China’s Nuclear-Powered Guided Missile Submarines to be Operationalised by 2024

Continued from our previous report: Summary of Pentagon’s Report On China

The Pentagon has verified China’s first nuclear-powered guided missile submarine launch in its most recent report on China’s military operations. China’s military capabilities have been greatly enhanced by this discovery, giving it the ability to launch land and sea attacks that were previously exclusive to Russian and American ships. The first formal admission that the modified submarines seen at Chinese shipyards during the past 18 months are Type 093B guided missile submarines was made in the Pentagon study, which was made public on October 20.

This information comes after a May 2022 Reuters story that showed satellite photos from the northeast Chinese shipyard Huludao depicting a new or updated class of submarine that would be fitted with vertical launch tubes for cruise missiles. According to the Pentagon’s report, the Chinese navy will possess the capability for long-range precision strikes against land targets from its submarines and surface combatants, using land-attack cruise missiles. This notably enhances China’s power projection capabilities.

According to a Diplomat report– Next to the six 553-millimeter or 650-millimeter torpedo tubes, the improved Type 093A/B SSN and the cruise missile submarine variant (SSGN) of the class, designated Type 093G, are also believed to be outfitted with vertical launch system (VLS) cells for firing the YJ-18 ASCM and anti-ship variants of the CJ-10 cruise missile.

Pic credit: Reuters

These are so-called SSGNs, or conventionally armed missile submarines. They were partially developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War with the aim of targeting American aircraft carriers. Subsequently, the U.S. Navy created its own version by outfitting ballistic missile boats with a significant amount of land-attack Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Cruise missiles can fly at low altitudes or skim the sea surface, and they are distinguished from ballistic weapons by their long-range accuracy. When the US Navy attacked Libyan air defences in 2011 using Tomahawk missiles launched from USS Florida, it was the first time an American SSGN was employed in combat. Chinese strategists gave this event a thorough analysis.

Analysts suggest that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy will deploy these vessels not only as a means to counter aircraft carriers but also as formidable land-attack platforms, extending their strike range well beyond that of smaller attack submarines.

The Pentagon’s report indicates that three of these new SSGNs may become operational by the next year, as part of a broader expansion of the Chinese submarine fleet, which includes both nuclear and diesel-powered submarines. By 2025, China’s submarine fleet could comprise up to 65 vessels.

The Chinese defense ministry has yet confirmed it.

This confirmation comes in the context of an escalating submarine arms race, as China develops a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines as part of its evolving deterrent force. The effort to track China’s submarines at sea has become a driving force for increased deployments and contingency planning by the U.S. Navy and other Indo-Pacific region militaries.

Security experts highlight the significance of SSGNs for the Chinese navy. Equipped with cruise missiles, they offer the ability to conduct land and anti-ship attacks from a standoff range, which complicates strategic calculations for China’s adversaries.

The PLA has made strides in making its nuclear-powered submarines quieter and more challenging to track. However, it remains uncertain whether these advancements have been integrated into the newly launched SSGNs. Expected upgrades in nuclear-powered boats are likely to emerge before the end of the decade.

Diplomats and analysts have noted that China’s submarine force is a priority for President Xi Jinping, and these developments signal progress toward enhanced capabilities. However, it’s expected that the PLA navy will proceed with caution in the initial deployment of these advanced assets.

This report underscores China’s evolving naval capabilities and the global strategic implications of its expanding submarine fleet.

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