BEIJING — The Chinese military is steadily improving the capabilities of its fleet of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, which are capable of carrying strategic missiles. With its eye on China’s medium- to long-term rivalry with the United States, Beijing is hurrying to develop a new type of submarine, efforts that the United States is watching closely.
At the end of September, state-run China Central Television (CCTV) reported on a drill in the South China Sea that involved a Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. It is unusual in China for such drills to be put on public display.
The ballistic missile submarines, also known as SSBNs which stands for submersible ship ballistic missile nuclear, are part of the three pillars of the country’s strategic nuclear TRIAD, which provide striking power from land, sea and air. Because they can conduct covert operations underwater, SSBNs will serve as a “second strike capability,” to retaliate with nuclear missiles in response to a preemptive nuclear attack.
The TRIAD includes ground-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers.
To prevent all their nuclear forces from being destroyed in the event of a first strike by an enemy nation, the United States and other nations have been developing nuclear capabilities in these three areas since the Cold War period, thus enhancing their deterrence.
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