MELBOURNE, Australia — China has launched two more nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and might fit anti-ship ballistic missiles on a new cruiser class on the verge of entering service, according to a new Pentagon report.
The two new submarines will bring the number of Type 094s, or Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile subs, in Chinese service to six, according to the latest annual “China Military Power Report,” released May 2 by the U.S. Defense Department. The report also said China is planning a new class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile subs, or SSBN, with construction expected to begin in the early part of the next decade.
The report confirms earlier assessments based on open-source satellite imagery published in late 2018, which showed two Type 094s under construction at the submarine yard in Huludao in the northern Chinese province of Liaoning.
The Type 094 SSBN can carry up to 12 CSS-N-14 (JL-2) submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which constitute China’s “first viable sea-based nuclear deterrent.” The JL-2 reportedly as a range of about 4,500 miles.
The follow-on SSBN-class, which the report calls the Type 096, is expected to be armed with the JL-3 sub-launched ballistic missile. The Pentagon expects China will operate its Type 096 SSBNs alongside the Type 094 boats, based on the life of China’s first-generation nuclear-powered submarines, which were in service for about 40 years.
China is also taking steps to deploy sophisticated command-and-control systems and refine associated processes to safeguard the integrity of nuclear release authority for a larger, more dispersed nuclear force, which includes road mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine deterrence patrols. U.S. Navy officials have said since 2015 that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, is conducting such patrols, although there has been no official confirmation.
The report also touched on the PLAN’s Type 055 cruiser capabilities, describing the type — which has been described by China as a “10,000-ton destroyer” — as “China’s premier carrier escort for bluewater operations.” It further suggested the Type 055 will be able to launch anti-ship ballistic missiles “once these weapons are available.”
As Defense News previously reported, China is about to commission its first Type 055 into PLAN service, with at least another seven in various states of construction at shipyards in Shanghai and Dalian, along with several more smaller Type 052D destroyers and two domestically built aircraft carriers. The effort is part of a continuing “robust surface combatant construction program” meant to “significantly upgrade the PLAN’s air defense, anti-ship, and anti-submarine capabilities,” the report said.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.