KEY POINTS

  • JL-3 is a Chinese submarine-launched ballistic missile
  • If launched from the Chinese coast, JL-3 could reach the U.S.
  • The JL-3 is expected to be deployed on type 096 submarines

China’s navy has previously performed several tests of the Ju Lang 3 (Giant Wave 3), ballistic missile. While China never confirmed officially the development of the Ju Lang 3 (or JL-3, for short), a video of a test launch of the third-generation submarine-launched ballistic missile has been recently circulating online, attracting the world's attention once again to China’s development of nuclear weapons.

The South China Morning Post reported the Chinese navy has already tested it in 2018 and 2019. The third-generation “underwater-launched large solid-fuel carrier rocket”(SLBM) is reported to have a range of over 7,450 miles (12,000 km), enough to reach the United States if launched from the Chinese coast.

According to Military Today, it is still unknown what warhead is installed on this missile. Military experts believe that the JL-3 carries either a couple of low-yield Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) or a single 250-1 000 kT warhead. The missile is pretty accurate, being equipped with an astro-inertial navigation system based on the indigenous Chinese BeiDou satellite navigation system.

By comparison, the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems and being deployed with the U.K. and U.S. navies can carry up to 8 Mk-5 RVs with 455 kt W88 warheads, up to 14 Mk-4A RVs with 5-7 kt W76-2, or up to 14 Mk-4A RVs with 90 kt W76-1 warheads. Being capable of reaching targets at over 7,450 miles (12,000 km), Trident II has an almost similar range as JL-3.

The missile tests were in response to President Donald Trump’s deterrence strategy targeting China, according to Chinese military observers. The recent military operations in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait have further escalated the tensions between China and the United States. According to Dimsum Daily, the Sino-U.S. relations have become more strained since the unfoldment of the COVID-19 crisis. The two nations are once again on a path of confrontation.

The JL-3’s predecessor, JL-2, was deployed on Type 094A nuclear submarines in 2015 and has a range of 4,600 miles (7,400 km). The third-generation intercontinental-range ballistic missile in development will likely deploy in 2025 on a future Chinese ballistic missile submarine class, the Type 096. Europe, the U.S., Russia and India are all within their range.

It is believed the Type 032 or Type 094 Chinese submarines can also carry the JL-3 ballistic missile. Currently, the Type 094 strategic nuclear submarine can carry 16 JL-2s. Recently, the Chinese navy commissioned two upgraded versions of Type 094, which come with improved sonar, radar and torpedo technologies. The next-generation Type 096 strategic nuclear submarine is still in the research and development stage, and it is believed it will be able to carry 24 JL-3 nuclear ballistic missiles.

China parades its ballistic missiles in a parade Military vehicles carrying DF-21D ballistic missiles roll toward Tiananmen Square during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in Beijing on Sept. 3, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Damir Sagolj