Jeffrey LewisJL-2 SLBM Flight Test

Greetings from Beijing. Li Bin (right) says hello.

China flight tested a Julang-2 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on or near June 10. A (probably Golf-class) submarine launched the JL-2 westward toward a target on a test range inside the country.

Bill Gertz reported the test in the Washington Times, which was later confirmed by US and Japanese government officials in reliable news outlets such as the Associated Press and Daily Yomiuri.

The Yomiuri also confirmed China test-fired the SLBM in 2001.

The National Air and Space Intelligence Center describes the JL-2 as a three-stage, solid-fueled ballistic missile with 4,500 mile range. The JL-2 can carry a single warhead, likely the 470 KG DF-31 RV tested between 1992-1996.

The JL-2 is a naval variant of the land-based mobile DF-31. In 1985, the State Council and Central Military Commission reorganized ongoing research into solid-propellent ballistic missiles, settling on a pair of “second generation” solid-fueled ballistic missiles for China’s missile modernization efforts: the DF-31 and JL-2, with the land-based DF-31 receiving priority over the JL-2. Recent NIC estimates predict Chinese deployments of the DF-31, an extended range DF-31 and the JL-2 in the last half of the decade—more than twenty years after the programs were inaugurated and almost a decade after initial flight testing.

I have always been puzzled by the delays in these programs. Little public information is available about the DF-31 flight testing program or Chinese budgetary allocations—but I suspect these two programs are underfunded. In 1996, NAIC predicted DF-31 deployment “about the turn of the century”— suggesting either lack of funds or technical problems. The DF-31 reportedly incorporates many advanced technologies similar to current-generation Russian missiles: upgraded mobility for the transporter-erector-launcher, advanced materials for the booster and payload, use of penetration aids such as decoys or chaff, and an improved solid propellant. NAIC claimed integrating these technologies was “presenting Chinese designers with substantial challenges.”

Still, China just hasn’t conducted many flight tests of either missile. China flight tested the DF-31 three times in 19992000. That is consistent with past Chinese practices of conducting a small number of tests, followed by a delay. More tests may be flown even after some missiles have been deployed.

Whatever the reason for the DF-31 and JL-2 delay, the Chinese appear to have reassessed their ballistic missile deployments during the 1990s to anticipate a delay. Between 1994 and 1998, the number of CSS-4 (DF-5) ballistic missiles in US intelligence estimates increased from “seven to ten” to “about twenty.” China may have increased the number of its ICBMs during that period, perhaps in response to anticipated delays in the DF-31 program (either from technical challenges or a decision to reduce investment). China has also continued periodic upgrades on the CSS-4, perhaps to extend the missiles service life beyond initial 2010 “best by” date.


  1. Chungta Hsieh (History)

    Who Confirmed who?

    The test fire of Chinese JL-2 SLBM was first reported by Daily Yomiuri on 06/17 in Japanese language, and on 06/18 in English language.

    Newswires in Asia have widely carried the news and commentaries on 06/18 and 06/19.

    Bill Gertz reported this on 06/22 and he didn’t mention the Daily Yomiuri in his report.

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    That’s a good catch, although the DPA story in the Taipei Times is terrible:

    Weng said China probably would deploy the Ju Lang-2, which carries nuclear warheads, on its Han-class nuclear submarines.


  3. Allen Thomson (History)

    PRC missile programs have traditionally moved at a glacial pace. Check the declassified DIA and CIA pubs from the mid-1980s to see the projections from that era.

    With respect to the DF-31, I’ve been expecting the space-launch version, the KT-1, to move along more rapidly than it has. Among other things, its expected characteristics seem to be just what China would want for an ASAT directed against US military/ intelligence satellites at low to medium altitudes.

    But that program, too, seems to be in the deep doldrums. Most puzzling.