This is my publication on China’s nuclear submarine force for Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief. It explores how China’s strategic use of geography in the South China Sea – to include the creation of new landmasses anchored with political and military bases – facilitates the deployment of its emergent sea-based nuclear deterrent. Special thanks to Peter Wood at the Jamestown Foundation for his map-making skills and keen editing eye.
Geolocating Propaganda: Outdated Image of Woody Island in the Paracel Island Chain used in People’s Republic of China’s South China Sea Propaganda Poster
A recent article in the South China Morning Post detailing the People’s Republic of China’s recent seizure of a U.S. underwater military drone also showed a propaganda poster related to the PRC’s maritime territory claims within the South China Sea (SCS).
Analysis of geospatial information via Google Earth reveals the island in this propaganda poster is Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island chain in the SCS.
Additionally, the propaganda poster image of Woody Island is several years old, possibly from about 2013; facilities at Woody Island have been improved and expanded between 2013-2017, to include expanded quays, improvements to the island’s runway, and expanded/reclaimed land that increases the island’s area.
U.S. Government Research on the Penetration of Sarin (GB) into hard Targets at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah
WARNING: This film contains graphic images of animal deaths.
One military function for using Sarin (GB) on the battlefield is to penetrate targets fortified against blast effects from standard artillery shells. This film reveals how the United States Army Chemical Corps has conducted field tests to evaluate the penetration of Sarin (GB) into hard (fortified) targets at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. According to the film:
“Test animals, whose resistance to GB is comparable or slightly higher than man’s, were placed in targets of varying hardness. Targets included a sandbag machine gun position, a two-man covered foxhole, a hasty fortification, and a concrete command post bunker. Almost 4,000 yards away, a battery of 155 mm Howitzers prepared to fire standard GB-filled shells at the target complex. On command, all six pieces were fired. The visible cloud is burnt powder and dust kicked up by the bursting shells. GB itself is invisible in air. The howitzers were reloaded and fired as quickly as possible to put six more rounds on the target. Within 15 seconds, 75 pounds of GB had been dispersed. These scenes were filmed simultaneously by remote control cameras in each separate location, and have been shortened to conserve the running time of the film.
The animals in the machine gun position were the first to be affected. Although protected from blast and shell fragments, by the time the smoke and dust had cleared away, the pigeon in the foreground was dead from the effects of the nerve gas. Less than 40 seconds had elapsed. The pigeon in the two-man foxhole also has died in less than 40 seconds. The rabbit and goat showed symptoms in less than a minute, and were dead in less than four minutes. The sampling equipment in each position measures the concentration of GB that penetrates the fortification. The animals in the hasty bunker began to react to the GB in less than two minutes and were dead within three minutes. The goat in the machine gun position has now expired. It is less than three minutes since the shells landed. The effects of the nerve gas on the two goats in the command post bunker were evident in less than two minutes. Fortified positions of this kind are so sturdy that anything less than direct hits with high-explosive shells from medium artillery probably would fail to cause any casualties. None of the test animals were killed, or even injured by blast or shell fragments. All the animals were killed by the toxic chemical within four minutes after the GB shells landed in the target area. It must be recognized of course that with troops occupying hard targets such as these, GB casualties would be minimized if the men were properly masked before the toxic cloud enveloped them.
These tests demonstrated how quickly lethal concentrations of GB nerve gas can penetrate hard targets and fortifications of the type that normally provides considerable protection from high explosives.”
WARNING: This video contains graphic images of animal deaths.
Via: “Chemical Warfare – Penetration of Fortified Targets by Sarin (GB), US Army Video.” National Domestic Preparedness Coalition, September 28, 2012. https://youtu.be/B-CNQ-1gyLs.
A Cautionary Tale: Historical Review of the Intelligence Community Predictions about China’s Nuclear Program during the Early 1960s
In 1983 the United State (U.S.) Intelligence Community (IC) conducted a study of intelligence judgement prior to “significant historical failures” of the IC in predicting world events affecting U.S. national security. As the documents below reveal, one of the failures studied was related to judgments of China’s nuclear program and first nuclear test in 1964.
Interestingly, while the IC happened to correctly predict the general timing of China’s first nuclear weapon test, this was accidental. Judgments of China’s nuclear weapons program were based on limited, uncertain information that was filtered through preconceptions favoring certain technical pathways. Specifically, the IC predicted that China would develop a plutonium (Pu) device based on an incorrect identification of a plutonium-generating reactor at a facility in Baotou (referred to in this report according to the Wade-Giles Romanization system as “Pao-tou”), and subsequent analysis of this facility predicted it could generate enough Pu to produce a testable nuclear device by 1964 or early 1965. Although this timing was generally correct – China’s first nuclear test occurred in October, 1964 – the nuclear device tested contained uranium-235 generated from a gaseous diffusion plan in Lanzhou. Given this, predictions about China’s nuclear weapons program were based on incorrect interpretations of sparse information that easily could have led to different (and additional) incorrect judgments and predictions.
Historical Research: Chinese State Media Claims the Soviet Union Threatened China with a Nuclear Strike during the Zhenbao Island Border Conflict
A 2010 article in Cultural and Historical Reference (Wenshi Cankao), a publication of China’s state-controlled People’s Daily media outlet (Renmin Ribao), asserts that the Soviet Union threatened a “surgical” nuclear strike against China and that Chinese leaders publicly communicated the need to prepare for the possibility of nuclear war (Liu Chenshan, “1969 Chenbao Island Conflict: The Soviet Union’s Desire to Conduct a Surgical Nuclear Strike,” Cultural and Historical Reference, vol. 8 ). This supports declassified U.S. intelligence reporting and other academic research of the 1969 Zhenbao Island border conflict.
This week, AllSource Analysis chose my report “China’s Emergent Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent” as their Featured Analysis of the Week. Below is a preview of the report. For more of this kind of analysis, see the new Intelligence Channels service at AllSource.
According to a declassified presidential memo from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to President Lyndon Johnson, the United States was researching an ABM system (the NIKE-X) during the early 1960s as part of its Cold War nuclear arms race against the Soviet Union. One purpose for deploying the NIKE-X system was counterforce protection – i.e. protecting U.S. land-based strategic nuclear forces from Soviet nuclear attack. This suggests that early theoretical applications of ABM systems included possible nuclear warfighting plans. However, as the three-page preview of this document below reveals, the Office of the Secretary of Defense eventually argued against deploying the NIKE-X because of fears the system would destabilize the United States’ robust strategic nuclear deterrence posture.
Written by Renny Babiarz.
According to recent media reports, China may have initiated its first sea-based nuclear deterrence patrols with Jin-Class ballistic missile nuclear submarines (SSBNs). If true, this operational deployment demonstrably improves the credibility of China’s strategic nuclear deterrent. While some may characterize China’s sea-based nuclear deterrence patrols as a new security threat, China’s emergent submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability has long been expected. It represents a significant technical advance, but not an alarming one. Facing geographic and technical constraints, the submarines’ activities in the Pacific Ocean will remain limited in the near term.
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According to analysis of Google Earth historical imagery from 29 November 2013, a probable Chinese Jin-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), also known as Type 094 SSBN, was observed with 12 of its ballistic missile hatches probably open.
A SSBN is part of a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) system, designed for launching nuclear-armed ballistic missiles from undetectable locations underwater as part of a country’s strategic nuclear deterrent. The recently deployed Type 094 gives China its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent.
In 1966, China conducted a risky nuclear missile warhead test across its own territory. China’s fourth nuclear test was the first test of a nuclear warhead fitted to a ballistic missile, and was launched across approximately 1000 kilometers of Chinese territory. The nuclear U235 fission warhead was launched on 27 October 1966 by ballistic missile from the historical Shuangchengzi missile test facility (41.11N 100.33E), with an air burst detonation of about 12 kilotons at Lop Nor Nuclear Testing Grounds (near 41.50N 88.50E).
Sources for this information include the following: Li Jue, et. al., Contemporary China’s Nuclear Industry; Robert S. Norris, A. S. Burrows, and R. W. Fieldhouse, Nuclear Weapons Databook, Vol V: British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons; Yitzhak Shichor, “Peaceful Fallout: The Conversion of China’s Military-Nuclear Complex to Civilian Use;” Wm. Robert Johnston Online Archives (http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/nuclear/tests/PRC-ntests1.html); see also additional declassified files available through George Washington University National Security Archives (online at: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/).