|A Pair of Type-094 Jin-Class Submarines|
By Jim Wolf, Reuters Washington, D.C.
(Reuters) - China appears to be within two years of deploying submarine-launched nuclear weapons, adding a new leg to its nuclear arsenal that should lead to arms-reduction talks, a draft report by a congressionally mandated U.S. commission says.
China is alone among the original nuclear weapons states to be expanding its nuclear forces, the report said. The others are the United States, Russia, Britain and France.
Beijing is "on the cusp of attaining a credible nuclear triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and air-dropped nuclear bombs," the report says.
China has had a largely symbolic ballistic missile submarine capability for decades but is only now set to establish a "near-continuous at-sea strategic deterrent," the draft said.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has made it a priority to modernize the country's navy. China launched its first aircraft carrier, purchased from Ukraine and then refurbished, in September.
The deployment of a hard-to-track, submarine-launched leg of China's nuclear arsenal could have significant consequences in East Asia and beyond. It also could add to tensions between the United States and China, the world's two biggest economies.
Any Chinese effort to ensure a retaliatory capability against a U.S. nuclear strike "would necessarily affect Indian and Russian perceptions about the potency of their own deterrent capabilities vis-à-vis China," the report said, for instance.
Beijing already has deployed two of as many as five of a new class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. The JIN-class boat is due to carry the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile with an estimated range of about 7,400 km (4,600 miles).
The new submarines and the JL-2 missile will give Chinese forces its "first credible sea-based nuclear capability," the U.S. Defense Department said in its own 2012 annual report to Congress on military and security developments involving China.
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Related artcle - Waypoint or Destination? The Jin-Class Submarine and China’s Quest for Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrence Publication: China Brief Volume: 12 Issue: 15 by Benjamin S. Purser, III and Michael S. Chase