The pucker factor on this story about China’s “first” “real” nuclear missile submarine to close to zero. But Bloomberg is treating it like a big deal, so somebody needs to provide some perspective. Here’s the fuss:
China is preparing to arm its stealthiest submarines with nuclear missiles that could reach the U.S., cloaking its arsenal with the invisibility needed to retaliate in the event of an enemy strike.
The nuclear-powered subs will probably conduct initial patrols with the missiles by the end of this year, “giving China its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent,” according to an annual report to Congress submitted in November by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Deploying the vessels will burnish China’s prestige as Xi seeks to end what he calls the “cold war” mentality that resulted in U.S. dominance of Asia-Pacific security. Since coming to power, Xi has increased military spending with a focus on longer-range capacity, including plans to add to the country’s tally of a single aircraft carrier.
“For the first time in history, China’s nuclear arsenal will be invulnerable to a first strike,” said independent strategist Nicolas Giacometti, who has written analysis for The Diplomat and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s the last leap toward China’s assured nuclear-retaliation capability.”
Talking about China’s “stealthiest submarines” is not much different from talking about my “most sober Saturday nights,” with the big difference being that I often go out on Saturday nights but China’s subs are usually tied up in port. And I haven’t been a noisy drunk since the early ’90s. China has yet to build a boat up to Russian standards — of the 1980s. Word is, when Chinese boats do actually make it out to sea, they’re about as stealthy as a puppy festooned with empty tin cans and tiny bells. For reasons I cannot fathom, the puppy has been trained to operate one of those canned air horns.
Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but Military Today reported that “the Type 094 class boats are as noisy as Soviet submarines of the 70s.”
The SSBN referred to in this story is the Type 094 or Jin-class, and Beijing is believed to have built five out of a planned five or six hulls. The first Type 094 was commissioned ten years ago, nobody seems to be able to say if it has actually completed a single deterrence patrol.
I have been unable, over the course of a long lunch, been able to find any stories about a Chinese SLBM test launch which didn’t contain the word “failed,” although the fireworks display is impressive.
So China has inexperienced crews manning noisy subs armed with failure-prone missiles.
That’s not to say China won’t someday work out all these kinks, which is why we need to build enough Virginia-class boats to keep an eye on things — and keep them out to sea long enough to make sure our crews are always, always, always the best-trained on the seven seas.