A draft report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission extols delivery of 15 H-6K bomber aircraft — variants of the H-6, shown here — among a slew of recent developments. (Wendell Minnick / Staff)
TAIPEI — For the first time in the country’s history, China’s sea-based nuclear deterrent nears initial operational capability (IOC), according to a forthcoming report by a US congressional commission on China.
China’s JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile could reach IOC later this year, according to an early draft of the report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
With a range of 4,000 nautical miles, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will have its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent against the US mainland, mated with the Type 094 Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). China has deployed three Jin-class SSBN and “probably will field two additional units by 2020.”
The report also states that China is pursuing two new classes of nuclear submarines — the Type 095 guided-missile attack submarine (SSGN) and the Type 096 SSBN. The Type 096 will likely “improve the range, mobility, stealth, and lethality” of the PLAN’s nuclear deterrent.
US military facilities on Guam are coming into conventional missile range for China, according to the report.
Though China does not have the ability to strike land targets with sea-based cruise missiles, the report states China’s navy is developing a land-attack cruise missile capability, most likely with the Type-095 SSGN and Luyang-III (Type 052D) guided-missile destroyer. This will enhance China’s “flexibility for attacking land targets throughout the Western Pacific, including US facilities in Guam.”
In June, according to the report, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force accepted 15 new H-6K bomber aircraft. An improved variant of the H-6, the K variant has extended range and can carry China’s new long-range, land-attack cruise missile (LACM). “The bomber/LACM weapon system provides the PLA Air Force with the ability to conduct conventional strikes against regional targets throughout the Western Pacific,” including Guam.
The report states China is working on extending the range of the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile. With its current range of 810 nautical miles, it can already threaten US naval vessels throughout the Western Pacific. At 1,600 nautical miles from China, Guam falls outside the DF-21D’s range.
Other developments cited in the report include progress on China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which conducted its first successful carrier-based takeoff and landing with the J-15 Flying Shark fighter jet in November 2012, certified its first group of aircraft carrier pilots and landing signal officers during the ship’s first operational deployment in June, and verified its flight-deck operations process in September.
“The PLAN will continue to conduct short deployments and shipboard aviation training until 2015 to 2016, when China’s first J-15 regiment is expected to become operational,” the report states.
The document discusses other impressive surface ship developments. In 2012, China launched two new classes: the Luyang-III guided-missile destroyer and the Jiangdao (Type 056) corvette. Construction resumed for the Luyang-II (Type 052C) guided-missile destroyer and serial production continues for the Jiangkai-II (Type 054A) guided-missile frigate. “Most of these units will likely be operational by 2015,” according to the report.
Quoting Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, both renowned PLA experts, the report states that “by 2015, China will likely be second globally in numbers of large warships built and commissioned since the Cold War’s end ... by 2020, barring a US naval renaissance, it is possible that China will become the world’s leading military shipbuilder in terms of numbers of submarines, surface combatants and other naval surface vessels produced per year.”
One of the many disturbing conclusions in the report is the suggestion that China’s military modernization is “on track to alter the security balance in Asia over the next five to 10 years, challenging decades of US military preeminence.”
And as the US military and diplomatic community work feverishly to improve Sino-US ties, China is “rapidly expanding and diversifying its ability to conduct conventional strikes against US and allied bases, ships, and aircraft throughout the region.”