With new subs, China enters an exclusive club as one of few world powers possessing the nuclear triad

(NationalSecurity.news) After decades of development China may be set to finally launch its Jin class submarines this year, undersea platforms which will carry nuclear-tipped ICBMs and give Beijing an air-, land- and now sea-launch capability.

As reported by The Daily Beast, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy looks likely to conduct its first operational patrols with nuclear weapons aboard the subs at some point this year. When that happens, China will have achieved a level of maritime nuclear strike capability that, at present, is only possessed by the United States and Russia.

“China will probably conduct its first SSBN nuclear deterrence patrol sometime in 2016,” the Pentagon warned in the latest edition of its annual report on the Chinese military, published in mid-May. Once the Jins set sail, Beijing will command a nuclear “triad” composed of ground-, air- and sea-launched nuclear weapons.

“The theory is that a diverse array of delivery systems creates survivability by complicating a first strike,” Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nuclear geopolitics with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told The Daily Beast.

What he means is, if a country possesses all three manners of attacking with nuclear weapons, it becomes infinitely more difficult to destroy that enemy’s nuclear strike capabilities in one fell swoop, giving that nation a second-strike capability to hit back. That creates a deterrence; nations refrain from attacking each other over fear that any escalation might result in nuclear retaliation.

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The nuclear triad is a level of deterrence that most nations simply do not have the resources – financially and technologically – to possess. Some that do – say, Japan, Germany and Britain – have made the conscious decision not to invest in such capabilities.

As for China, its military reportedly possesses a few hundred nuclear warheads, which is far fewer than the 7,000 or so each possessed by the U.S. and Russia. Also, Washington and Moscow boast a wider range of launchers for their nuclear weapons.

The Daily Beast reported further:

The Chinese military’s rocket branch maintains around a hundred long-range rockets in land-based silos. The Chinese air force’s H-6 bombers first dropped atomic bombs back in the 1970s—and modern versions of the bombers can fire cruise missiles that are compatible with nuclear warheads. When the Jins are finally war-ready, they will complete Beijing’s land-air-sea atomic triad.

As for China’s operational experience with nuclear missile subs, designated SSBN’s by the Pentagon, Beijing’s navy lacks the decades of experience inherent in the U.S., Russian, British and French navies, the latter of which still operate SSBNs (India is working on its own version).

Missile boats first appeared in the 1960s; China has been working on developing its own version since 1981 and is just now ready to put one to sea.

“While it is clear that the [Chinese navy] is making strides towards correcting these issues, the capabilities of China’s nuclear-powered submarine fleet remain in a process of maturity,” the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, explains on its website.

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