Jeffrey LewisRoundtable & Happy Hour on Wed. 1/9

Another picture of China’s new SSBN, this one said to be at Sanya, Hainan Island.

I am psyched! My Nuclear Strategy Initiative is hosting an open-to-the-public roundtable on China’s Boomers: Implications if China’s Deterrent Goes to Sea here at the New America Foundation on Wednesday (January 9 @ 12:15).

We have a great line-up of speakers:

  • Christopher Twomey, Assistant Professor and Associate Chair for Research, Department of National Security Affairs and Co-Director, Center for Contemporary Conflict, Naval Postgraduate School
  • Andrew Erickson, Assistant Professor, China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI), Strategic Research Department, U.S. Naval War College
  • Christopher Yeaw, Associate Professor and Senior Strategic Researcher, U.S. Naval War College
  • Michael Glosny, Fellow, John. M Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University
  • Michael Gerson, International Affairs Group, Center for Strategic Studies, Center for Naval Analyses

I will be moderating.

Afterwards, please join us for a celebratory happy hour at the Big Hunt (1345 Connecticut Ave. NW), starting around 6 o’clock. Our speakers are attending. Seriously, it is going to be awesome.

(I will also try to finally post the long-awaited third post in my series on China’s SSBN force that began with Will China’s Deterrent Go to Sea? and How Capable is the 094?.)


  1. Tim H (History)

    Will you be posting video online for those of us in “Flyover Country”?

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Of the event, yes.

    Of the happy hour, absolutely not.

  3. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Is there any chance for a live webcast?

    I am traveling and can pick it up if you broadcast.


  4. Carl (History)

    Yep that looks like Yulin Naval Base to me. The piers and buildings fit, not so sure about the topography however. Good place to put a base, the absolute extreme southern point of China. Do you think Yulin is where this particular SSBN will call home from now on?

    I think it already says alot about the confidence the Chinese have in the sub to have it traverse the length of the country, albeit in or near it’s own waters, including the Taiwan Strait.

  5. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    It also says that the sub has been pretty well characterized when it went near Taiwan.

    Pretty sure bet that the US not only got a great passive, but active signature of this boat.

    The question is, is it there on a visit, or is it being based there?

    If it is based there, it would seem to put it further away from its patrol area (if the target is the USA).

  6. Allen Thomson

    Google Earth has a good image of the facility. Going by the twin towers on the left in the above picture, the single one on the right, and the piers, the submarine appears to be docked at 18.2100 N, 109.6875 E. Give or take a centimeter or so.

    BTW, the Sanya area looks like a great vacation spot. Lots of nice beaches.

  7. Carl (History)

    Yulin is a great vantage point for projecting Chinese power south towards the Malacca Strait and into the Indian Ocean. Also doesn’t hurt to have a SSBN in the neighborhood in order to exert claims on the Spratly and Parcel Islands. I am sure Vietnam is not too thrilled with its neighbor’s new toy.

  8. Tristan Passet (History)

    Another crucial question is : Except USA, will India be a target for Jl-2 slbm…? Chinese southern Sea is the best patrol area for such mission…

    One sub to deterre USA and another one to deterre… India ? It could be possible…

    For sure, with two subs (or more), chinese strategic force’s survavibility could seriously raise, but at which cost… Conservative think tanks and Neocons will find news hawkish arguments against the so called “China Threat”…

    PS : Happy New Year dear Jeffrey and all Arms Control Afficionados !
    From Monaco-Monte Carlo.

  9. Allen Thomson

    Tristan Passet wrote: Except USA, will India be a target for Jl-2 slbm…?

    Good question. If the JL-2 has the 8,000 – 9,000 km range commonly cited, then the submarine would have to travel to east of a line running between Yokohama and Guam just to reach the US West Coast. Unless the SSBN is stealthy indeed, it would be at considerable risk from the US SSNs that operate in those waters.

    On the other hand, just launched from the dockside position shown above, the JL-2 could reach all of East Asia, India, all of Russia, parts of East Europe, the Middle East east of Libya and a fair chunk of East Africa.

  10. Carl (History)

    With a range of 9,000km they wouldn’t have to be very far out of the Yellow Sea to hit the Pacific Northwest. Plus throw a considerable amount of the Chinese surface fleet in front of it to clear the waters of American SSNs and it gets a little more difficult to find and take out.

    And Allen, Sanya does indeed have nice beaches, but that’s about it. Bring a thick, good book. 🙂

  11. Jian Feng (History)

    If the coordinates estimated by Allen is really where the sub was located, that place is a bit too touristy – only 1.4 km from the nearest picture and 3.5 km from one of the most famous tourist spot on Hainan Island (at 10 o’clock position across the bay), which shows two Chinese characters that mean “end of the heaven”. There are even some boats speeding outside the barriers, if you look carefully. The Holiday Inn-like building on the left of the sub reminds me of some military resort. Perhaps the sub is on a port call for some R&R. We are reading too much into limited information. Why don’t we demand our democratic government to be more transparent on what they know about the Chinese, so we can sleep better instead of guessing. If our government won’t do it, we should either trust its discretion or try to elect a more transparent one. It’s a fantasy to expect the Chinese government to be more transparent. They will only show us what they want to let us know. Net Police in China will remove that submarine picture instantaneously if its release is not sanctioned by the government. Come on guys, folks in Chinese military intelligence might use this site and Jeff’s think tank to do some counterintelligence.

  12. Tristan Passet (History)

    India could be a possible target for this sub.

    India’s nuclear force was officialy developed to deterre China after the 1962 War. The Pakistan wasn’t the primary threat in spite of sino-pak links.

    Today, India would like to obtain its own strategic subs (armed with slbm or nuclear cruise missiles like Russia or another “I.” country…).

    So, southern location of this 094 sub could be a permanent one…

  13. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    The best unclassified estimates of the range of the JL-2 are <a href=“”>less than 8,00 km</a>.

    With that shorter range, China needs to get out into the deep waters of the North Pacific to target portions of CONUS.

  14. Allen Thomson

    > With that shorter range, China needs to get out into the deep waters of the North Pacific to target portions of CONUS.

    Count me sceptical that the the SSBN would last very long if it had to go that far into waters the USN has been operating SSNs in for a good many decades. But who knows how they’re thinking about such matters in China?

    As an aside, I tend to think early range estimates need to be regarded as just that — estimates. A case in point is the SS-N-8 which, during its test flights, kept going farther than the US’ upper bound estimates. It turned out that the fine folks at the Makeev design bureau had been very clever in their design of the upper stage.

    After the JL-2 has flown a few more times we’ll be more certain of what it can do.

  15. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Mike Glosny and I have been talking about the change in range estimates.

    I observe that the range of the DF-31 has fallen in estimates from 8,000 km to 7,250 km.

    How quiet the submarine is, that is another question. I still need to do a surface displacement estimate to check late 90s estimate that the SSBN would be between 130-150 decibels under typical conditions. That would result in a very unfavorable detection disadvantage against US attack submarines.
    Stefanick estimated the Los Angeles-class submarine has a 25-100 nm detection advantage, for example, over the Victor III, which is probably quieter than the 093 and 094 class submarines.

  16. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Just looking at the pictures and the diagrams released by ONI, it looks like a surfaced displacement of around 4 thousand tons.

    That would be consistent with a relatively loud submarine, in the 130-150 db range.

    One has to be careful, though, as we don’t know if the ONI diagram and the ONI db prediction were sufficiently independent.

  17. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    At 130 to 150 db range, they might enhance its letality (to the crew) by adding a radio transpounder / strobe beacon so it can be more easily found.

    If this boat goes out on patrol outside of Chinese coastal waters, the real issues are:

    a) what sort of command and control system is implemented for the boat when it is loaded with nuclear tipped missiles?

    b) if the boat do not have something that allows it to communicate with home (ELF or VLF Radio, Laser, etc.), then what are its standing orders once war breaks out? Or, how does it know when war breaks out?

    c) Do the crew have standing orders (or de facto discretion) to launch if they are attacked regardless of whether war has broken out?

    d) What are the consequences of having a large % of China’s nuclear deterrent stored on a number of these vessels? Does it increase or decrease China’s risk of having their deterrent knocked out by a preemptive strike?

    e) What are the institutional / organizational reasons behind the design / architecture and building of this particular type of boat? Who is the intended deteree(s)?

    It strikes me that if China has a Soviet Union sized and style of deterrent in mind (thousands of warheads), having these boats make a certain kind of sense.

    Makes very little sense when their total inventory of warheads number in the hundreds or less.

  18. Carl (History)

    A small correction from my previous posts. The SSBN is most likely pictured at Yalong Naval Base which is the PLAN’s newer facility on the island’s south coast, about 12 miles from Sanya as the crow flies on the eastern side of Yalong Bay (Allen provided the coordinates above). There are many resorts, including Western owned ones, on the western and central beaches along the bay. There are guards posted on the eastern edge to wave tourists off from entering the restricted area. Yulin Naval Base is the older facility and is located on the western edge of Sanya itself.

    According to a Chinese military forum, Yulin is home of the 32nd sub detachment with 4 Kilos and 4 type 039s. Yalong is home to the 9th destroyer detachment including 4 destroyers and 4 frigates. Whether it is the new home of this SSBN is unclear, however a large submarine tunnel has been constructed at the Yalong base.

    I hope this clears up any confusion about the region in question.

  19. Jing (History)

    I don’t understand how you reached an estimate of 4000 tons surface displacement. Based on comparably sized submarines, such as the Delta I, which coincidentally carries an identical number of missiles with approximately equal mass, the 094 should displace no less than 7000-8000 tons surfaced.

  20. Allen Thomson

    > a large submarine tunnel has been constructed at the Yalong base

    18.2027 N , 109.6946 E

    The low hill (max ~70m) behind the tunnel has other adits around the periphery. Presumably for munitions storage, maybe hardened C2 facilities, etc.

  21. Allen Thomson

    I was just looking at the browse images(*) of Ikonos and Quick Bird coverage of the site where the SSBN was spotted, and it appears as if the piers were constructed during the first half of 2005:
    2007-12-23 Piers & tunnel present
    2006-07-14 Piers present. Tunnel possibly present.
    2005-08-05 Piers present. Tunnel indeterminate.
    2004-12-06 Piers absent. Tunnel indeterminate
    2004-11-06 Piers absent. Tunnel indeterminate.

    (*) Browse images are free. Full-resolution versions cost money.