Wed, Dec 10, 2014 - Page 1 News List

China ready to arm stealth subs with nuclear missiles


China is preparing to arm its stealthiest submarines with nuclear missiles that could reach the US, cloaking its arsenal with the invisibility needed to retaliate in the event of an enemy strike.

Fifty years after China carried out its first nuclear test, patrols by the almost impossible-to-detect Jin-class submarines armed with nuclear JL–2 ballistic missiles will give Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) greater agility to respond to an attack.

The nuclear-powered subs will probably conduct initial patrols with the missiles by the end of this year, “giving China its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent,” according to a report to the US Congress submitted last month by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Deploying the vessels will burnish China’s prestige as Xi seeks to end what he calls the “cold war” mentality that resulted in US dominance of Asia-Pacific security. Since coming to power, Xi has increased military spending with a focus on longer-range capacity, including plans to add to the country’s tally of a single aircraft carrier.

“For the first time in history, China’s nuclear arsenal will be invulnerable to a first strike,” said independent strategist Nicolas Giacometti, who has written analysis for The Diplomat and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s the last leap toward China’s assured nuclear-retaliation capability.”

China’s nuclear defense strategy is engineered to provide retaliation capability in the event of attack from nuclear powered nations as far away as the US, and also from Russia and India, according to Felix Chang, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

While China does not view North Korea as a direct nuclear risk, officials are concerned about what might happen if North Korea threatened South Korea, or Japan and the region became unstable, Chang said.

China’s nuclear-armed submarines will be “useful as a hedge to any potential nuclear threats, including those from North Korea, even if they are relatively small,” he said.

The deployment of the submarines could pressure China to assure foreign militaries that its navy chiefs and political leaders can communicate with and control them. Chinese and US ships and planes are coming into greater proximity in the Pacific as China asserts its claims to territory in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

Former US secretary of defense Robert Gates said in an interview in January that former Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) “did not have strong control” of the People’s Liberation Army.

The “best example,” Gates said, was China’s rollout of its J-20 stealth fighter jet during a visit he made in January 2010, which seemed to catch Hu unaware.

Since coming to power, Xi has tightened his grip on the military, taking over as head of the Central Military Commission (CMC) in November 2012, when he became Chinese Communist Party secretary-general. Hu waited about two years before becoming chairman of the commission.

“China is going to have to reassure their adversaries that those submarines are under positive control at all times,” said Malcolm Davis, an assistant professor of China-Western relations at Bond University in Australia.

“Positive control” refers to the procedures to ensure the commission’s absolute control of its nuclear assets, such as the authorization codes it would send to submarines, where, after verification by the commander and probably two other officers, missiles would be launched.

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