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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Type 092 Xia Class SSBN

In 1981 China launched the Xia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), derived from the Han-class SSN. A ballistic missile submarine force would enhance Beijing's assurance of an effective retaliatory capability, as well as strengthening her deterrent posture. Despite a potential for operations in the Pacific Ocean, capabilities would be very limited against modern Western or Russian ASW capabilities. China’s first ballistic missile submarine, the Type 092 Xia-class, was never considered to be a survivable deterrent. The product of “trial and error” (many onboard systems have been upgraded and tested at sea) the Type 092 spent little time away from the pier.

Type 092 Xia-class Nomenclature

Chinese civilization, as described in mythology, begins with Pangu, the creator of the universe, and a succession of legendary sage-emperors and culture heroes who taught the ancient Chinese to communicate and to find sustenance, clothing, and shelter. The first prehistoric dynasty is said to be Xia, from about the twenty-first to the sixteenth century BC. The bronze age in China refers to the period between about 2000 and 771 BC, when bronze was produced on a massive scale for weapons and ritual objects used by the ruling elite.

Traditional Chinese histories, written in later centuries, speak of a series of ancient rulers who invented agriculture, writing, and the arts of government. The last of these legendary rulers, Yu, is credited with controlling floods and founding the Xia dynasty. Yu also cast nine sacred bronze vessels that became symbolic of the right to rule, and these were passed on to subsequent dynasties. While the account in the traditional histories is linear, with states following one another in a logical progression, the archaeological record reveals a more complicated picture of Bronze Age China. The historicity of Xia is still much debated among scholars in China and abroad. The Shang oracle bones mention the names of pre-dynastic Shang rulers, but not those of Xia.

In China, the amelioration of saline and alkali lands has experienced a long history of development. It was said that the Emperor Great Yu in Xia Dynasty (2200 B.C.) in his great work of water control had practiced the so-called "Ditch regime" as the network of irrigation and drainage. At that time saline and alkali soils were already considered as a factor for the classification of land and agriculture production region (Yu Gong). In order to promote agricultural production, the ancient working people had built canals and diverted water from rivers for irrigation. Furthermore, they also had practiced the saline-alkali land amelioration by leaching salts with flood irrigation.

Until scientific excavations were made at early bronze-age sites at Anyang, Henan Province, in 1928, it was difficult to separate myth from reality in regard to the Xia. But since then, and especially in the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs that point to the existence of Xia civilization in the same locations cited in ancient Chinese historical texts. Archaeological investigation has confirmed much of the legendary history of the dynasty following the Xia -- the Shang -- but the existence of Xia itself is still debated. Today, Chinese scholars generally identify Xia with the Erlitou culture, but debate continues on whether Erlitou represents an early stage of the Shang dynasty, or whether it is entirely unique. In any event, new prototypes emerged at Erlitou -- in architecture, bronze vessels, tomb structures, and weapons -- that greatly influenced material culture in the Shang and subsequent Zhou dynasties.

At minimum, the Xia period marked an evolutionary stage between the late neolithic cultures and the typical Chinese urban civilization of the Shang dynasty. Thousands of archaeological finds in the Huang He Valley -- the apparent cradle of Chinese civilization -- provide evidence about the Shang dynasty, which endured roughly from 1700 to 1027 BC. The Shang dynasty (also called the Yin dynasty in its later stages) is believed to have been founded by a rebel leader who overthrew the last Xia ruler. The Han period produced China's most famous historian, Sima Qian (145-87 BC?), whose Shiji (Historical Records) provides a detailed chronicle from the time of a legendary Xia emperor to that of the Han emperor Wu Di (141-87 BC).

Type 092 Xia-class Design

The Xia class SSBN was initially armed with 12 JL-1 (CSS-N-3) SLBMs. the Xia-class SSBN #406 is derived from the Han-class SSN, with the hull lengthened to accommodate the missile tubes. The Chinese designed and built Type-091 HAN class submarine began sea trials in August 1971. The HAN class submarine is a nuclear powered torpedo attack boat. While this class boat greatly improved the Chinese Navy's distant defense capabilities against enemy nuclear equipped surface forces, one of its most significant features was that it served as a stepping stone in the development of a Chinese nuclear powered, submarine launched ballistic missile (SSBN) force.

The Type 092 Xia-class SSBN, commissioned in 1981, was unreliable and predominately pier-bound, and China was never able to successfully deploy the Xia on a deterrent patrol. In addition, the Xia-class SSBN carried the JL-1 ballistic missile, with very limited range and capabilities.

Erickson and Goldstein noted that " While the vast majority of PLAN writings concerning the single Type 092 Xia SSBN heap praise on China’s technical achievements, [one World Aerospace Digest)] analysis breaks new ground (in the PRC context) by drawing attention to the Xia’s inadequacies. It notes candidly, “The Xia-class actually is not a genuine deterrent capability.” Noting the symbolic value of the vessel, the author explains that the Xia was important to answer the question of “having or not having” a nuclear submarine but then enumerates the platform’s numerous problems: high noise levels and radiation leakage, not to mention the short range of the single warhead carried by China’s fi rst-generation submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the Julang-1. Forced to approach the enemy’s shores and vulnerable to enemy ASW, the Xia “cannot possibly serve as a viable nuclear, second-strike force.” It is no wonder, the author explains, that China did not opt to build a “whole batch” of these problematic submarines. No doubt, such candid observations suggest that Chinese strategists do not necessarily overestimate the capabilities of their first-generation nuclear submarines, perhaps adding additional impetus to the building of a second generation."

Type 092 Xia-class Program

The Type-092 became operational in 1983, though missile firings conducted in 1984 and 1985 were unsatisfactory due to fire control problems which were not resoloved until until 1988. As the Soviet threat receded under Gorbachev, the PLAN’s SSBN project apparently faced the threat of termination, but the successful submerged launch of a JL-1 from the new Xia-class SSBN in 1988 kept it alive. Concurrently, major geopolitical shifts were underway that would provide new impetus to Chinese seapower as it neared the 21st century.

Operations have been limited and the Xia has never sailed beyond Chinese regional waters. The sole existing Xia-class SSBN may never have made an operational deployment [in the sense that American SSBNs deployed], and had reportedly been in overhaul [some thought undergoing disposal] since 1995. To the surprise of some, the Xia was sighted during PLAN exercises in December 2000. This is the first time the Xia had been sighted at sea since upgrades in 1995.

A second hull was reportedly launched in 1982, but little evidence for the career of this boat subesquently emerged. It is certainly not currently in service, with unsubstantiated reports claiming it was lost in a 1985 accident.

It is generally agreed that the single unit of this class entered the shipyard in 1995. Some sources suggest the work was possibly to fit the new JL-2 SLBM system, with the upgrade expected to be completed in 1998, but this appears not to have been the case. The JL-2 (CSS-NX-4) SLBM is reported to carry 3 or 4 MIRV (90kT each) or a single 250kt warhead with a range of 8,000km. Other reports suggest that as of late 1999 China was completing re-construction the second Xia-class missile submarine, with a modified design that can launch the new longer-range JL-2s. However, authoritative sources doubt that the Type 92 is being modified to launch the JL-2.

As of March 2001 the US Defense Intelligence Agency reported that the single XIA class SSBN was "not operational." The boat, fitted with 12 JL-1 or JL-1A missiles, had been expected to return to service in mid-1999.

In March 2007 Seapower Magazine published an article based on information supplied by the US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), and subsequently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. According to ONI, China's XIA SSBN, which was launched in 1983 and had twice successfully fired a 1,770 km range JL-l SLEM, remained in active service with the Chinese Navy and likely constituted a limited component of China's nuclear deterrent force. As such, the XIA is more than a test~bed for the Chinese Navy. Although the range of the JL-l limits the XIA's utility as a deterrent platfonn, targets throughout the region, including US military facilities, could be targeted with the J-l from launch points inside traditional Chinese Navy operating areas.

China's sole XIA Class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) - SSBN #406 - was extended through at least 2010. The Type 94 replacement is equiped with the new JL-2 SLBM system. The Type 092 was noted in imagery to be undergoing refit or repair using the Jianggezhuang Submarine Base drydock [near Qingdao], occupying the drydock between 2005 and 2007. By 2013 the status of the XIA was unclear. The US DOD annual report Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China last mentioned this boat in 2010, and there is no hint of it in subsequent reports. Previous reports of its demise had proven greatly exagerated, though it was never really operational in the American sense. World Warships reported it in service, as of 19 September 2012. Asian Military Review reported the boat as "probably not operational". The latest edition of Combat Fleets of the World, published September 2013, reports that the boat was "expected to remain in service until 2012" which is not much help. World Defense Almanac 2013 reports the boat still in service, as does the authoritative Military Balance. Chinese Military Review published a new set of [undated] photographs of the Type 092 Xia in January 2013, showing the boat tied up pierside.

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