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Missile Mystery in Beijing

The mysterious DF-41 missile did not appear at the Chinese National Day parade on October 1st, but the Chinese Ministry of National Defense says the DF-31A did. But did it, or was it in fact the DF-31?

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The military parade at China’s 60th National Day celebration last week was widely rumored to be displaying a new long-range ballistic missile described in the news media as the DF-41. The rumors turned out to be, well, rumors.

Instead the Chinese Ministry of National Defense identified two other missiles: the nuclear DF-31A and the conventional DF-21C, to my knowledge a first.

But was it the DF-31A that rolled across the square or the shorter-range DF-31 already displayed ten years ago at the 1999 parade?

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Not Getting It Right: More Bad Reasons to Have Nuclear Weapons

A recently released report, U.S. Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century:  Getting It Right, by the ad hoc New Deterrent Working Group with a forward by James Woolsey, is an interesting document.  I believe this report is significant because it might typify the arguments that will be used against arms control treaties in the upcoming Senate debates. Continue Reading →

New Air Force Intelligence Report Available

The NASIC report dispels many web-rumors.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Air Force Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published an update to its Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat. The document, which I obtained from NASIC, is sobering reading.

The latest update continues the previous user-friendly format and describes a number of important assessments and new developments in ballistic and cruise missiles of many of the world’s major military powers.

The report also helps dispel many web-rumors that have circulated about Chinese, Russian, Indian and Pakistani nuclear forces.

In this blog I’ll focus on the nuclear weapon states, particularly China.

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A Chinese Seabased Nuclear Deterrent?

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?
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Strategic Failure: Congressional Strategic Posture Commission Report

The final report from the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission seems focused on hedging rather than leading.

By Ivan Oelrich and Hans M. Kristensen

The Congressional Strategic Posture Commission report published today is definitely not the place that the President or the nation should look for new ideas on how to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and lead the world toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

Even for a compromise document written by a diverse group, it is a work of deeply disappointing failure of imagination.  The recommendations can be summarized as:  the nuclear world should stay pretty much the way it is but at slightly lower force levels, incrementalism is the most we can hope for, and even that should be approached very cautiously.

The report comes close to dismissing the President’s vision of a world free of nuclear weapons – and the enthusiastic support it has generated worldwide – as a utopian dream:  “The conditions that might make the elimination of nuclear weapons possible are not present today and establishing such conditions would require a fundamental transformation of the world political order.”  The United States should retain a viable nuclear deterrence “indefinitely.”  The Commission surrenders to the nuclear problems of the world rather than recommending a proactive way forward out of the mess.

Of course, the Commission is not opposed to nuclear reductions per se and supports them under certain conditions, but it recommends that the approach “balances deterrence, arms control, and non-proliferation.  Singular emphasis on one or another element,” the report says, apparently hinting at disarmament, “would reduce the nuclear security of the United States and its allies.”

If the Commission’s report is any preview of the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review, we should expect minimal changes in nuclear forces, structure, or mission.  The report recommends a nuclear policy of “leading and hedging” but seems to be focused on hedging.

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New Pentagon Report on Chinese Military Forces

The 2009 Pentagon report shows hardly any changes of Chinese nuclear forces.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The new annual report on Chinese military forces published by the Pentagon shows essentially no changes in China’s nuclear forces compared with the previous report from 2008.

Perhaps most interestingly, the report shows that China has not increased the number of new DF-31 and DF-31A ballistic missiles, a deployment that has to pick up if the recent Defense Intelligence Agency projection that China’s “number of ICBM warheads capable of reaching the United States could more than double in the next 15 years” is to come true.

U.S. Strategic Submarine Patrols Continue at Near Cold War Tempo

U.S. ballistic missile submarines conducted 31 nuclear deterrent patrols in 2008 at an operational tempo comparable to that of the Cold War.

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By Hans M. Kristensen [updated]

The U.S. fleet of 14 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines conducted 31 nuclear deterrent patrols in 2008 at an operational tempo comparable to during the Cold War.

The new patrol information, which was obtained from the U.S. Navy under the Freedom of Information Act, coincides with the completion on February 11, 2009, of the 1,000th deterrent patrol by an Ohio-class submarine since 1982.

The information shows that the United States conducts more nuclear deterrent patrols each year than Russia, France, United Kingdom and China combined. Continue Reading →

US-Chinese Anti-Submarine Cat and Mouse Game in South China Sea

The Chinese military harassment of a U.S. submarine surveillance vessel Sunday occurred only 75 miles from China’s growing naval base near Yulin on Hainan Island.

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By Hans M. Kristensen [updated 1:50 P.M., 3/10/09]

The incident that unfolded in the South China Sea Sunday, where the U.S. Navy says five Chinese ships harassed the U.S. submarine surveillance vessel USNS Impeccable, appears to be part of a wider and dangerous cat and mouse game between U.S. and Chinese submarines and their hunters.

News media reports cite Pentagon reports of half a dozen other incidents just within the past week in which U.S. surveillance vessels were “subjected to aggressive behavior, including dozens of fly-bys by Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft.”

The latest incident allegedly occurred in international waters only 75 miles south of a budding naval base near Yulin on Hainan Island from where China has started operating new nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines. The U.S. Navy on its part is busy collecting data on the submarines and seafloor to improve its ability to detect the submarines in peacetime and more efficiently hunt them in case of war. Continue Reading →

Chinese Submarine Patrols Doubled in 2008

Chinese submarines conducted 12 patrols in 2008, the highest ever.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Chinese attack submarines sailed on more patrols in 2008 than ever before, according to information obtained by Federation of American Scientists from U.S. naval intelligence.

The information, which was declassified by U.S. naval intelligence in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists, shows that China’s fleet of more than 50 attack submarines conducted 12 patrols in 2008, twice the number of patrols conducted in 2007.

China’s strategic ballistic missile submarines have never conducted a deterrent patrol. Continue Reading →

China Defense White Paper Describes Nuclear Escalation

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By Hans M. Kristensen

A Chinese government defense white paper for the first time describes how China’s nuclear forces would gradually be brought to increased levels of alert during a crisis to deter an adversary and retaliate to nuclear attack.

The paper describes a growing portfolio of deterrence and counterattack capabilities with an ambitious agenda to control war situations with a more flexible deterrent and strategy.

Despite shortcomings, the paper provides a new level of Chinese transparency about its forces and planning. Continue Reading →