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China tests nuclear missile that could strike US from 5,600 miles away

Jin (Type 094) Class Ballistic Missile Submarine. (Navy Office of Legislative Affairs/Released)
December 27, 2018

China recently conducted a test of a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the United States.

The missile test took place late last month from a submarine in the Yellow Sea, during which the Julong-3 missile – with a flight range of 5,600 miles – was fired, according to the South China Morning Post last week.

A source who revealed news of the launch to SCMP also said the JL-3 missile made significant strides with an increased distance of approximately 1,250 miles over its predecessor missile.

“It’s still big progress, although it’s still far less powerful than the Trident or the Russian Bulava … their flight range means they can reach any targets in the world,” the source said.

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“The JL SLBMs have a shorter range because the Chinese military has so far failed to make any significant technology breakthroughs in developing nuclear-powered submarines,” the source added.

China has worked on improving its nuclear capabilities at sea. Their land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is already capable of traveling 7,500 miles – long enough to hit anywhere in the U.S.

“If China can improve the strike capability of the JL-3, it will give it more bargaining power on military, diplomatic and economic issues,” said Li Jie, a Chinese military expert.

China still lags behind the U.S. and Russia in terms of nuclear and ballistic missile technology. The U.S. Trident II missile and Russia’s Bulava missile both have a 7,500-mile range from a submarine launch.

However, China’s recent increased investments into their weapons technologies has shown that they are trying to close that gap.

“With wide applications of new materials and technologies, the development [of submarine-launched missiles] is accelerating,” said Chinese military analyst Wang Qiang, according to The Washington Free Beacon.

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“China’s testing of the JL-3 SLBM affirms Department of Defense reports starting in 2016 that state a next-generation nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), usually called the Type-096, will emerge in the early to mid-2020s,” said Rock Fisher, Chinese military analyst at International Assessment and Strategy Center.

Fisher added that when the JL-3 is fully operational, it will have a range of up to 8,700 miles, enough to strike anywhere in the mainland U.S., and exceeding the capabilities of their land-based ICBM.

By 2022, China is expected to launch its next-generation nuclear submarines, which would be able to hold 24 of the JL-3 missiles. Currently, China’s four nuclear submarines are capable of holding 16 JL-2 missiles.

“China is headed for a period of rapid buildup in its intercontinental nuclear warhead numbers,” Fisher said.

As China nears the reliable capability of striking the U.S. from its own coastline, military experts have warned Washington to focus on the capabilities of U.S. nuclear submarines and missiles to raise their own level of nuclear deterrence.