United States, allies work to counter China’s growing fleet of nuclear submarines

If China increases the number of its nuclear subs, Beijing could gain numerical superiority in the Indo-Pacific.

Kazuhiko Makita

Kazuhiko Makita

The Japan News


The Virginia-class attack submarine Courtesy of U.S. navy

October 17, 2022

TOKYO – The United States maintains an advantage over China in terms of both the number and capabilities of its nuclear submarines.

The U.S. military has 68 nuclear submarines, including 14 SSBNs and 50 SSNs, according to a document compiled by the Congressional Budget Office in April last year. China still trails far behind, with 15 nuclear submarines in 2021, the U.S. Congressional Research Service said.

But the United States has become increasingly wary of China’s rapid construction of a new type of nuclear submarine. U.S. submarines are deployed all over the world. If China increases the number of its nuclear subs, Beijing could gain numerical superiority in the Indo-Pacific.

The U.S. Defense Department stated in its annual report on the Chinese military released in 2021 that China had built 12 nuclear submarines in the past 15 years. The construction of the new type of SSBN will begin in the early 2020s and by 2030, China is scheduled to own up to eight SSBNs, including Jin-class submarines.

The Congressional Research Service predicts in its report that China will possess 10 SSBNs and 16 SSNs as of 2040.

Toshi Yoshihara, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and an expert on the Chinese navy, said China may become able in the long run to directly threaten the United States with second-strike capabilities, while keeping strategic nuclear submarines in the South China Sea.

It is not realistic for the United States to increase its fleet of nuclear submarines at the same pace as China. The United States is working to counter China in cooperation with its allies.

With the United Kingdom and Australia, the United States created a security framework known as AUKUS last year. The United States and Britain plan to deploy eight nuclear submarines to Australia.

Australia is geographically close to the South China Sea, which is an important navigation route for Chinese nuclear submarines to reach the western Pacific Ocean. The three nations aim to prevent China from strengthening its deterrent by using the nuclear submarines to be deployed to Australia.

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