China's newest ballistic missile submarine, the Jin-class vessel, has been spotted for the first time by a commercial satellite, a nuclear expert at the Federation of American Scientists said on Thursday.
The submarine was photographed in late 2006 south of the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian, said Hans Kristensen, director of the FAS's Nuclear Information Project.
It appeared to be based on Russia's Victor-3 model and, although photographs are unclear, resembles China's early-1980s Xia-class submarines, said Kristensen, who spotted the long-anticipated vessel.
The 133-metre (436-foot) Jin-class submarine probably will carry Julang-2 sea-launched ballistic missiles in its estimated 12 launch tubes. It was spotted moored at Xiaopingdao Submarine Base, which it has used for testing in the past, he said.
"Chinese nuclear submarines are normally not based there. They're located to the south, near Qingdao," Kristensen said by telephone.
In a defense strategy paper published on Thursday, Australia echoed previous documents by the United States and Japan in voicing concern about a rapid Chinese military expansion and lack of transparency about strategy and policy.
The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence estimated in December that China might build five Jin-class submarines, but that estimate was not included in the Pentagon's annual report on China's military power, published in May, Kristensen noted.
"The Chinese naval nuclear programs so far have been very, very slow," he said. "They've managed to get this submarine out, but it's been under construction for many years."
Images of the submarine are published and analyzed on the FAS web site http://www.fas.org and visible on Google Earth http://earth.google.com.
Normally secretive China likely sees a deterrent effect in allowing the submarine to be seen from the sky by outsiders, Kristensen said.
"The fact that they have it and the fact that it moves around, I'm sure they want the world to know about it," he said.