The Ministry of National Defense yesterday said it was closely monitoring the situation amid reports that China had test-fired Julang-2 (JL-2) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) before the New Year.
Chinese military bulletin boards recently lit up with reports that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy might have test fired as many as six JL-2 SLBMs near Dalian in Liaoning Province, China.
At least two Type 094, or Jin-class, submarines in China’s Northern Fleet are known to operate out of Xiaopingdao Submarine Base close to Dalian.
China plans to introduce up to five Type 094 second-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) armed with JL-2 missiles. Each Type 094 submarine can carry as many as 12 missiles.
The JL-2, designed by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp’s 4th Academy, is a solid-propellant derivative of the Dong Feng 31 (DF-31) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The JL-2, one of China’s three long-range strategic missiles, has a maximum range estimated at 8,000km and can carry a thermonuclear warhead with a yield ranging from 25 kilotons to 1,000 kilotons, or about 80 times the force of the nuclear device dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Ministry of National Defense spokesman Colonel David Lo (羅紹和) said the military was aware of the reports that China had tested the JL-2 and would pay close attention to further development of the missile. However, he would not confirm nor deny that the tests had actually taken place.
Lo’s comments were the closest to official confirmation by Taiwan’s military that the PLA Navy may have carried out the missile test, less than three weeks before Taiwanese head for the polls on Saturday.
So far official Chinese media and the Chinese military have not confirmed rumors of the exercise. Missile tests carried out by the PLA in March 1996 to pressure Taiwanese as they headed into their first direct presidential election in the nation’s history are generally believed to have backfired on China and boosted support for then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝).
However, the state-owned Chinese-language Global Times reported yesterday that a Chinese fisherman in Shandong Province had retrieved cylindrical wreckage from what appeared to be a missile booster, which could provide confirmation of the SLBM test.
Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington, told the Washington Times last week that the tests would clearly demonstrate that after several years of development and delays, the PLA Navy is now able to launch submarine-based ballistic missiles “at a near wartime frequency.”
“If these reports are true, then the [Type] 094 submarine is ready for the PLA version of deterrence patrols, which could commence this year,” he said.
“This number of successful tests would also indicate that the PLA has, at long last, resolved whatever issues were preventing this missile from achieving ‘operational’ status,” the paper quoted him as saying.
The US Department of Defense’s annual report on the PLA stated that once it is deployed, the Type 094/JL-2 combination would constitute China’s first real sea-based deterrent, a capability that could give Beijing the means to discourage the US from intervening on behalf of Taiwan.