The open-sources-based Stratfor think-tank has recently published an article on China’s ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) that downplays the threat these submarines, and China in general, pose to the US. Because of this, and because it contains numerous factual errors, I’ve decided to pen this rebuttal.
The article begins by repeating the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s laughable understatement that China is merely “on the cusp of having a credible sea-based nuclear deterrent”, as opposed to already having one (which it does), and falsely claims that China “still lags considerably behind the leading powers, notably the US.”
Those are blatant lies which serve no purpose but to downplay the Chinese threat and mislead the American public about it.
China is not lagging behind the leading powers; it is among them and is keeping pace firmly with them.
The article first wrongly claims China has only “three or four” Jin class SSBNS in addition to its Xia class boat. In fact, China has five Jins already in commission and a sixth one under construction. Stratfor then wrongly claims that the Jins are more noisy than Russian Delta III class submarines. This is not true, but even if it were, remember that by today’s standards, the US Navy’s Ohio class SSBNs and Los Angeles class attack submarines are also quite noisy, too, and need to be replaced.
Stratfor also wrongly claims that the old JL-1 ballistic missiles are still the mainstay of the Chinese SSBN fleet, and further falsely claims that the newer JL-2 missile has not yet entered service, will not do so until next year, and will have a range of only 7,000-8,000 kms.
This is totally false. The basic variant of the JL-2 has already entered service and IT (the JL-2) is the main armament of China’s SSBN fleet – NOT the old JL-1 missile, deployed only on the single Xia class boat. Moreover, only the basic variant of the JL-2 missile has a range of 8,000 kms (quite a significant range, BTW).
China is now developing two new variants of the missile – the Jia and the Yi – which will have ranges of 12,000 and 14,000 kms, respectively, and will be able to carry up to 8 and 12 warheads, respectively. Source: DOD 2012 report to Congress on China’s military power.
Such a range – or even a range of just 10,000 kms, which both missile variants will greatly exceed – would allow Chinese SSBNs to target all of the US and Western Europe while staying in Chinese territorial waters or even in homeport.
And these newer variants of the JL-2 missile will enter service within the next few years, perhaps next year, so China’s nuclear striking power will grow significantly in the near future.
Thus, while Stratfor is technically correct – for now – that “”, that will cease to be true as soon as the JL-2 Jia variant, with its range of 12,000 kms, enters service. That will happen within the next few years.
And when it does, Chinese SSBNs will be able to target the US from their territorial waters or even their homebases – a capability the Soviet Navy did not achieve until the late 1980s.
But even now, Chinese ballistic missile subs and their JL-2 “Basic Variant” missiles, with a range of 8,000 kms, can reach virtually any target on the West Coast and anywhere in the northwestern CONUS. Keep in mind that China has FIVE submarines each armed with 12 such missiles – each missile, in turn, carrying 4 independently targetable warheads.
Stratfor also falsely claims that for the near future, China will have to rely on its land-based missile force to deter the West.
That is patently false given all the facts about its SSBN fleet listed above, and given the fact that China’s bomber fleet is also very potent. With cruise missiles that have a range of 3,000 kms, it can obliterate any target in the First and Second Island Chain and well beyond them, including anywhere in Australia or Russia. China is also now developing a stealthy intercontinental bomber that will be capable of striking the CONUS.
But leaving all these facts aside, China’s land-based missile force is quite a potent one, and in some respects stronger than America’s. It consists of:
- 36 DF-5 ICBMs (up to 10 warheads each), over 30 DF-31/31A ICBMs (4 warheads each), at least one DF-41 ICBM (10 warheads), and 20 DF-4 ICBMs/IRBMs (3 warheads each);
- 100 DF-21 and 20 DF-3 MRBMs (one warhead per missile);
- over 1,200 SRBMs; and
- untold hundreds of ground-launched cruise missiles, 500 of them nuclear armed.
By contrast, the US has no SRBMs, MRBMs, IRBMs, or ground-launched cruise missiles, and no plans to develop any. It is, moreover, barred from fielding any ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles of a range between 550 and 5,500 kms by the INF treaty. China, not being a party to the treaty, has a free hand in procuring such missiles.
China’s ICBMs alone could deliver 510 warheads to the US, including 490 to the CONUS alone. So China’s land-based missile force must not, on any account, be dismissed.
But, as I said earlier, China no longer needs to rely solely on its land-based missiles for deterring the West. Its SSBN and bomber fleets are already quite potent, and as their number and sophistication grow, their credibility will, as well. Within the next few years, when the JL-2 Jia missile enters service, China’s SSBNs will be able to target any point in the US from their homeports. And that will be a gamechanger.