SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — China’s recent threat to use submarine-launched nuclear missiles to attack U.S. cities lacks credibility, the Navy’s top admiral said on Saturday.
“For a submarine-launched ballistic missile to be effective it has to be accurate, and you have to be stealthy, and survivable and I’ll leave it at that,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, said when asked about publication in China’s state-run press last month of plans for killing between 5 million and 12 million Americans in a nuclear strikes.
Greenert said U.S. nuclear-armed missile submarines remain a powerful deterrent despite an aging U.S. nuclear arsenal and the urgent need to upgrade those forces in the face of sharp defense spending cuts.
“Our systems are tested frequently, and they meet all the specifications that we’ve established years and years ago,” Greenert said.
The four-star admiral said building a new class of U.S. ballistic missile submarines to replace older Ohio-class strategic submarines remains a priority.
“As we look ahead, our sea-based strategic deterrent, the new SSBN-X the Ohio-replacement, the D-5 missile, its upgrade and the command and control are a very high, high priority in our budget in any scenario,” Greenert said.
Greenert made the comments during the first annual Reagan National Defense Forum at the presidential library at a panel discussing the U.S. rebalance of forces to the Pacific.
China’s Global Times newspaper, an official Communist Party organ, on Oct. 28 published a detailed report on China’s submarine-launched nuclear missile capabilities. The article included maps and photographs, including damage circles caused by nuclear missile strikes on downtown Los Angeles and a nuclear debris plume spreading from the Pacific Northwest to Chicago. The report said China’s plans for attacks on U.S. cities could kill between 5 million and 12 million Americans.
“In general, after a nuclear missile strikes a city, the radioactive dust produced by 20 warheads will be spread by the wind, forming a contaminated area for thousands of kilometers,” the Global Times report said.
“The survival probability for people outdoors in a 12,000 to 14,000 kilometer radius is basically zero. Based on the actual level of China’s one million tons TNT equivalent small nuclear warhead technology, the 12 JL-2 nuclear missiles carried by one Type 094 nuclear submarine could cause the destruction of five million to 12 million people, forming a very clear deterrent effect.”
The report said main targets would be west coast cities, including Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.
Greenert’s comments on the threat were the first by a senior Obama administration official. Earlier, State Department and Pentagon spokesmen declined to comment on the unprecedented threat to conduct nuclear attacks against American civilians.
Under current strategic defense guidelines, U.S. forces structure in the Asia Pacific are being shifted to Asia, Greenert said.
The current 50 ships now based in the region will be increased to 60 by the end of the decade and the Navy also is building up anti-submarine warfare capabilities, electronic attack, and cyber warfare capabilities, Greenert said.
Navy forces also are being moved throughout the region in what Greenert called “homeporting” so that 60 percent of the Navy’s forces will be in the Pacific, and 40 percent in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Alliances also are being bolstered with closer ties to Japan, South Korea, and Australia as well as among the nations of Southeast Asia.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, also spoke at the conference and said the Marine Corps is firmly committed to its forces in the Pacific.
“We actually never left the Pacific,” Amos said. “We’re familiar with it. We’ve got skin in this game. … We’re all in in the Pacific.”
The force of 13,500 Marines deployed in the Asia Pacific “west of the international dateline” has been increased to about 21,000 and will reach 22,500 by the end of the decade, Amos said.
Still, Amos said the Marines have been limited by defense cuts caused by sequestration but are doing the best they can with the resources available.
Duncan Hunter, former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. rebalance to the Pacific is “anemic” and he urged much greater resources for military forces, including missile defenses, are needed.
Shifting an additional 10 ships to the region will not be enough considering China’s large-scale military buildup, Hunter said, urging the government to engage in a large-scale buildup of forces there.
“Clearly, unless this nation changes it course, both programmatically what we’re doing with the weapons systems that we have and the resources that we’re putting behind them, China will be the dominant force in the western Pacific in 2025,” Hunter said.
Hunter said a major threat remains from China’s new DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile that can target U.S. aircraft carriers 800 miles from China’s coast with a precision guided high-speed warhead traveling at five kilometers per second.
Greenert said the Navy has been dealing with cruise missile threats to carriers since the Cold War, when the Soviet Union deployed submarines with cruise missiles capable sinking carriers.
“We’re working on it,” he said of the counter-DF-21D efforts. The Navy has dealt with similar challenges in the past and while the DF-21D is not the same, Greenert said he is confident the missile can be countered.
Robert Work, a Navy undersecretary from 2009 to 2013 who helped develop the military’s Navy-Air Force Air Sea Battle Concept, said the Navy also has to develop a new “counter-torpedo torpedo” to deal with advances in torpedo warfare.
China announced last week that it tested a new high-speed maneuvering torpedo designed to defeat U.S. electronic and acoustic decoys.
Work said that to signal to China, U.S. forces need to “demonstrate” military capabilities in Asia, not simply deploy them in the region.
“Right now we’re focused on regional forward presence, but I believe we need to demonstrate our capabilities to maintain access, to maintain freedom of action,” Work said. “And by demonstrating those capabilities and experiments and periodic exercises that is a true deterrent factor.”
The Chinese will understand U.S. deterrence as “based upon the assumption of demonstrated capabilities,” he said.
Amos said a recent joint military exercise with Japanese forces off the California coast represents a new level of cooperation with Tokyo’s military.
However, defense officials said the exercises were moved from Asia to the U.S. west coast to avoid upsetting China.