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Rear Admiral Vogt served as the Director of Strategic Planning and Policy, J5, on the staff of Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command, from 1991 to 1993. In that capacity he helped coordinate U.S. policy throughout Asia and has traveled extensively in the region. He also served as Senior Member, United Nations Military Armistice Commission and held 13 meetings with the North Koreans at Panmunjom in Korea. He served as Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Korea.

Referencing Naval Intelligence sources, Defense Week reported in the 7 April 1997 issue that after the start of the next century China would have a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, JL-2, which would be able to reach the United States. China’s development of the intercontinental submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and the associated nuclear submarines (both SSNs and SSBNs) is the subject of this authoritative and well-documented book. No political, technological, industrial, or doctrine development stone is left unturned.

Professor John Lewis and his associate, Xue Litai, are experts on Asia with unsurpassed access to Chinese industrialists and military think tanks inside China. This is an outstanding reference book which also proves to be interesting reading to the curious minded who want to know more about the awakening Asian tiger. Although written in 1994, it is as timely today as it was then. China is the country to be reckoned with during the next 25 years.

The authors weave an intricate and complicated history of the major decisions and political upheavals affecting those decisions and the industrial and scientific challenges faced by the Chinese technical community. Because of its complexity and the unfamiliarity with numerous Chinese names, most readers will have difficulty following the personalities and the timeline of the missile and submarine development programs. In fact, the absence of a timeline summary is a major drawback of the effort. I found it necessary to make my own timeline as I read. (See Table 1.) Only then did the magnitude of the program and its challenges emerge.

Submarine and SLBM Development; Projects 02 (Nuclear Weapons). 05 (Ballistic Missiles) nod 09 (Submarines)

Some claim that as early as 1956. only a year after NAUTILUS was underway. the Chinese Navy planned for acquisition of a nuclear submarine. If this is true the idea was given a slight push by the Soviets in 1957. Under the terms of the New Defense Technical Accord signed that October. Moscow agreed to provide the PRC a prototype atomic bomb, some missiles. and major industrial equipment related to the nuclear weapons and missile programs. However, this was a tumultuous time for both China and the USSR. Russia wanted a joint submarine flotilla based in China and the erection of a strategic communications antenna on Chinese soil. Mao said NO stating fears of challenges to China’s sovereignty. Also, the U.S. and PRC were facing a dire situation in the Taiwan Strait with the shelling of Quemoy on August 23. 1958. In the confusion and anger over the major issues of sovereignty and basing, Khrushchev informed China of a two year suspension of assistance on nuclear weapons thereby reversing its promise to supply a prototype atomic bomb and related technical data. In the turmoil that followed, Mao realized his only path to complete Projects 09 and JL was self reliance. In a snit he stated, “We will have to build nuclear submarines even if it takes us 10,000 years.”

By early 1960, the transfer of technology from the Soviet Union, though selective and contentious, had raised the levels of competency in industry and high command. Major reorganizations evolved over the years as the programs mimicked those of the United States strategic programs. Major evolution in industry and science was put into motion by Projects 09 and JL and undoubtedly contributed to China’s economic prowess today.

Early efforts were marred by major setbacks. In the 1960s there were famine, the drying up of Soviet assistance and funding cutbacks. The three hard years occurred during this period. Additionally, China had no computers. All calculations were done by hand for power distributions at full and reduced power. (Remember nuc school!) A decision had to be made on what to build first, an SSN or SSBN, and which design to use. In 1966 the decision to build the SSN was given highest priority. It was to be built at a shipyard in Uludao, Liaoning Province (an area north of North Korea). A German design (Ottohalen) was ditched in favor of a Lenin design with primary pumps outside the main containment vessel. This of course meant susceptibility to steam and primary leaks. In 1969 design plans were completed and a land based facility was finished in 1970.

The builders had all the problems you could expect. They had to learn welding techniques in the ’60s and ’70s, and they didn’t have installation plans. In many cases it was reported that materiel arrived on the pier with no one knowing where or how to install it. But these problems were gradually overcome and the hull was completed for the first SSN 401 in December 1970. Professor Lewis reports that things moved rather quickly from that point. In June ’71, they achieved initial criticality with sea trials occurring on August 23. If this is true it is no wonder that the sea trials were marred by many incidents and problems. Many crew members suffered over exposure to radioactivity. There were reports of dead. fish in the wake of the SSN. Navy men resisted assignment to nuclear crews. There were numerous primary-to-secondary leaks and primary valve leaks, and major corrosion problems were noted.

In addition to production and design problems, SSNs 401 and 402 had no sonar and no weapons, no long range communications or navigation equipment.

Navy leaders said that these submarines were sharks without teeth. In the mid 1980s, acceptable subsystems were installed. By 1992 six Project 09-1 (LONG MARCH) submarines were commissioned. Obviously, I have left much to your imagination. There were many major political upheavals between the Project’s inception and its completion and you will find the reading interesting and probably surprising. Some of you will recall your own
experiences with the nuclear program and sympathize with the Chinese crewmen.

The nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs experienced similar jumps and starts after technology infusion from the Soviet let Union. They first installed a conventional missile in conventional submarines. Testing was done on these platforms as the problems were identified and resolved. The Chinese exploded their first atomic bomb in 1964 and full scale missile tests were conducted in 1979 from a GOLF diesel submarine. The first JL-1 launch was conducted from GOLF in late 1982. The ’80s, particularly the latter part of the decade, were very productive. They developed compatible torpedoes and advanced designs for longer range, quieter ones for the nuclear submariners resulting in the production of the YU-3 China Sturgeon Torpedo in 1989. There was massive infusion of workers, money and technology into the Projects during this period. The only thing left to develop was an overarching strategic policy.

The Strategy

In the beginning the major threat to China was the United States evidenced by the Korean War and the Taiwan Strait crisis. The initial decisions to build nuclear weapons and submarines appear to me to be based on achieving parity with the U.S. and U.S.S.R. after the snubs from Russia and the confrontations with the U.S. Strategic military plans were defensive and called for protection of the coastline. If the coasts were breached, invading armies would be absorbed in China’s interior. Clearly this doctrine (greatly abbreviated by this reviewer) would not sustain justification for a 20 to 40 year building program. The experts realized … “that a process of doctrinal osmosis was occurring and they let it happen. They knew that the system was being strangled by outmoded ideas, and while their subordinates were perfecting technologies, they were exploring alternative ways of thinking.”

Because of the Korean War and U.S. ability to intimidate China with nuclear weapons and lethal firepower and airpower, Beijing secretly started the Projects described above. This led to a dictum: “People’s War Under Modern Conditions”. This doctrine ” … is the concept of ‘active defense’ (Jiji fanugy). From the earliest days of the revolution, Mao and his successors regularly studied the likely character of future conflicts and the potential weaknesses and strengths of the enemy and embraced a concept of active defense that, when stretched out over time, became ‘protracted warfare’.”

The people’s war under modern conditions transformed to a strategy of minimum deterrence in the ’60s. After Mao’s death in 1976 the search for alternative strategies speeded up. It was during this time that the Gang of Four, who were continentalists, relegated the Navy to a secondary role. With their arrest, the Navy was again given the green light to continue its submarine and missile programs at an accelerated pace. Alternative strategic thinking also continued and basically stemmed from the quintessential deterrence doctrine stated 2500 years ago by Sun Zi [Sun-tzu]:

“Forcing the other party to resign to our will without fighting a battle and attacking the [enemy’s] strategy [are] superior to engaging in diplomatic negotiations; engaging in diplomatic negotiations is superior to waging field operations, and waging field operations are superior to attacking fortifications.”

In 1987, in referring to defense of the homeland, the PRC Navy said, “This doesn’t mean in any way that our Navy should only cruise the coastal seas, and that the imperialist countries alone [have the right to] build up their navies as strategic armed services for the purpose of seeking hegemony in waters far away from their countries … China, of course, needs to build a navy powerful enough to match its international standing.” Liu Huaqing, the PRC naval commander, listed four missions for nay planning in order of importance:

  • To safeguard China’s territorial integrity
  • To conduct a possible blockade of Taiwan
  • To defeat a sea-based invasion
  • To make ready survivable nuclear retaliatory forces

In regard to the first: island disputes would most likely result in war at sea. But, without control of the air, there will be no mastery of the sea. This resulted in naval air improvements which will probably lead to the acquisition of an aircraft carrier. In the interim the 1700km DF-25 conventional missile would be used. They would also need replenishment ships and amphibious capability.

Although the Chinese Navy thinks that they can blockade Taiwan today, they admit that ” … submarines would represent the frontline force”. This may account for the Kilo buys from the Russians.

To defeat an invasion from the sea, they would create a layered defense from coastal defense (Jinhai fanguy) to offshore defense (Jinyand fanugy) which would extend from 200-400km from the coast and even further southward in the South China Sea. Their goal is to conduct off-shore patrols by 2000 and blue water patrols by 2050. Their enablers for off-shore patrols are: underway replenishment, acquiring a long distance communications system and a global navigation system. These requirements could indicate spending priorities for the Navy. Note: PRC navy ships recently completed ship visits to Hawaii and San Diego.

The satisfactory employment of a quiet SSBN and its intercontinental ballistic missile will satisfy the fourth principle. Mao’s dictum that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun and his conclusion that “If we are not to be bullied in the present day world, we cannot do without the [atomic] bomb” has led to the development of today’s strategy: Limited Nuclear Deterrence.

This strategy consists of seven guiding principles:

1. No first use
2. No tactical nuclear weapons (Note: This has probably been revised with the development of a 600/an range, DF-15/M9 missile for theater level conflict.)
3. Smaller number but better
4. Small but inclusive (different types similar to triad concept)
5. Minimum retaliation
6. Quick recovery
7. Soft kill capability (i.e., urban areas-they don’t require accurate navigation.)

Looking back on the political and social changes taking place in China, the development of the nuclear submarine and its associated nuclear tipped SLBM was a crowning achievement. The United States and USSR had modern scientific and industrial bases from which to start their programs. China did not. For Beijing’s leaders, the submarine and other strategic weapons projects provided an additional impetus to organize, create, mobilize and finance that base. Thus the long term goal must have been as much creating a scientific and industrial capability as was national security. This base has morphed to the civilian industrialization of China with 70 percent of the military industry going to civilian production which is leading China’s economic engine. The authors said it best: “In the end, the programs helped define the limits of politics and the nation’s objectives even as they catapulted China into the nuclear age.”

I highly recommend this book to readers with an interest in political-military studies, policy and strategy development, and China as an emerging economic giant.

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