A Chinese Seabased Nuclear Deterrent?

By June 1, 2009

An article in USNI, which carries this photo of USS Hartford (SSN-768) damaged in a recent collision, discusses China’s ballistic missile submarines.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The magazine U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings has an interesting article about China’s nuclear ballistic missile submarines written by Andrew S. Erickson and Michael Chase from the U.S. Naval War College. And I’m not just saying that because they reference several of my publications about China, but because they provide an interesting discussion of the possible motivations for China’s emerging sea-based nuclear force.

I, for one, have always wondered why, if China’s current strategic modernization is intended to reduce the vulnerability of its long-range nuclear deterrent, would China want to cluster a significant portion of its missiles on a few submarines and send then out to sea where U.S. attack submarines can hunt them down?

In theory a sea-based nuclear deterrent is invulnerable because it can hide. But given that the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Strategy in the 1980s was explicitly designed to find and sink Soviet ballistic missile submarines before they could launch their missiles, how secure will China’s sea-based nuclear deterrent actually be? Or how would China react in a crisis, if one of the submarines went missing due to an accident?

Categories: China, Nuclear Weapons