New Chinese Ballistic Missile Submarine Spotted

By Hans M. Kristensen

A new satellite image appears to have captured China’s new ballistic missile submarine. Coordinates: 38°49’4.40″N, 121°29’39.82″E.

A commercial satellite image appears to have captured China’s new nuclear ballistic missile submarine. The new class, known as the Jin-class or Type 094, is expected to replace the unsuccessful Xia-class (Type 092) of a single boat built in the early 1980s.

The new submarine was photographed by the commercial Quickbird satellite in late 2006 and the image is freely available on the Google Earth web site.

A Comparison of SSBN Dimensions

Two satellite images are now available (see figure below) that clearly show two missile submarines with different dimensions. One image from 2005 shows what is believed to be the Xia-class (Type 092) SSBN in drydock at the Jianggezhuang Submarine Base approximately 14 miles east of Qingdao. The submarine is approximately 390 feet (120 meters) long of which the missile compartment makes up roughly 80 feet (25 meters). Twelve missile launch tubes are clearly visible.

The second image from late 2006 shows what appears to be the new Jin-class (Type 094) SSBN moored at the Xiaopingdao Submarine Base south of Dalian, approximately 193 miles north of Qingdao. The Jin-class appears to be approximately 35 feet (10 meters) longer than the Xia-class SSBN, primarily due to an extended mid-section of approximately 115 feet (35 meters) that houses the missile launch tubes and part of the reactor compartment.

Xia- and Jin-Class SSBN Comparison

These two commercial satellite images of the old Xia-class SSBN (top) and the new Jin-class SSBN show the different major compartments. The Jin-class appears to be approximately 35 feet (10 meters) longer with an extended missile compartment. Both images view the submarines from a “eye-altitude” of approximately 500 feet (152 meters).

The extended missile compartment of the Jin-class seems seems intended to accommodate the Julang-2 sea-launched ballistic missile, which is larger than the Julang-1 deployed on the Xia-class. Part of the extension may also be related to the size of the reactor compartment. The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence estimated in 2004 that the Jin-class, like the Xia-class, will have 12 missiles launch tubes (see figure below). Other non-governmental sources frequently claim the submarine will have 16 tubes. The satellite image is not of high enough resolution to show the hatches to the missile launch tubes.

Estimated Jin-Class SSBN Layout

The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence estimated in 2004 (bottom) that the Jin-class SSBN would have 12 missiles.

The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence estimated in December 2006 that China might build five Jin-class SSBNs. The estimate has been widely cited by non-governmental institutes and some news media as a fact, but the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military forces from May 2007 did not repeat the estimate.

Background: Chinese Nuclear Forces and US Nuclear War Planning | Pentagon Report Ignores Five SSBN Projection

62 thoughts on “New Chinese Ballistic Missile Submarine Spotted

  1. RP: I think there’s a typo in the comparison-photo caption. Quickbird has an orbital altitude of 450 Km.

    Reply: Thanks for pointing out this confusion. The caption is not intended to suggest that the altitude of the satellite was 500 feet, but that the “eye-altitude” of the image corresponds to zooming in on the object to an altitude of 500 feet. This is the capability used on the Google Earth site. To help clarify, I have changed the caption and included the phrase “eye-altitude.” HK

  2. SO: There is also what should be a JIN-class SSBN in a drydock at Huludao being prepared to be launched (they’re built at Huludao). I initially located both of them. Missed this one though, an imagery update must have gotten by me!

    Reply: I’ve noticed they’re building something at Huludao, but I don’t think the image is good enough to identify it as a Jin-class SSBN. It could also be a Type 093 attack sub. HK

  3. S+10: Probably 16 missle capacity. May not all be of like kind. No reason to limit asset type.

    Reply: Not according to the Office of Naval Intelligence image. Different missiles would indeed be unique, but probably a technical nightmare. HK

  4. RM: The Chinese will be more dangerous than anything the US has seen before.

    Reply: Not if you try to remember what the Cold War with the Soviet Union was like. HK

  5. IAL13: These two boats definitely look externally similar to the Russian Delta I and Delta II-IV boomers, which carry 12 and 16 missiles, respectively. The difference in dimensions also sounds about right.

    Of course, assuming the Chinese copied the basic hull design from the Russians does not mean they also decided to put 12 tubes in it, but I’m not sure what they would want the extra space for.

    Reply: …and similar to the first US classes of SSBNs, which also had a bulge cover for the missile tubes. Given its significantly longer range compared with the Julang-1 SLBM, the Jin-class’ Julang-2 is probably wider. And the ONI drawing also suggests that the reactor compartment entends under part of the bulge. HK

  6. J: This is the sub that will soon drop off the PRC SEAL/Special Forces and launch conventional missile attacks against Taiwan! Shalom.

    Reply: Hardly. There are no credible reports that China is developing a conventional version of the Julang-2 for the Jin-class SSBN. And as a naval crown jewel, the SSBN is the least likely to be used to drop off special forces. HK

  7. AW: Doesn’t it take confirmation by multiple sources to be credible information. Of course this pic was supposed to get taken. Q: is it truly what it’s supposed to look like it is?

    It’s good to know this information is being made available. At 62, I’m getting a late start but I like to keep tracking interesting develpments. I’ll check back again.

    Reply: You’re right there’re always many uncertainties and unknowns about pictures like this. But the sub certainly has different dimensions than the older Xia. Only time will tell whether I got it right. HK

  8. JS: The Surface Navy Association has scheduled the PLA Navy Naval Attaché Senior Captain Liu Hongwei or “Henry” giving a 24 July luncheon address at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City Hotel. Henry is a diesel boat submariner.

    Reply: Thanks! To register for the event go here. HK

  9. G: Found some other subs at lat: 36° 6’14.78″N, long: 120°34’43.61″E. I don’t think they are related. Does anyone have coordinates for the JIN-class?

    Reply: The coordinates for the Jin-class are in the caption to the top image on this blog. The others subs you mention are at Jianggezhuang Submarine Base. I describe the facility in my blog as the location of the dry dock with the Xia-class. Note also that Jianggezhuang has a large underground facility, which I described in another blog last February.

    For other chinese submarine sites, check these locations:

    * Lushun Naval Base (38°47’50.78″N, 121°14’38.72″E)
    * Bohai (Huludao) Shipyard (40°43’5.04″N, 120°59’45.69″E)
    * Qingdao Naval Shipyard (36° 4’25.36″N, 120°18’21.47″E)
    * Qingdao Naval Base (36° 5’44.19″N, 120°18’47.24″E)
    * Zhenhai Naval Base (29°53’53.12″N, 121°57’55.87″E)
    * Xizhou Naval Base (29°32’8.64″N, 121°46’13.22″E)

    The naval base on the southern tip of Hainan Peninsula ( 18°12’30.06″N, 109°40’48.62″E) does not show submarines yet, but has interesting features including a large sea-entrance into an underground facility. A Han-class SSN has been photographed at the base in the past. HK

  10. WK: With all the current build-up between China and Korea, and the fact that this was released last year implies that more of these subs are being built, and not just for China; does it not?

    Reply: More Jin-class SSBNs may be under construction, but it is very unclear. There are many people who say they know, but probably few who actually do. The Office of Naval Intelligence speculated in December 2006 that China might build five boats if it wanted to have a permanent sea-based deterrent. But that appears to have been a projection based on certain assumptions, and it is not at all clear what the Chinese plans are for their SSBN program in terms of number of boats or how they intend to operate them.

    One of the biggest dangers in intelligence is to mirror one’s own assumptions and practices onto potential adversaries. So just because we think we would operate the submarines in a certain way, doesn’t mean the Chinese plan to do so as well.

    As for China building SSBNs for North Korea, absolutely not. HK

  11. JC: One big question: How noisy is it? Can our attack subs track it and take it out if necessary?

    Reply: Probably, but since the Chinese won’t talk about their capability, and our intelligence people won’t say anything about what they know, it is impossible to answer your question with certainty. But it helps remembering what we do know:

    1. The Jin-class is only China’s second-generation nuclear-powered submarine.
    2. The first-generation (Han- and Xia-class) subs were very noisy.
    3. The first SSBN (Xia) has never been fully operational nor ever sailed on a deterrent patrol.
    4. China’s entire submarine force conducts less than a handful patrols each year.
    5. US anti-submarine capabilities and propulsion systems were developed over five decades of Cold War with the Soviet Union, via trial and error of over 100 submarines of a dozen different classes with numerous different propulsion systems.
    6. The US attack submarine force conducts several dozen patrols each year, is constantly forward deployed, and has done so since the 1960s.
    7. The US SSBN force of 14 boats conducts over 35 deterrent patrols each year (most of them in the Pacific), each lasting 70 days.

    I seriously doubt anyone in our submarine community would want to swap sub capabilities with China. Here is how the U.S. commander of Pacific Command recently described the US advantage: “If the reports [about Chinese submarine advantages] are fairly accurate, they are well behind us technologically. We enjoy significant advantages across the spectrum of defensive and offensive systems, in particular undersea warfare. I can assure you that we’re not unfamiliar with the challenges, and we have significant advantage now and we’re not going to yield those advantages.” HK

  12. V: It’s the improved Xia class but not Jin.

    Reply: How do you know? The “improved” Xia was in drydock in 2005 and 35 feet shorter. HK

  13. P: Is there any evidence that 094 is based on Soviet Delta Class SSBN? They look quite similar and have similar payload.

    Also as a response to JC’s thread, China’s SSN had a few high profile patrols (surfacing in Sino/Japan border and in close proximity of a US Carrier group). That showed how ambitious Chinese submarine force is.

    Reply: I haven’t seen any credible analysis that says the Jin (or the Xia for that matter) are based on the Soviet Delta class. The bulge is similar, but most SSBN designs actually have a bulge. The only consistent rumor is that the Jin-class is an extended version of the new Type 093 class attack submarine, which in turn is said to be partly based on the Soviet Victor III design. But who knows. That may just be another rumor. The SSBN in the new image has features that look more like a modified Xia-class. But it is impossible to say with certainty without higher resolution images. HK

  14. S: It is true, American have advantage now but this would give US a false sense of security. China should seek to develop technology pin-pointed at US weaknesses. I am excited at the Amur class submarine and the development of fuel cell technology. From the lesson of US-Vietnam War, the one who has the best weapons don’t always win.

  15. KKD: The Jin-class may be not the only China’s second-generation nuclear-powered submarine. 093 is the attack version.

    Reply: There’s a difference between generation and class. The Type 091 and Type 092 were the first generation, with 092 being a modfied version of 091. The Type 093 and Type 094 are the second generation, with 094 believed to be a modified version of 093. HK

  16. PB: Seems that with all the various government and private camera satellites zooming around up there, if something “unusual” is spotted — such as a new Chinese submarine right out there in the open — could it not be by design? Surely they’re not so careless — or are they perhaps obfuscating?

    Reply: Who knows, but once the sub is launched it’s hard to hide it. I wouldn’t try to read too much into the fact that the sub is visible. In any case, if they want deterrence to work they’ve got to show what they have. HK

  17. SXL: Good report. The other coordinates don´t show submarines too, not all.

    Reply: They do when I use Google Earth. They are coordinate for facilities where subs are present, but you have to look around to find the subs. HK

  18. S+10: Mixed asset capability on a sub isn’t new. Technical capability, operationally, is no longer a problem – computing power expands personnnel intellectual capacity to support multiple mission stores. Naval Intelligence – is bullshitting you.

    Reply: Just out of curiosity, what is the previous example of a country deploying multiple types of ballistic missiles on a submarine? HK

  19. HK: nbwolf has coded the above list of Chinese submarine bases into Google Maps. Go check it here. Click “satellite” to turn on satellite images. Thanks nbwolf.

  20. Sc: In response to S, saying “American have advantage now but this would give US a false sense of security”, I think not. I think this situation is the very definition of true security. Americans completely have the upper hand here. This is what we do, and we have become exceedingly good at it.

  21. N: Multi-role capability is the buzzword for today’s military. This boomer might have made room for a “swimout” airlock for special ops. They also might be taking a page from the USN in adopting the VLS approach in loading cruise missiles in their vertical tubes.

    Reply: Easy, easy; that’s what we do with some of our submarines. There’re no indications that the Chinese have any such plans for their SSBNs. Right now China is trying if it can build a fully operational SSBN, something they have yet to demonstrate. Let’s wait and see if they can before adding all sorts of advanced capabilities to the new sub. HK

  22. DP: I agree. The Chinese would not endanger a vital asset like a SSBN by sailing it close to enemy shores to drop off a detachment of special forces. Five SSBNs seems to imply a deterrent force.

    Reply: If they’re building five. The jury is still out on that one. For more info, go here. HK

  23. V: I arrived at your blog via a link on PC World but is curious to know how gubbible we can be. How do you really know that this is an actual submarine and not just an aluminum cut-out that the Chinese left there just for this purpose?

    Reply: I don’t, but that would indeed be interesting. HK

  24. MV: I find this fascinating. Especially since tho it’s made in China, it’s paid for by the US. Every nuclear weapon they have is paid for with every purchase we make that has “Made In China” stamped on it. Ironic that if a war occurs, we are the ones who paid for the weapons that are aimed against us.

  25. LZ: Why don’t you add clickable links to Google Maps instead of coordinates? I know they can be copy/pasted into Google Maps, but it would be nicer if one could just click on a link an visit the locations. You could also provide a Google Earth KML file with placemarks for the various interesting sites.

    Reply: OK, I’ve added the KML link to the coordinates. If it opens up in Windows Explorer first, just double-click the file. Remember to have Google Earth open. As for the the other sites, that’s a work in progress. HK

  26. MS: I’m more worried about what the Chinese might do that we haven’t thought of yet. Everybody talks technology, but very few seem to talk doctrine. They’ve stated that they intend to fight an assymetrical war. And it doesn’t make sense for them to produce a mirror image of what we have, because they don’t have the same problems or agenda that we do. So looking at all of this, I’m more interested in what they were thinking about when they decided to procure this boat rather than what we think that boat might be able to do.

    As it is, I think that new Type 22 Surface Piercing Catamaran missile cutter is probably going to turn out to be more important to us than their attempts at building a boomer.

  27. MAS: Yes the U.S. has a large technological advantage over China in submarine warfare. The problem that we face doesn’t come from their industry, but rather from their espionage. Most of the big advances in subs made by the former Soviet Union came about as a result of U.S. technology they stole. If we don’t take greater care with our information, we’ll soon find the Chinese catching up.

    Reply: “Most of the big advances in subs made by the former Soviet Union came about as a result of U.S. technology they stole.” Now, is that actually a fact or just one of those Cold War rumors?

    But asking the question about China “catching up” helps visionalize the challenge: What would it actually take for the Chinese to catch up with the Virginia-class SSN technology, the result of six decades of top-notch research and development (not to mention six decades of operational experience)? I don’t think they’re trying to catch up, but to develop what they consider necessary to defend their coastline. HK

    MAS responds: It is fact. At one point the US had little trouble tracking Soviet subs because they lacked the milling technology to build ultra-quiet props. Our good friends, the Japanese, solved this problem for them by selling them a computer driven milling machine (which the US foolishly licensed to Toshiba) which allowed them to build props every bit as quiet as those on US subs. This was nationwide news and one of the worst intelligence defeats of the cold war for the US.

    Reply: I remember the prop case and others like it, but what I reacted to was your claim that “most” Soviet sub advances were due to theft. I don’t know how many advances they made and can’t quantify the impact of theft, nor have I seen anyone else doing so. HK

  28. Ja: Lets hope that tensions will not get near to what it was in the cold war. Although we should not just trust China, we should try prevent arms races.

    Reply: Finally! After 28 summitted comments, you’re the first person who actually raise the challence facing both China and the United States (not to mention Japan): How to avoid getting caught up in an arms race?

    There are plenty of actors on both sides of the Lake who point to this or that weapon system as a justification for developing their own. It is much harder to find people who can suggest credible ways to break that cycle. HK

  29. T: I have a friend who was serving in a key postition on a fast attack sub when and after Toshiba illegally sold the Soviets the lathes they needed to build quieter screws. He said it definately reduced their signature in a big way, reducing some of our advantages considerably.

    Reply: But the statement was: “Most of the big advances in subs made by the former Soviet Union came about as a result of U.S. technology they stole” (emphasis added). For sure the Soviets spied on us, and we spied on them. But the Toshiba technology was bought, not stolen. “Most of” is a big statement.

    My point is that just as in the case of the Soviet Union it is important to be accurate about what we say the Chinese are doing. They spy too, and we spy on them, and some of what they find will be important, but how much and to what extent it will matter is harder to gauge. HK

  30. Nick: I was just wondering what the relative rates of sub research/development are between the US and China. After all, a large portion of the US military budget is currently supporting two international force deployments – so how much money can they still throw into the question? And with China’s proportionally higher military spending, at what rate are they likely to close the gap?

  31. Jonsey: I’m also worried about the possibility that China steals high tech from countries like Sweden. Sweden is of course an allied to US. The Swedes produces excellent submarines, ask our sailors in San Diego. I’m really hoping that they can keep their high tech for them selves and don’t get robbed by China.

    Reply: But again, is there any evidence that China has been stealing high-tech submarine technology from Sweden? Many countries are producing excellent diesel submarines, including Japan and South Korea. It’s hard to keep China from following the lead. HK

  32. PG: What is the smaller sub at the dock just to the north of this one?

    Reply: It’s hard to say. It’s not a Kilo or Song, perhaps an old Romeo. HK

  33. JF: When something looks too good to be true, it usually is. Google updates its images fairly infrequently. What is the odds for these infrequent updates to coincide with the crown jewel of the Chinese strategic assets posing in a sitting duck position in a submarine base without underwater tunnel? That boat has to sit there for days if not months to be caught by the commercial satelites that Google uses. [comment shortened, ed.]

    Reply: Despite the saying, somthing can still be true even if it looks too good to be true. No matter what the odds are, the submarine would only have to be there the day the satellite took the image. And it was. HK

  34. MT: My GOD! China has one good untested nuclear sub, they must be planning to destroy the US, let’s bomb them before they come after us… Enough! China spends about one tenth of the US expenditure for military and is plaged with pre-70s equipment. That new sub is probably built around russian knowhow might prove as crappy as their earlier model. What’s funny is the fact that it is all paid with US dollars from foreign investment and exports.

  35. Mike: 1960, China: Chairman Mao is trying to buy ICBMs from Kruschev. Kruschev to Mao: “Why do you want these missiles? Don’t you care if you start a nuclear war?”

    Mao: “What do we care if we lose 300 million people. Our women will make it up in one generation”.

    Kruschev decided not to sell him the missiles.

    However, in 1997 President Bill Clinton, Loral Space Systems, and Hughes DID.

    Reply: During the Reagan era it was US policy to strenghten China’s military. Your comment suggests that Clinton and the contractors sold China ICBMs. Which ones? HK

  36. WP: I would think that we should be less worried about China constructing SSBNs and more concerned about China either acquiring constructing advanced SSKs. While it is true that we should be wary about entering into an arms race with China, maybe we should simply allow them their pound of flesh to construct noisy and (by US) standards almost obsolete SSBNS in order to concentrate on limiting the very effective weapons that they are very good at either building or buying. I say that with complete confidence that the U.S. sub force would put an ADCAP torpedo into the side of a boomer the second they hear the “on” switch for the fuel pumps.

    Personally, I don’t think China’s nuclear deterrent is enough to make it a credible world power. I think its everything else about China that accomplishes that task.

    Why not allow China to play with the toys that they want while simultaneously convincing them to give up the toys that they need?

    Reply: The observation that China is wasting its resources by building SSBNs seems valid, but I’m amazed to see how natural you make the leap to war with China. Just out of curiosity, how much deterrent does it take to become a credible world power? HK

  37. Dexter: Nick, I think that it’s a bit blithe to claim that “Sweden is of course an allied to US” [sic]. Neutrality has been a watchword of the Swedish military establishment and its foreign policy for four generations.

    I would be more inclined to see Chinese SSBNs as a nuclear deterrent if the PRC had taken other steps to maintain a second-strike nuclear capability (such as deploying rail-mobile ICBMs). There are other uses for submarine-launched missiles other than deterrence.

  38. PW: Reading what I wrote, it seems I suggested that and that deterrence and being a major world power are connected. I don’t think they are at all.

    All in all, I do think the whole concept of a nuclear deterrent is a bit unnecessary for any nation. Chances are, if you can afford to develop, construct, and deploy a deterrent force, then you have enough resources to be able to influence the world without it.

    Also, I’m not trying to claim that there will war with China, only that letting them build whatever SSBN they want doesn’t mean I’m going to let my guard down any.

  39. D: In reference to the Chinese government stealing US proprietary/Classified technology, I know for a fact that the Chinese attempt to break into government networks all the time. In fact I watched them do it last week – unsuccessfully! The Chinese are the masters of reverse engineering. I think its only a matter of time before they develop a SSBN that is almost at par with the US fleet. On the contrary, they will not have the experience that our submariners have obtained over the years.

    Reply: Yes, large military powers spy on each other all the time. Sometimes they get lucky, sometimes we do. The issue is not that the Chinese are bad because they spy on us, but how good we are at protecting our secrets. The Chinese are not going to stop spying, and nor are we.

    If the Chinese indeed “are masters of reverse engineering” (didn’t we use to say that about the Soviets all the time?), as you suggest, then it also tells us that they may not be very good at developing their own gear. “Made in China,” but not designed in China and with a chance of recall.

    As for the “almost” SSBN parity, certainly not in the foreseeable future. Let’s see first if they can actually get one on patrol. HK

  40. Nick: Dexter, I actually didn’t post that comment about Sweden, my post was the one above relating to the relative development rates of submarine technology between the US and China, given the proportionally higher military spending of China and the current drain on US military spending of international force deployments.

  41. Lucas: I like how everyone says countries that media and propaganda have portrayed as the “bad guys” always steal things. Really now, if there is the technology out there it IS for sale and everyone can buy it if they can meet the price. Just because a country is an ally of the US doesn’t mean they don’t have military trade agreements with China.

    If China is planning a conflict, don’t fool yourselves into thinking that their navy is going to have much to do with it. If you do some research you will find they have made significant advances in the areas of their main battle tanks and they also train their soldiers rather well. If conflict is to come, it will likely be fought primarily on land.

    FACT: The US does NOT train their soldiers very well and relies more on numbers and technology to win battles.

    FACT: The US military is far out numbered by the Chinese.

    FACT: Vietnam proved that a determined people with a major technological disadvantage can still beat a more advanced foe.

    The Chinese will likely just use their navy as defence and transport.

    Anyway, this is just my reasoning and logic, I’m sure not everyone will agree.

  42. K: Google Earth doesn’t really discriminate… there’s a picture of what appears to be an Ohio-class sub with its missile bay wide-open and tied to the pier at Bremerton at 47°33’29.18″N 122°38’10.24″W.

    Reply: And go further south to Bremerton (47°33’31.46″N, 122°37’48.32″W) where three more Ohio-class subs are fitting out. Two of these are converting to SSGN and one being upgraded from Trident C4 to Trident D5. I doubt the Chinese government will complain to Google about that image. HK

  43. JT: I see no evidence for your “FACT #1” being true, your second fact is indeed true but quite irrelevant. A large poorly trained, poorly equiped army without means of deployment is almost worthless and lastly, militarily the U.S. won the Vietnam war, Vietnam was lost politically. One need only look at the Tet Offensive to see evidence of this. They suffered a heavy military defeat but scored a propaganda victory.

  44. H: The type 093 have been declassified and on display at the People’s Revolution Military Museum to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

    There are significant differenced between the 093 and what you suggest to be the 094. The 093 desn’t even have sail planes.

    I believe this is the 092G version. same case as the lenghened 039G vs the original 039 Song.

    Reply: You’re saying they’ve built a second Xia-class that’s 10 m longer, or lengthened the original Xia? Can cou point to anything (sources, statements) that show that? HK

  45. BM: Wow, I’m a little surprised that if this is so secret that it’s not more cleverly hidden. However, if commercial satellites are able to detect this type of content, I would think military-grade satellites could get even more detailed content. I was actually “hunting” around on Google similarly and found some B-52 bombers sitting on the tarmac at Diego Garcia.

    Reply: Anyone with a high-resolution camera in space can take – and is taking – these kinds of photos. As soon as the weapons are displayed, they will be seen. The Chinese (like the other nuclear powers) actually go through a lot of trouble to hide or disguise what they view as truely secret. But to a significant extent they probably want the submarine to be seen. After all, deterrence won’t work if its invisible.

    Informaiton about deployment patterns are a whole lot more sensitive than images of submarines or aircraft, because they can reveal how you’re going to use the weapons, rather than simply confirm that you have them. B-52s on Diego Garcia are not secret, not least because it’s hard to hide them. More interesting on the Diego Garcia image are the four climate shelters for B-2 bombers on the other side of the tarmac. HK

  46. J: Lucas, the Chinese have very little capacity to transport their army across vast distances to overwhelm any other army as you have implied (I use the term army in the traditional sense; ground troops, artillery, armour and the accompanying admin and log attachments). This then suggests that China’s army is a defensive force and the only time a full scale war could involve such forces in number is if it were on the Chinese mainland land border.

    Therefore, I regard your prediction that any battle with China will be on land is moot. The only time China will use its ground troops is if the mainland is under threat/attacked or if Taiwan “needs” to be “pacified”. Which brings up the main point. The greatest threat to Chinese security is the secession of Taiwan, Taiwan has water between itself and the mainland.

    If the DPP is stupid enough to claim independence, the likelyhood of a battle across the Strates with the US and Japan is quite high. This would be why the Chinese have been expanding their amphibious capacity and missile stocks to target Taiwan. So one could surmise that China will definately be looking to bolster its naval capacity if its most likely area of conflict will be the Strates between the Mainland and Taiwan.

    China’s army personel are as much of a defensive weapon as their nuclear arsenal.

  47. Patrick: It’s a brave new world. It would be nice to see technology bring the world closer together and not be used to build more advanced fences. Greed and technology will eventually crush any society from within.

    How devastating would an underwater nuclear blast be to a submarine? Wouldn’t you just have to detonate the missle within a certain range to destroy any sub? So it wouldn’t matter who had the better tech, just who fires first.

  48. Wayne: The rotation of Stealth wings (fighter and bomber) at Diego Garcia is old news.

    As far as the Chinese SSBN’s they are at least a decade maybe more from being able to build the 24 – 8 (or more) MARV (independent maneuver reentry warhead) missiles that we are currenlty deploying on the Ohio’s.

    There are stealth features being added to the missiles as well, not to mention the new impellor propulsion systems being used on the newer Ohio’s which make them as silent as Clancy’s “Red October”.

    The primary mission of the Chinese is to deny us the Formosa strainghts for long enough for them to take out Taiwan. They know they can’t hold for long, but they hope for long enough.

    The point of the B-2s on Diego Garcia was to illustrate that infrastructure (not just the aircraft itself) can tell a lot.

    As for the “MARV (independent maneuver reentry warhead) missiles,” I assume you mean MIIRV (Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles). The public assessment of the U.S. intelligence community is that the DF-31, DF-31A, and Julang-2 all will be single-warhead missiles. The DF-5A could get MRV (Multiple Reentry Vehicles) if the Chinese decided to do so in response to a U.S. ballistic missile defense system, but so far I haven’t seen any authoritative reports that suggest such a development. HK

  49. H: The 094 is said to be based on the 093. We have seen the 093 on display.

    As we see the new SSBN does not look anything like the 093. This SSBN could very well be a lenghtened Xia. I don’t have any source of a second Xia and would rather doubt any sources stating such. This is merely my observation.

    Reply: Good points. The image you found certainly looks different. As far as I can understand from the web site, it shows images from a Chinese Ministry of Defense exibition on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the PLA. If it is indeed the Type 093, then it looks much slimmer than the Type 091 Han-class with, perhaps most surprisingly, no visible horisontal fins on the sail.

    If so, the Jin-class (if that is what it is) looks more like a modified Xia-class SSBN than a modified 093.

    My only problem with the conclusion that the satellite image shows a “lengthened Xia” is that the image of the “short” Xia in dry dock was taken in 2005 and the image of the “lengthened Xia” is from 2006. That would require completion of significant hull modification and sea-trials within just one year, which doesn’t seem possible.

    But I’m sure there’re many surprises ahead and rumors that turned out not to be accurate. HK

  50. CE: Dear Fellows, have you noticed the changes on the carrier based in Dalian? The ship’s surface seems to be ready for deployment. Take a look: 38°53’37”N 121°38’31”E. [shortened, ed.]

    Reply: Do you have older images of the carrier, so we can compare? One thing to keep in mind: “ready for deployment” takes a great deal more than the surface looking good in a 1 m resolution satellite image. Even the most optimistic projections don’t see an operational Chinese carrier for many year. The latest publicized Pentagon assessment states (p. 24) in part:

    “Recent deck refurbishment, electrical work, fresh hull paint with PLA Navy markings, and expressed interest in Russia’s Su-33 fighter has re-kindled debate about a Chinese carrier fleet. The PLA’s ultimate intentions for the Varyag remain unclear, but a number of possibilities exist: turning it into an operational aircraft carrier, a training or transitional platform, or a floating theme park – its originally-stated purpose.” HK

  51. PC: To all; there are some good points raised here, despite the lack of intelligence analysis. I think the greatest point is the arms race, I would not want to go back to the tension filled 60’s!!! We need to focus on more important issues in our country now, not spend our money and energy developing more and bigger weapons!

    As for the new SSBN being a threat, we had the technology and capability to follow and destroy any undersea threat back in the 70’s, & our detection HW & SW has gotten better since then. The previous poster is correct, a proximity blast will destroy an undersea target by breaching the hull with concussion waves. It will also kill a lot of marine animals as well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

    To HK; as a former sonarman, there is a lot that can be done to affect subsurface targets without a nuke blast.
    The tension levels for our service people will be much higher if we go into another arms race, so let’s hope this doesn’t signal that. For all of us.

  52. TJC: I get the impression from reading all of these posts that people still think of the Chinese people as living in the dark ages, which I’m sure for the sake of secrecy their military wouldn’t correct anyone for saying. But I know and work with a lot of Chinese people and they most certainly are not stupid. One needs only look at any high tech or R&D facility in the US to see that.


    My take on the whole Chinese sub situation would be that it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it turned out that they occasionally and purposefully display obsolete weapons technology as a distraction so as to propagate the impression to the rest of the world that they are “behind the times” and making little to no progress, but in reality they end up having the best weapons tech on the planet.


    Yes, I will agree that the US has a lead in practical experience and Naval history, but where there is sufficient brain power and a sufficient desire to create something then it’s inevitable to do so. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when I hear people say the Chinese are “decades behind”, I don’t buy that at all. To me it’s the same as problems I deal with at work…if you want something done quick you just throw a bunch of money at it. So equate money with intelligence and desire and the time factor evaporates.

    [shortened, ed.]

  53. I want to thank some folks here for some very level-headed assessments but I can’t help poking irreverent fun at statements about how Chinese forces “far outnumber” US forces or how US dollars are paying for sneaky new Chinese submarines.

    Well, um the USN budget for FY2007 was US$ 127.3 billion and that year China had directly purchased US Treasury securities worth US$ 416.0 billion in February and US$ 477.6 by December, so you can also argue that China is *financing* the cost of the five or six Trident-firing submarines that target it: it’s a complicated world.

    I’ve been living in China for five years now. The government has its hands full steering an economy of 1.3 billion and military conquest is simply not the mindset here. This is a culture of intensive social networking based on building win/win relationships because that is what millennia of drought, flood and famine has taught them. It has hardwired into their worldview that when the chips are down, family and friends are all you can really count on to survive. This is one reason why divorce is still rare here.

    The PLA is bigger than the US armed forces? The old rule of thumb is that the invader needs 4:1 superiority for assured conventional victory. How would China ship six million men to California? Stealth kayaks across the Bering Straits?

    International law says China would also have to assume the occupied country’s liabilities. Does anyone seriously imagine they want to take over the USA for the privilege of paying off US$ 10 trillion of debt? And that’s just Federal debt.

    What are folks afraid of? That they’ll invade your home, make your capitalist job so you can turn your lawn into a rice paddy and then your wife would have to learn how to cook real food for a change?

    Do you really think they want to figure out how to deal with all the gun nuts running around? Armed forces and government agencies apart, the USA has 81 guns per 100 inhabitants against 3 per 100 here. Poor Chinese! They wouldn’t know where to begin.

    And secrecy? After 30 years of life in France and Sweden, plus 16 in New York, the Chinese are the most gossipy of the lot. If you’ve ever read Dante’s Inferno and all the different hells it describes, each with a special form of suffering custom-tailored to a sinner’s particular sin, well, he left out the worst suffering of all: eternal damnation to a post in Chinese Counterintelligence.

    Finally, I realize this is sensitive but to think clearly about the future, you have to start by taking a clear look at the past, so please accept that my intention is constructive: it’s strange to hear claims of US military victory in Vietnam. The US lost a war of attrition. Wars of attrition are nothing new to military history. It cost the Vietnamese pennies to fix a 7.62mm bullet atop an iron nail and cover it with plank so that it would go off under a soldier’s foot. How much did it cost to fly him out in a Chinook? Or to build, operate and staff the hospital that had to treat him? And then to train, transfer in and pay his replacement in his unit? It was classic attrition strategy through cost effectiveness.

    Have a nice day.

  54. Found this article after hearing about the Jianggezhuang base on NPR. Couple of questions I’ve got:

    At an estimate, would it be prohibitively difficult to expand the Jianggezhuang base to fit the Jin class, or more than one Jin? Also what kind of practical defense does such a base offer beyond concealing whatever is inside it?

    At an estimate of submarine construction, how long would it take for all five Jin class to be constructed, then as an estimate of Google Earth Intel gathering how long before they were spotted and (relatively) confirmed?

    I’d not be concerned with a direct confrontation between the U.S. and China, they’re not stupid and neither are we. Even if we assume for the sake of the argument that they have the capacity to rival or stalemate the U.S. they’d suffer at least as much damage, most likely more in terms of percentage of population.

    What worries me is the kind of treaty entanglements that ultimately started the first world war. If China were to lay claim to Taiwan or other territories, forcefully, who would that drag in to the conflict, and would the U.S. be under obligation to become involved from the immediate targets of the Chinese, or allies of the contested regions? With N.Korea and India packing new nuclear armaments and being neighbors to China, are those neighbors more likely to be the targets of the new Jin, and/or a renewed SSBN program?

    Okay, okay, I’ve got more than a few questions….

    Reply: Questions are good…. The Jin might already fit in the Jianggezhuang sub cave. The entrance seems wide enough, although it might get narrower further in. We just don’t know. But the Chinese government apparently has decided that it needs a SSBN base with both the Northern and Southern fleets. That said, just because the Jin class has been photographed on Hainan Island doesn’t prove that it will also be based there. But it is a reasonable guess.

    The protection offered by a submarine cave is probably considerable against most conventional weapons, although the U.S. military is certainty trying to develop penetrators that can dig through several meters of rock. But why waste the effort trying to go through the rock when all you have to do is blast the entrance? That will effectively trap (and possibly also damage) anything inside.

    Concerning the production speed of the Jin SSBNs, the first was launched in 2004, first detected by commercial satellites in 2007, and two more later that year. So China might have launched three by now. But launched doesn’t mean operational, and the oldest Jin is not yet operational. China had significant difficulties bringing the Xia up to operational status, so we’ll have to see when the first reaches operational status. DOD seem to believe in 2009-2010, but they have been wrong before.

    As for the risk of direct confrontation, it’s not so much the deliberate and calculated scenarios that worry me as the possibility that posturing and plans can drag us into a clash that might escalate to nuclear use. The Jin class is not an intercontinental weapon because it’s missiles can’t reach the continental United States unless it sails far into the Pacific. Such a deployment would probably be suicide. Instead, I think the Jin mission is regional; targeting Russia, India and U.S. bases in the region. North Korea is not believed to be a target for Chinese nuclear weapons.

    But operationally, China’s SSBN fleet is starting from scratch; they have no operational experience and poor command and control capabilities. Unless they develop that, the Jin program is really a waste of money. HK

  55. I am a Chinese, the Google of China leaking military secrets, serious protest! Are we even the country’s national defense construction should be ridiculed? [sic]

    Reply: It is a common misunderstanding that Google Earth reveals military secrets. But the images on Google Earth do not reveal anything that is not already known to China’s potential adversaries. Both the United States and Russia have monitored the Chinese sites for decades with their own spy satellites, which have resolutions that are much higher than the images you can find on Google Earth. And the images on Google Earth are not updated very often and so are not very useful for keeping track of new developments. But China itself also buys commercial satellite images to study other countries’ facilities. The only thing Google Earth changes is that it allows the public – those of us without access to classified spy satellite images – to “discover” a bit of what the intelligence community has been looking at for years. Google Earth enables public scrutiny and government accountability, the very basis for democratic societies. HK

  56. The Chinese intent is the most important national security issue, we Americans face, in the future. America needs a major awakening, macro-globally, to what we truly face, by being foreign-dependent on our oil supplies. IMO, China views the global eco-geo-political-military position of America very clearly, while our officials make false assessments, of the dire situation developing, by being blinded by our over-inflated ego assessments of the real potential danger. Has anyone truly realized, our oil must be carried across two major oceans, leaving America a sitting duck, on the tiny islands of N. and S. America. We need far more oil than will be available, should a conventional WW-III break out. We will be stranded, by China’s future sub capabilities — I do not state this lightly, as I have studied the sub-hunting capabilities, for years — sound wave capabilities of all detection systems, if you know what I mean. Everyone must realize, while we’ve been asleep under BushCo’s wars, China has also moved extensively into Africa’s rich resources, of which oil is 30% of global supplies. Also, strategically, Africa and China’s entry of over 2000% increase over the last decade compared to America’s only 400% increase, gives China a geo-military-political advantage of considerable force; She’s now practically surrounding the Mid-East oil fields, as well. Somebody had better wake up in America, and see China, from China’s strategic military and eco-geo-political perspectives, than from America’s false ego’s confidence perspective.

    All I need do is ask, “How you expect America to get its oil across two oceans, if an almost certain, future conventional oil war breaks out, over known resource declines of said oil?” And, if one plays out the strategic logistics of an extended conventional oil war, just look at the eco-geo-political-military regional consequences: Three basic autocracies, Russia, China and Islam, and more than likely, a capitulation of India and Europe, to the Chinese side, in any real global conventional conflict, as nuclear must be ruled out as MAD, and I don‘t really believe anyone is going to be that stupid… Yet, believe me, It’s approaching fast, and America better awaken, the logistics I speak of are a real possibility. Further, do it by population scenarios of eco-geo-political-militarism, and one quickly sees why any Mid-East oil war, would force India and Europe to capitulate. We all know, in the back of our minds, who will be the true land-powers, in any such scenario. China and Russia could hold Mid-East oil hostage to India and Europe, joining them, by the shear forces of economic and food starvation tactics. In any extended conventional naval battle, America would surely lose, as all these land locked autocratic empires need do, is sink our oil tankers, with any number of conventional means, and remember, one of China’s diesel-electric-battery subs surfaced, right in the middle of our Pacific Ocean carrier, etc., exercises, just last year, without detection…A major embarrassment to the big wigs.

    We’d better start studying these scenarios a bit deeper, and fast make America energy independent, as at the moment, we have a very insecure national defense policy and actual potential. In just a few years, we’ll have a naked national security defense potential. This is serious…!!!

    Reply: Whoa, how do you sleep at night? A highly worst-case – almost doomsday – analysis. Granted, U.S. energy policy certainly is in need of a major overhaul – once again, and China is getting richer and modernizing its military. But I think your “us and them” methodology makes use of a few observations (some incorrect or incomplete) to conclude a lot while ignoring (or missing) other factors.

    For example, while you’re correct to point out the vulnerability of the US dependency on foreign oil – although it is by no means entirely dependent on foreign oil, you miss that China appears to be make a similar mistake.

  57. [Edited] Dear Mr. Gillespie,

    You do realize that China’s nuclear arsenal is on a par with that of Britain, China, France, Israel and Pakistan — 250 to 300 warheads, give or take spares, seems to be the level generally agreed by professional soldiers to ensure deterrence and a bit of extra clout at the bargaining table. Only the USA and CIS seem to be caught in a “MAD” dynamic.

    Over most of its millennia of history, China has ever been a regional power and a commerce-driven one at that. It remains so. It was the threats of generals Lemay and MacArthur to drop nuclear weapons on China that traumatized Beijing into developing an arsenal of its own.

    Moreover, a lot of people outside the USA find it is grotesque for a nation to consume 25% of the world’s resources and buy 47% of its arms each year while weighing in at only 5% of world population.

    It also becomes tiresome to read over and over how America is under attack, attack, attack. Yes, there was 9/11. But as a Colombian friend put it, “Yes, we are sorry for the victims, but 3,000 people and two buildings? We’ve been living like that for 20 years.”

    Perhaps the best way to avoid coming under attack is to shut down some 761 overseas military installations: folks everywhere hate gatecrashers.

    Perhaps it is also about taking a detailed look at other peoples. Islam has never ever been a unified faith. It is as diversified as Christianity and Judaism. Not only is bin Laden not its big-brother-in-chief, but it doesn’t even have a structured equivalent of the Vatican: it’s a decentralized religion. Muslims have been tearing out their hair since the 7th century over their inability to unify.

    As for China, it has 56 official languages. Beyond that, the shift into a market economy that began over 20 years ago means that business has an increasing say in government policy and autocracy is a myth anyhow. Recovery of Hong Kong and Macau about a decade ago has injected additional influences into the Beijing game.

    As for hostage-taking by China and Russia, international relations are more like the evolving ballet of two wrestlers adjusting and readjusting their holds on each other. Although strategic obliteration of entire peoples is back in fashion, the name of the game in Beijing and Moscow in international and domestic relations is the identification of win/win arrangements rather than boring unconditional surrenders.

    Not everybody thinks alike.

    On who is paying for whose SSBNs and such, you could also argue that the USD 538 billion of the USD 1.3 trillion in China’s foreign currency reserves is mostly invested in US Treasury securities actually amounts to a loan that covers the entire DoD annual budget.

    And as the Chinese yuan revalues, the interest on those securities vanishes into thin air.

  58. [Edited] Interesting news about the Type 94 SSBN. Interesting comments, too. The Chinese are indeed working hard to have a working SSBN.

    Stolen technology aside, there are no comments on reactor safety. The Chinese, and the Russians as well, still have to build a naval nuclear reactor that is safe to operate at sea. The Soviet/Russian Navy had its share of accidents, and one of the Xia-Class boats, the Type 94’s predecessor, sank after an accident that some analyst relate to a reactor failure.

    The new design may be seaworthy, but it is hard to tell whether the reactor is safe enough to operate. Soviet submarines’ reactors had less (if any) shielding than their American counterparts, and early designs lacked backup cooling systems, which not only caused bad accidents but also cancer to their crews. Are Chinese nuclear power plants in the same league? Probably. The Chinese still have to master some technologies, including nuclear safety.

    Before the Type 94 becomes a real threat, it would be good to know if it is both seaworthy and nuclear safe.

    My two cents.

    Reply: Good currency questions. You write that “one of the Xia-Class boats, the Type 94’s predecessor, sank after an accident that some analyst relate to a reactor failure.” I have heard that rumor too but been reluctant to include it in my estimates because of lack of credible sources. What are your sources for this? HK

  59. I read about that accident in a book by Alfred Hutchhausen about the ill-fated Soviet submarine K-19. At the end, there is an accident list with a reference to a sunk Xia-Class submarine, allegedly due to a reactor failure. The reference goes on citing a few known Chinese scientists dead aboard the boat, whose obituaries were published some days later, and some higher-than-normal radiation levels at the wreckage site.

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