The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Beijing has developed and deployed a series of missiles that would give China second-strike nuclear capability in any confrontation with the United States. The determination of a sea-based deterrent is said to have significantly increased Beijing’s threat to the United States.
“It is clear to me that China is now embarking on a significant investment in a second-strike capability to ensure the survival and, thus, viability of its nuclear forces,” said Richard Fisher, a researcher at the International Assessment and Strategy Center and a leading U.S. expert on China.
In a presentation to the American Enterprise Institute on July 11, Mr. Fisher said China has launched or tested a series of nuclear missiles and platforms.
He said the first Type 94 submarine ballistic nuclear missile has been equipped and launched.
The Type 94, which began construction in 1999, is designed to contain the JL-2 submarine-launched nuclear missiles. Each submarine is meant to contain 16 JL-2s, or DF-31s, with a range of 8,000 kilometers, which would allow Chinese submarines to target portions of the United States from areas near the Chinese coast.
The disclosure of the completion of the Type 94 submarine appeared to mark a significant acceleration in China’s nuclear submarine program. As late as May 2004, the Pentagon asserted that the new Chinese missile submarine would not be operational until around 2010.
“The JL-2 SLBM has undergone a series of tests,” Mr. Fisher said. “The potential for this to be armed with multiple warheads is there.”
U.S. intelligence sources agree with Mr. Fisher’s assessment. They said Beijing has made the production of nuclear warheads and launchers a priority, with emphasis on mobility and decoys.
The Pentagon has determined that China plans to deploy the DF-31A, an extended-range variant of the mobile long-range DF-31, in 2007. The sources said the new three-stage, solid-fuel, mobile missile, with a range of 12,000 kilometers, could carry up to three payloads that would separate and overcome existing U.S. missile defenses.
“For China, nuclear weapons largely have four purposes: one, strategic deterrence; two, retaliation; three, counter-coercion; and four, great-power status,” Rand Corp. senior analyst Evan Medeiros said.
Another Chinese missile, the DF-5 Mod 2, with a range of 13,000 kilometers, is said to have completed deployment in 2005. The sources said China has developed the two-stage, liquid-fuel missile to carry between five and 10 warheads.
Beijing has also sought to overcome the vulnerability of its fleet by building a huge naval base on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. The sources said the base would contain an underground facility to shelter platforms, such as nuclear submarines, against any potential U.S. attack.
Intelligence sources said Beijing has been developing an anti-ship ballistic missile. They said the weapon could be a sea-based version of the DF-11 Mod 1 land-based missile.
“One could easily imagine that there is a plan to drop, in a surprise manner, 10 to 12 warheads on either side of the continental United States in conjunction with a build-up to rescue Taiwan from whatever kind of attack China seems to be contemplating,” Mr. Fisher said. “I can easily imagine, I do not know, President Hillary Clinton sitting in the White House wondering, ‘Gee, we could not do anything to stop those 12 warheads that did not explode but landed off of all our major cities on both coasts.’ And do we really want to be sending our single carrier that might be deployed with the Seventh Fleet into this maelstrom? That is the kind of coercion potential
that is out there.”