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China’s Future SSBN Command and Control Structure

By David C. Logan | Strategic Forum 299 | November 28, 2016


China's Future SSBN Command and Control StructureKey Points 

  • China is developing its first credible sea-based nuclear forces. This emergent nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) force will pose unique challenges to a country that has favored tightly centralized control over its nuclear deterrent. The choices China makes about SSBN command and control will have important implications for strategic stability. 
  • Despite claims that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force will be responsible for all Chinese nuclear forces, Chinese SSBNs currently appear to be under the control of the PLA Navy. However, China may choose to revise its command and control structures as its SSBNs begin armed deterrent patrols. There are three broad command and control models, allocating varying degrees of authority to the PLA Navy or the Rocket Force. 
  • China’s decisions about SSBN command and control will be mediated by operational, bureaucratic, and political considerations. A hybrid approach to command and control, with authority divided between the navy and the Rocket Force, would be most conducive to supporting strategic stability.