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Nuclear Brief February 16, 2006

China's Nuclear Missile Submarine Base

The base for China's single Xia-class ballistic missile submarine is located at Jianggezhuang approximately 15 miles (24 km) east of Qingdao on the Yellow Sea (see map). The base spans an entire bay 1.2 miles (1.9 km) across, and includes six piers, a dry dock, numerous service facilities, and an underground submarine tunnel. The main facilities appear to be located in the eastern part of the bay. Apart from the Xia, the base is also used by Han-Class nuclear attack submarines.

Nuclear Submarine Base at Jianggezhuang

The base for China's single Xia-Class ballistic missile submarine is at Jianggezhuang near Qingdao. In this satellite image taken by the Quickbird satellite on April 19, 2004, the Xia SSBN and a Han-Class attack submarine are moored near the entrance to an underground submarine facility that presumably stores the Julang-1 ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads for the Xia.
                                  Source: DigitalGlobe/"China's Nuclear Forces," Imaging Notes, Winter 2006, p. 25.

The most intriguing feature of the base is the underground submarine facility located in the southeastern end of the bay. The facility consists of a large submarine entrance from the harbor, a pier side entrance to the south, and a land entrance to the east (see image). The submarine entrance is approximately 43 feet (13 meters) wide and appears to be arched by a large concrete structure. Both of the land-entrances are approximate 33 feet (10 meters) wide and appear to have what may be a railway system connected to the interior of the facility.

The size of the underground submarine facility at the Jianggezhuang Submarine Base is not known, but the entrances give some idea of the possible outline. In addition to a large submarine pool, the facility probably houses storage facilities for ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads for the Xia-class submarine.
                                                                                                           Source: DigitalGlobe/ImagingNotes.com

The size and layout of the underground facility are unknown, but the entrances give some idea of what could be hiding under the rocks. The submarine entrance likely extends at least a full Xia-class submarine length plus a little extra into the rock, and the angle of the two entrances provide a hypothetical outline of the facility (see image above). In addition to the submarine pool itself, the facility might house storage facilities for the Julang-1 sea-launched ballistic missiles, storage facilities for the nuclear warheads, and various personnel facilities. Moreover, rail tracks appear to connect to outside buildings.

Pier Side SLBM Loading

A Julang-1 SLBM is loaded into one of the Xia's 12 launch tubes.

Although the underground facility is a possible storage and service site for the Xia's nuclear Julang-1 medium-range ballistic missiles, the submarine apparently can also onload the missiles at pier side. Several images available on the Internet show the loading of Julang-1 missiles into the Xia using a large crain (see right image).

The Xia submarine is equipped with 12 vertical launch tubes for the Julang-1 medium-range ballistic missile. The 150 feet (47 meters) elevated hull behind the sail that houses the missiles is clearly visible in the satellite image, which also shows a 90 feet (30 meters) boat moored alongside the Xia (see left image). The 12 hatches appear to span 80 feet (25 meters) of the elevated hull.

Xia SSBN At Jianggezhuang

The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine Xia photographed at pier side on April 19, 2004.
           Source: DigitalGlobe/"China's Nuclear
           Forces," Imaging Notes, Winter 2006,
           p. 25.

The Xia submarine was launched in April 1981 and first test fired a Julang-1 in October 1985. The Xia has never been fully operational and has never conducted a deterrent patrol. From pier side at Jianggezhuang, the submarine's 1,700 km range Julang-1 SLBMs are in range of Okinawa but just short of Tokyo. Whether the submarine has the capability to launch from pier side is unknown.

Jianggezhuang will likely also become the homeport for China's Type 094-Class second-generation ballistic missiles submarine. The first unit is under construction at the Huludao Shipyard approximately 315 miles north of the base and may become operational toward the end of the decade. The Type 094 will carry the Julang-2, a modified version of the land-based DF-31 with a range of up to 8,000 kilometers. If the Type 094 design is successful, China will probably build a few more in an attempt to establish a modest sea-based leg to its nuclear posture.

While U.S. intelligence sources have been almost mute about the submarine cave, the most extensive description about its construction, as pointed out by Jeff Lewis, was printed in John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai's China's Strategic Seapower (Stanford University Press, 1994, p. 123):

"In February 1966, Mao, ever concerned to protect the country’s defenses from air raids, urged the navy to 'build more shelters' for its ships in man-made caves. 'In building [such] shelters you do not have to adopt underwater operations,' he wrote. 'You can begin by digging a vertical shaft just like the miners do. Then dig through the rock horizontally to let seawater in. After that, add a hardened cover over the shaft.' At this, the navy embarked on a search for a place where the nation might 'shelter its submarines.'

About two years later, Mao approved the navy’s choice of an inlet near Qingdao. And ordered the building to commence. The navy immediately transferred several engineering regiments to work on the project’s first phase, and they proceeded to remove 810,000 cubic meters of rock and to pour 200,000 cubic meters of concrete. The gigantic sea cave completed, construction crews then installed 17,000 pieces of equipment and laid 220 km of pipeline, much of it related to maintaining nuclear power plants. By the mid-1970s, the concealed base was camouflaged and hardened against attack and made ready to receive the first nuclear boat, nuclear boat No. 401. In 1975, the navy authorized the North China Sea Fleet to form the Nuclear Submarine Flotilla.

The base comprises multiple shelters, each of which has a number of facilities to load and unload nuclear fuel roads, move supplies, monitor the performance of various subsystems, repair breakdowns, and conduct demagnetization. The cavernous shelter where the boats are docked is as high as a 12-story building. Large-sized cranes in this shelter can load or off-load the JL-1 missiles. Partially protected against nuclear or chemical attack as well as conventional air raids, the shelters can maintain communication and independent operations under combat conditions. The base commander can conduct effective command and control of his submarines for extended periods even when cut off from all outside support."

© Hans M. Kristensen/Federation of American Scientists | www.nukestrat.com | 2004-2006

background information:

» Thomas B. Cochran, et al., "China's Nuclear Forces," Imaging Notes, Winter 2006.

» Robert S. Norris, et al., Nuclear Weapons Databook Volume V: British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons (Boulder, CO.: Westview, 1994).

» John W. Lewis and Xue Litau, China's Strategic Seapower (Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press, 1994).

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  © Hans M. Kristensen