"We expect China to conduct its first nuclear deterrence patrols this year," Lt Gen Vincent Stewart, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency told members of House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on global threat assessment at a Congressional hearing yesterday. In 2014, China twice deployed submarines to the Indian Ocean. The submarines probably conducted area familiarisation to form a baseline for increasing China's power projection.
China continues production of JIN-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, he said. "The South China Sea (SCS) remains a potential flashpoint," Stewart said. Overlapping claims among China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia,
Taiwan and Brunei, exacerbated by large-scale construction or major steps to militarise or expand law enforcement has increased tensions among SCS claimants, and has prompted an increase in defense acquisition to include submarine capabilities in some of these countries, he noted. Observing that the Chinese Air Force is approaching modernisation on a scale unprecedented in its history, he said China now has two stealth fighter programs.
The third and fourth J-20 stealth fighter prototypes conducted their first flights in March and July 2014 and further development is anticipated, he said. Stating that China's nuclear arsenal currently consists of 50-60 ICBMs, he said China is adding more survivable road-mobile systems, enhancing its silo-based systems, and developing a sea-based nuclear deterrent.
"They are also augmenting more than 1,200 conventional short-range ballistic missiles deployed opposite Taiwan with a limited but growing number of conventionally armed, medium-range ballistic missiles, including the DF-16, which will improve China's ability to strike regional targets. China continues to deploy growing numbers of the DF-21D successfully tested the upper-tier capability on two occasions," he said.
Stewart said People's Liberation Army (PLA) is building a modern military capable of defending China's "core interests" of preserving its political system, protecting territorial integrity and sovereignty and ensuring sustainable economic and social development.