China’s rapidly expanding fleet of nuclear-powered submarines has long been a cause of concern for the US, as it is equipped with one of the most powerful submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).
According to the South China Morning Post, China’s newly commissioned nuclear-powered submarine could pose a big threat to the US mainland. In recent years, Beijing has worked significantly towards the development of long-range SLBMs.
On November 3, the Pentagon presented the unclassified version of its yearly report on Chinese military and security developments to the US Congress. Beijing’s nuclear weapons program received a lot of attention in this report.
New information about China’s (SLBM) and nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) fleets is included in this report. It also contains information on the Pentagon’s assessment of these Chinese unwater vessels.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) currently has six Type 094 SSBNs, commonly known as the Jin-class, each capable of carrying 12 JL-2 SLBMs.
A new Type 096 SSBN, as well as a JL-3 SLBM, are currently being developed. China’s new SLBM is believed to allow it to attack the United States’ mainland without leaving its waters or, in some cases, its ports.
China’s submarine fleet is expected to grow from 66 boats now to 76 by 2030, according to an unclassified analysis by the US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). This will include the construction of six new nuclear-powered attack submarines at the Bohai yard in Huludao.
The JL-2 SLBM
The JL-2 is an upgrade to the previous JL-1 ballistic missile, which is still in use on Type 092 ballistic missile submarines. It features a larger diameter and length, as well as a longer range and payload.
The Julang-2 (JL-2) SLBMs are carried by Type 094. Each SLBM is claimed to carry a single nuclear warhead and has a range of between 7,400 and 8,000 km.
If JL2 is launched from waters near China, it has sufficient range to attack regional nuclear powers such as Russia and India, but cannot reach the US mainland. However, it can threaten Guam, Hawaii, and Alaska.
Despite the fact that the distance between Beijing and Los Angeles is over 10,000 miles, a Type 094 submarine equipped with JL-2, patrolling near Alaska could target the majority of the US.
According to SCMP, each JL2 missile can be armed with a single megaton warhead – 67 times more powerful than the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima, or with three to eight small, multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs).
China’s Type 094-Class Submarine
Type 094 is the PLAN’s only nuclear-capable submarine. The platform is China’s “first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent,” according to the US Department of Defense. China has developed four Type 094 SSBNs and two Type 094A variants with significant upgrades.
The Jin-class submarine is China’s second-generation nuclear-powered submarine and it is the direct successor to Type 092 or Xia-Class nuclear submarines. It was first introduced in 2007 and went into operation in 2010.
Although Type 094 is a substantial upgrade over China’s first SSBN, it still has severe flaws. Type 094 is said to be louder than the current US and Russian boomers, and according to the US Office of Naval Intelligence, Type 094 is noisier than the Delta III SSBN, first launched by the Soviet Union in 1976.
According to a report, the Jin-class may be traceable due to a design defect near the missile hatches at the back of the hull, which could generate a detectable sonar signal. China’s defense sector is infamous for keeping information regarding weapon system advancements under wraps.
As a result, determining how quiet the Jin-class is to an absolute degree of accuracy is challenging.
Type 096-SSBN & JL-3 SLBM
China is currently developing its next generation of SSBNs, the Type 096, which might bolster the PLA’s nuclear deterrent at sea. The JL-3 SLBM, which is not yet operational, is expected to be mounted on Type 096.
The new SLBM is expected to have a range of about 10,000 km and is capable of carrying multiple warheads on numerous targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). According to the Department of Defense, China could field up to eight SSBNs by 2030, with Type 094s and Type 096s operating simultaneously.
The Type 094 platform is said to be capable of carrying up to sixteen JL-3 missiles, while the Type 096 submarines can carry as many as 24 of these SLBMs.
According to the Pentagon’s newest China report, “Type 096 SSBN apparently will be armed with a follow-on SLBM, and construction will likely commence in the early 2020s.” Six Type 096 submarines are planned and the construction is believed to have started in early 2021.
Talking about its other submarines, the PLAN has made significant investments to deploy a modernized SSBN force over the coming decades. There are six Type 094 submarines, with two more planned for a total of eight.
At least one 1980s Type 092 “Xia” class submarine, equipped with older and less capable JL1A SLBMs until it is phased out by additional Type 094A models.