|The Chinese military is poised to send submarines armed with nuclear missiles into the Pacific Ocean for the first time, arguing that new US weapons systems have so undermined Beijing’s existing deterrent force that it has been left with no alternative. They point to plans unveiled in March to station the US Thaad anti-ballistic system in South Korea, and the development of hypersonic glide missiles potentially capable of hitting China less than an hour after launch, as huge threats to the effectiveness of its land-based deterrent force.|
A recent Pentagon report to Congress predicted that “China will probably conduct its first nuclear deterrence patrol sometime in 2016”
|Last Tuesday, a US spy plane and two Chinese fighter jets came close to colliding 50 miles off Hainan island, where China’s four Jin-Class ballistic missile submarines are based. A fifth is under construction.|
Each Jin submarine can carry up to 12 ballistic missiles.
|Behind the ominous warnings is growing concern in the People’s Liberation army that China’s relatively small nuclear arsenal (estimated at 260 warheads compared with 7,000 each for the US and Russia), made up mostly of land-based missiles, is increasingly vulnerable to a devastating first strike, by either nuclear or conventional weapons.|