China recently conducted a test of its newest submarine-launched ballistic missile, the Julang-2 (JL-2), which will be deployed on Beijing's fleet of new missile submarines, according to U.S. defense officials.
The test launch took place May 29 from a submarine in Bohai Bay, off northern China, and landed in the Yellow Sea.
The missile has an estimated range of about 5,000 miles and represents a new generation of strategic nuclear-capable weapons being outfitted on the Type 094 submarine, dubbed the Jin-class by the Pentagon.
One defense official said the new JL-2 "shares features with the land-based Dong Feng-31 missile," another new Chinese nuclear missile system.
Officials confirmed the JL-2 after it was first reported last week in two Japanese newspapers that quoted Japanese military sources.
"While the U.S. government provides insufficient informational warning about the JL-2's capabilities, Asian sources have long commented it may eventually carry three to four warheads or a number of decoys," said Richard Fisher, a military affairs specialist with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
"This means that five Type 094 missile submarines could account for over 180 warheads," he said.
Hans Kristensen, a specialist on the Chinese nuclear forces with the Federation of American Scientists, stated that China is expected to deploy its new missile submarines in Bohai because it is easier to protect them in the bay. "From the shallow bay, the Julang-2 missiles could be used to target Guam and Alaska, India, Russia and - at the limit of its range - Hawaii," he stated.
The Pentagon's latest annual report on China's military confirmed for the first time in March that Beijing is building up to five Jin-class submarines, each of which will be armed with 10 to 12 JL-2s, a sharp increase in China's strategic nuclear-warhead arsenal.
Defense officials also recently disclosed, as reported in this space earlier, that the JL-2 could be deployed with an anti-satellite warhead capable of killing U.S. satellites, similar to the land-based missile that knocked out a Chinese satellite in a January 2007 test.
U.S. officials also said new missile submarines likely will be deployed at the new southern submarine base at Hainan Island.
China's military so far is balking at U.S. efforts to hold talks on strategic nuclear weapons despite appeals from the Pentagon.