China is believed to be no more than two years away from being able to deploy nuclear-armed missiles on submarines, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing an unfinalized version of a study from an expert panel established by Congress.
The Chinese military is "on the cusp of attaining a nuclear triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and air-dropped nuclear bombs," according to the draft study by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Though the Chinese navy since the early 1980s has possessed a token ability to fire ballistic missiles from underwater vessels, the Asian power is now close to being ready to roll out a "near-continuous at-sea strategic deterrent," the commission report states.
China is presently fielding two Jin-class submarines with the capacity to carry JL-2 ballistic missiles with a maximum flight distance of 4,600 miles. Up to three more vessels could eventually be put to sea, according to Reuters.
Submarine-based nuclear weapons are more difficult to eliminate than other legs of the nuclear triad in a first strike, and so are assumed to ensure the viability of a nation's nuclear deterrent. If China is seeking to ensure it has the ability to launch a reprisal nuclear strike on the United States, it "would necessarily affect Indian and Russian perceptions about the potency of their own deterrent capabilities vis-a-vis China," the report concludes.
China is the only one of the five recognized nuclear powers to be building up its nuclear arsenal, according to the analysis. The country is projected by the Arms Control Association to have 240 nuclear weapons.
The U.S.-China commission called for the State Department to disclose just what it has done to persuade Beijing to take part in formal arms control talks. Thus far, the United States' primary partner in nuclear reduction efforts has been Russia.
The commission advised Congress to "treat with caution" any plan for the United States to enact new arms control cuts absent specific transparency on the status of China's nuclear arsenal usage doctrine.
The finalized report from the 12-person panel is slated to be published next Wednesday.