China has speeded up the development of a new, longer-range submarine-launched ballistic missile that in theory could deliver a nuclear payload to the mainland United States.
But experts caution against believing some of the loftier claims regarding the new SLBM’s capabilities.
Two independent sources told the Hong Kong South China Morning Post that the Chinese navy in December 2019 tested the JL-3 SLBM, which the navy intends to fit to its still-in-development Type 096 ballistic-missile submarine, or boomer.
The JL-3 launched from an older Type 094 boomer in Bohai Bay in the Yellow Sea, South China Morning Post reported. The test warhead landed in the northwest Gobi Desert in Xinjiang.
American satellites reportedly monitored the test. U.S. newspapers first reported the test in late-December 2019.
"Modernization of China’s submarine force remains a high priority for the PLAN," the U.S. Defense Department explained in its 2018 report on Chinese military capabilities.
The 2018 test, which also started in Bohai Bay, focused on the missile's "cold-launch" capability. In other words, its ability to boost from the submerged launching vessel and out of the water before igniting its booster. The 2019 test involved a longer-range flight for the potentially 50-ton rocket.
The JL-3 represents an improvement over the JL-2 SLBMs that arm the Chinese navy's current Type 094 boomers and an even greater improvement over the JL-1, China's first submarine-launched nuclear weapon. The JL-1 possessed just enough range -- a thousand miles or so -- to threaten countries close to China.