Test launch of the JL-3 SLBM. Photo Military-today.com
China continues to build the naval component of its strategic nuclear forces. The key element of this process in the mid-term will be the promising Juilan-3 ballistic missile, which is distinguished by improved technical characteristics and combat qualities. She has already passed some of the tests and will be ready for service in the coming years.
The first reports of the development of a new SLBM for Chinese SSBNs appeared in the middle of 2017. As often happens, this information appeared in foreign sources, incl. associated with intelligence agencies. It was argued that the new product is called "Juilan-3" (JL-3) and is intended for promising submarines "Type 096".
At the same time, a photo of the Project 032 submarine at the quay wall of the Dalian Liaonan Shipyard plant was freely available. It was assumed that she underwent modernization, the results of which became an experimental vessel for testing a new rocket. The modernization consisted in the installation of two mines under the SLBM. They are located in the central part of the body and protrude beyond it, which required an increase in the fence of the sliding devices.
At the end of 2018, foreign media reported on the first test launch of a new rocket. The launch and flight along the given trajectory were successful. The next launch, which again ended with the successful completion of the assigned tasks, took place in early June 2019. In December of the same year, the third launch took place. New reports on the tests of "Juilan-3" have not yet been received.
Experimental missile launches were carried out at sea ranges in the Yellow Sea. Such tests naturally attracted the attention of foreign armies, which tracked missiles and inert warheads throughout the flight. The foreign media wrote that the launches were not carried out at full range, but the exact data on this matter were not published.
The launch of the Juilan-2 rocket. Photo Defpost.com
A few days ago, in early May, the Chinese edition of the South China Morning Post again brought up the topic of the JL-3 SLBM. According to his information received from sources in the PLA, the promising missile can be used with Type 094A submarines. The first ship of this type was officially presented at the end of April. At the same time, it is not specified whether the newest SSBN managed to get its main weapon, or rockets are only expected in the future.
China has traditionally been silent about the technical features and characteristics of new weapons. There are only unofficial reports and assessments of various kinds. If they correspond to reality, then in the near future the potential of the PLA Navy will grow significantly - along with their role in the strategic nuclear forces as a whole.
It is believed that the JL-3 is a deep modernization of the previous Juilan-2 missile or a new development based on mastered technologies. Due to certain solutions, the growth of all the main characteristics, primarily the range, is ensured. Also, according to some estimates, the missile received more advanced and powerful combat equipment.
Apparently, "Juilan-3" is a three-stage rocket with a solid propellant propulsion system. In terms of dimensions and launch weight, it should not be inferior to the previous JL-2, which is 13 m long and weighs approx. 42 tons. At the cost of an increase in the rocket and through the use of updated fuel compositions, an increase in the firing range is achieved. This parameter is estimated at 12-14 thousand km.
The missile is equipped with an inertial guidance system with astrocorrection, which is traditional for SLBMs. It is also possible to use the Chinese satellite system "Beidou".
Experimental submarine "Type 032", 2017 Photo by Jane's
The new SLBM will receive a multiple warhead with individually guided warheads. According to foreign data, configurations of combat equipment are proposed with three, five or seven warheads with a capacity of 35 to 90-100 kt. In this case, the maximum launch range is determined by the configuration of the warhead.
According to the known data, the only diesel-electric submarine of the project "3" with the tail number "032" became the first carrier of the "Juilan-201" rocket. This ship was converted several years ago for flight tests of the rocket. Two silo launchers were placed in the center of the hull and inside the wheelhouse enclosure. It is obvious that such a restructuring of a combat submarine into an experimental vessel is of a single nature and will not be continued.
According to the latest reports, the JL-3 missile will be able to carry and use the new 094A submarines. The ships of the base type "094" each have 12 launchers for the Tsuilan-2 SLBM missiles. During the modernization, compatibility with new weapons was ensured, and the amount of ammunition remained at the same level.
"Tszuilan-3" was originally mentioned together with promising SSBN pr. "096". Such ships will carry 24 missiles each, making them the most effective and dangerous submarine missile carriers of the PLA Navy. It is known about plans to build six such submarines. Two are already at different stages of construction. According to foreign data, the lead ship will be transferred the fleet already this year. The entire series will be completed no later than the second half of the decade.
Missile carrier pr. "092". Photo Whitefleet.net
By now, China has built a fairly large submarine missile-carrying fleet, and in the coming years, its quantitative and qualitative indicators will significantly increase. There are eight missile carriers of various types in service, and seven more are expected. However, not all such ships can be called modern combat units, suitable for full-fledged combat duty.
The oldest representative of the submarine component of the strategic nuclear forces is the Changzheng-6 SSBN - the only representative of the 092 project, which was accepted into the Navy in the early eighties. It carries 12 Juilan-1A medium-range missiles with a one-piece warhead. In all likelihood, the obsolete ship will be taken out of service in the medium term.
Five submarines have been built on the original 094 project since 2007; the sixth refers to the updated "Type 094A". One more modernized "094" is expected in the near future. Both modifications of this SSBN are equipped with 12 launchers - for the JL-2 or JL-3 missile. Thus, the grouping of boats "094 (A)" is capable of simultaneously deploying 72 intercontinental SLBMs carrying from 72 to 320 warheads.
In the future, the combat strength will include six ships of the project "096". Together, they will be able to carry 144 missiles of the latest model. In theory, they can be deployed from 432 to 1000 warheads, depending on the configuration of the warhead.
SSBN "Type 094". Photo News.usni.org
Thus, the PLA Navy already has the ability to organize combat duty of SSBNs with a sufficiently large number of SLBMs on board, ensuring effective nuclear deterrence of a potential enemy. In the future, with the emergence of new Type 096 ships and Juilan-3 missiles, such a fleet's potential will grow significantly.
It is easy to calculate that 12-14 modern submarines of two types will be able to carry more than 200 missiles and more than 1300 warheads, which exceeds the known number of China's strategic nuclear forces, even taking into account their future development. Obviously, this potential will not be used immediately and fully. However, in this case, too, the marine component will grow, and this will give certain advantages.
The future of nuclear forces
China continues to develop its strategic nuclear forces. The work is carried out in all three main directions, and, as can be judged, a lot of attention is paid to the marine component. By the end of the decade, the number of missile-carrying submarines will almost double, and the ability to carry missiles and warheads will grow exponentially.
In terms of quantitative and qualitative indicators, SSBNs and SLBMs in the future will be able to catch up with or even bypass strategic ground-based missile forces. Thanks to this, the strategic nuclear forces will become more flexible and convenient in terms of planning. Depending on current and anticipated needs and threats, the command will be able to redistribute nuclear capabilities between different components and get maximum benefits.
Exactly how Beijing will use its new opportunities will probably become known in the future. So far, it is only clear that in these processes a large role will be assigned to modern submarines and promising missiles, which are still at the stage of construction and testing.