Armed with ballistic missiles, the submarines will give China the ability to deliver a nuclear strike anywhere within the continental United States.

China Is Launching A Nuclear Submarine That Could Target The United States

China is preparing to launch a new class of ballistic missile submarine, and the nuclear-armed warships will give them the capability to target any place within the continental United States by the end of 2015.

The new boats are known as Jin class nuclear-powered submarines, and China has armed them with JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, according to a statement by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency. China currently possesses at least four of the submarines, and Defense Department officials expect them to deploy on their first patrols before the end of the year. According to Bloomberg Business, the agency declined to express its level of confidence that the submarines would take to the sea by the beginning of 2016.

Deploying the submarines comes as a significant step in China’s military development, as the boats are armed with JL-2 missiles. These rockets have an operative range of 4,600 miles (7,403 kilometers), which means they could strike Alaska if launched from Japan, as Business Insider notes. Should one of the submarines move to the East of Hawaii, a JL-2 could potentially target any strategic position within the continental United States.

In a report released in April, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence noted that the JL-2 missile nearly triples the range of China’s current strike capability. The sea-launched ballistic missile previously employed by the country only allowed China to strike at targets in its immediate vicinity. Analysts have suggested that JL-2 tests may be ongoing, but Collin Koh Swee Lean, associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, pointed out that there would be little reason for China to send the weapons on patrol if they were not operational.

While the Jin class submarines are impressive warships, reports have circulated that China is constructing an even larger class of missile boat. These new ships are known as the 096 Tang class nuclear-powered submarines, and the fact that their development is moving forward is widely seen as a sign that the JL-2 is in the final stages of testing. When the Tang class submarines are put to sea, they will be capable of carrying 24 missiles, twice the complement afforded to China’s Jin class boats.

[Photo by Navy Office of Legislative Affairs via Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain]

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