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The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) disclosed earlier this year that China is building five missile submarines to be deployed with the new JL-2 long-range nuclear missiles.

The five new missile submarines will “provide more redundancy and capacity for a near-continuous at-sea SSBN presence,” the ONI said, which noted that sea trials for some of the submarines are under way and the first deployments could begin as early as next year.

Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the new submarines could increase China’s strategic arsenal by 576 warheads.

“That would be mighty impressive if true, but then we have no way of verifying such statements,” he said. “We can no longer base U.S. security on Chinese statements about their ‘limited development’ of nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Fisher said the danger is that China will outfit the new JL-2s with multiple warheads that would require a U.S. and allied nuclear response.

Nuclear messages

International radio operators picked up large numbers of coded Air Force communications being sent around the world on June 26 that indicated some type of military activity was about to take place.

A U.S. military official said the radio traffic was monitored from the Air Force Global High Frequency System (GHFS) that some observers regarded as “extraordinary” because of the unprecedented length of messages. They were sent to Air Force commanders at Andrews Air Force Base; Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island; Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; Lajes Field in the Azores; Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska; Salinas Air Base, Puerto Rico; Thule Air Base, Greenland; and Yokota Air Base, Japan. All are sites of GHFS ground stations.

The messages appeared to be emergency action messages, coded communications sent by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to U.S. Air Force strategic nuclear forces.

The messages sent June 26 included 174 characters, much longer than normal 30-character messages, and amateur radio monitors say they have not seen the size of this message since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Air Force Maj. Tom Knowles, a U.S. Strategic Command spokesman, said there were no large-scale exercises going on that would account for what were likely “routine” messages.

“We routinely exercise that capability to make sure of the readiness of our forces,” he said.

A retired Air Force general said the strategic nuclear forces also dispatch command action messages that are part of a nuclear command system that requires force commanders to respond within two minutes.

c Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at