Ready To Launch

China conducts rare flight test of new submarine-launched missile

August 21, 2012

China’s military conducted a flight test of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile last week, a launch that came a month after the test of a new multiple-warhead, ground-mobile missile, the Free Beacon has learned.

The flight test of the new JL-2 missile took place Thursday morning from a new Jin-class ballistic missile submarine on patrol in the Bohai Sea, near the coast of northeastern China west of the Korean peninsula, said U.S. officials.

A Defense Intelligence Agency spokesman declined to comment on the test.

One official said the new JL-2 represents a "potential first strike" nuclear missile in China’s growing arsenal.

The submarine missile firing followed the July 24 test launch of China’s new DF-41 road-mobile ICBM that is assessed to carry multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs.

The July 24 DF-41 test was the first of the new long-range ICBM that until the test had been shrouded in secrecy.

The DF-41 at one time was assessed to have been downgraded into a shorter-range DF-31A missile. However, two years ago the Pentagon began identifying a new, longer-range road-mobile ICBM in development that officials now say is the DF-41.

Published reports from China support internal U.S. government reports about the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) flight test.

China’s Shenzhen television reported Aug. 8 and 9 that a Jin-class missile submarine departed on a sea patrol equipped with JL-2 missiles, but made no mention of plans for a missile test. The television report quoted a Chinese military commentator as saying, "According to the Pentagon, the PLA has not been able to launch a SLBM yet."

Then, on Aug. 13, Liaoning Province Maritime Safety Administration published a "navigation warning" that military exercises would take place in the Bohai Strait on Aug. 16 and 17, and warned ships to avoid the area.

Officials said the closure area was used by the submarine for the JL-2 launch.

Bohai Sea


Additionally, a Chinese military blogger posted a report Sunday stating that a JL-2 had been successfully tested. One online Chinese commentator said the missile test might have been part of China’s angry response to a new maritime dispute with Japan over the Senkaku islands near Taiwan.

However, observers said any JL-2 flight test would have required months of preparation and thus could not have been conducted in connection with the dispute over the Senkakus. Japanese nationals recently sailed to the islands to assert Tokyo’s sovereignty over the islands, prompting an angry response from Beijing.

The Pentagon’s latest annual report on China’s military said China has begun producing a new class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, or SSBN, called the Jin-class, or Type 094.

"The Jin-class SSBN (Type-094) will eventually carry the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile with an estimated range of some 7,400 kilometers (4,588 miles)," the report said.

The submarine and the JL-2 "will give the [People’s Liberation Army] Navy its first credible sea-based nuclear capability," the report stated.

According to the report, the JL-2 program has experienced "repeated delays" but is expected to reach "initial operating capability" in the next two years.

China currently has two Jin-class missile submarines deployed and reports from China indicate that as many as eight missile submarines eventually will be fielded.

The report said that the JL-2, along with other road-mobile missiles, "will give China a more survivable nuclear force."

Chinese military secrecy has made it difficult to assess Chinese strategic nuclear forces.

However, a State Department cable from November 2007 stated that China was seeking missile guidance systems for use on ballistic missile submarines from Ukraine.

"We have information indicating that as of late August 2007, a number of individuals from the Beijing Institute of Aerospace Control Devices (BIACD) were planning to travel to Kiev and Kharkov for early September discussions with representatives of Ukraine's Arsenal Design Bureau on a celestial guidance sensor."

The sensors, also known as star-trackers, "could be used by China in space launch vehicles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or in China's SC-19 direct ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile," the cable stated, adding that such technology is restricted by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

The JL-2 and Jin submarines are a key element of what U.S. officials says is a major buildup of strategic nuclear forces that has received little public attention among U.S. arms control proponents in both the U.S. government and the private sector.

In addition to the JL-2, a variant of the DF-31 mobile missile, the new strategic weapons include three types of road-mobile ICBMs—DF-31, DF-31A, and DF-41—along with several intermediate and medium-range missiles and hundreds of short-range missiles that can be armed with both conventional and nuclear warheads. The Chinese also are modernizing their fleet of Russian-design strategic bombers.

By contrast, the Obama administration has been seeking to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy.

The administration, according to Republicans in Congress, also appears to be going back on promises made to the Senate in 2010 to spend billions of dollars to upgrade aging U.S. strategic nuclear forces and infrastructure.

The former head of Russia’s strategic rocket forces stated in an article published in May that China’s nuclear arsenal could have as many 3,000 warheads—far more than the 300 to 400 warheads estimated by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Retired Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin said that based on Beijing having a stockpile of up to 70 tons of uranium and plutonium for weapons, "there are probably 1,600 to 1,800 warheads in the Chinese nuclear arsenal."

"According to assessments, 800 to 900 warheads from this number may be operationally deployed, with the rest in long-term storage," Yesin said.

Yesin’s article also disclosed China’s development of multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) that would vastly increase the strategic power of its missiles.

DF-5A, DF-31A long-range missiles, and JL-2 submarine launched missiles will be retrofitted for multiple warheads, he stated.

Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which is in charge of U.S. nuclear forces, said earlier this month that he disagrees with those who say China’s nuclear arsenal is larger than current U.S. estimates.

"I come down on the side of the intelligence community assessment," Kehler told reporters in Omaha Aug. 8. "I do not believe China has hundreds or thousands of more weapons than what the intelligence community has been saying."

The last known test of a JL-2 missile took place around early January when as many as six underwater missiles were fired, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry.

Those tests took place near the major Chinese submarine base at Xiaopingdao, near the port of Dalian, and were fired from at least two submarines.

Richard Fisher, a China military affairs specialist, said China’s JL-2 test and increased Chinese aggression in the South China Sea appear connected.

"As the Type 094 [missile submarine] starts deterrence patrols from the new Hainan Island base in Yalong Bay, the PLA will seek greater levels of military control over the South China Sea, to ensure that their SSBNs have a safe patrol area," Fisher, with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said.

"Within one month China has tested two of its next-generation nuclear missiles, both of which could be armed with multiple warheads," he added.

"The DF-41 road mobile ICBM may start its career with a multiple warhead bus, and Chinese reports note that future versions of the JL-2 could carry multiple warheads."

The new missiles indicate that China’s warhead stockpile likely will grow faster over the next decade and that the additional warheads will be backed by a strategic missile defense system by the end of the current decade, Fisher said.

"Previous 'pop up' tests of the JL-2 to test the 'cold launch' ejection system of the submarine missile tube show that the missile has a blunt warhead section," Fisher said. "On many other missiles such a configuration is consistent with multiple warheads, though it cannot be confirmed the JL-2 is so equipped."

"Simple knowledge of both of these developments serves to undermine Asian confidence in the extended U.S. nuclear deterrent, especially as the Obama administration contemplates further reductions in U.S. nuclear warhead levels to 900 or even 300," he said.

Any responsible U.S. leadership would rule out further U.S. warhead cuts, Fisher said.

"To do so absent compensating deterrent enhancements for our Asian allies amounts to condemning them to a nuclear arms race," Fisher said. "The very well funded phalanx of liberal groups pushing for greater U.S. nuclear disarmament appear to have no care that they are pitching all Americans toward this far greater danger."