a little further to the east, towards 160E, it can strike any target in the CONUS with nuclear weapons. Indeed, as recently as 2008 the DOD itself admitted that the JL-2 had an 8,000 km range and the ability to hit most of the CONUS. See the map below, from the 2008 DOD report on China’s military power.
While many Sinophile Chinese threat understaters, including DOD bureaucrats, have falsely claimed that the JL-2’s range is just 7,000-7,400 kms, the truth is that the missile’s range is actually 8,000 kms, putting the entire West Coast within its range if launched from just east of Japan, at 150E.
And survivability? That of the Jin class is good, no matter where it deploys. If it operates within the First Island Chain – the waters between China and Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia – it will be able to evade detection quite easily, because these waters are congested and noisy. If the Jin class deploys outside the First Island Chain, in the open ocean, it is also highly likely to survive due to the vast swathes of that ocean.
The facts remain the facts. No matter what China’s friends and Obama’s political appointees, including Admiral Greenert, say to dismiss the Chinese threat, the fact remains that this threat is huge and growing every day. No amount of lies by political appointees like Admiral Greenert will change that fact.