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Uwe Mergener 

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has commissioned two Type 094A ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), according to military sources cited in the South China Morning Post. The Type 094A is reportedly an enhancement of the Type 094 (also known as the JIN class) and although details are scarce, the South China Morning Post cites hydrodynamic improvements to the sail and the bow section, technological upgrades to radar, sonar and torpedoes as the key improvements.

The 135-metre-long boats have a displacement of 11,000 tonnes and are armed with 12 JL-2 Submarine Launched Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) which have a reported range of 7,400 km (according to US sources), enabling them to hit the American Great Plains from a firing position close to the Kuril Archipelago and put New York within range during a patrol south of the Aleutian Islands while from the East China Sea, the eastern border of Poland could be reached.

The JU LANG 2 (JL-2) was first presented to the public at China’s 70th anniversary parade in October 2019. It is the submarine-launched version of the DF-31, China’s most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), though the more sophisticated DF-41 remains under development. According to Pentagon reports, JL-2 provides China with a viable sea-based nuclear deterrent with each missile carrying one warhead. Going forward, six or eight SSBNs are planned, although sources differ on whether these will be the Type 094 or the 094/A. Additionally, the next generation of Chinese SSBNs is under development, termed the Type 096, which should be able to carry 24 JL-3s – with an estimated range of more than 10,000 kilometres.

The way ahead

In an earlier article, the South China Morning Post reported the successful test of the JL-3 in late December 2019 from a position in the Yellow Sea, where the missile was reportedly fired by a Type 094 submarine at a target area in the northwest of the Gobi Desert. The Washington Times confirmed the test, citing U.S. satellite analysis and intelligence information, while Chinese sources expect the missile (which features multiple warheads) to be fully developed by 2025 and available for the new Type 096 SSBN with the development of the missile is now separated from work on the Type 096 submarine in order to accelerate its development.

On 8th May, the Editor-in-Chief of the pro-government Global Times, one of China’s two English-language daily newspapers, said in a post on the Chinese social media site Weibo, that the country should have 1,000 warheads available in a relatively short period of time in order increase deterrence and effectively counter American intimidation, a comment which was re-posted in Global Times 9th May.

According to Statista, China possessed 290 nuclear warheads in 2019.