China has not officially confirmed it is developing the JL-3 – or Big Wave – missile, but the
China fires its newest underwater nuclear missile into highlight with science prize
Researchers involved in the development of China’s most advanced submarine-launched nuclear missile, the JL-3, have been recognised in one of the country’s top science awards.
The team that worked on the “underwater-launched large solid-fuel carrier rocket”, or SLBM, is among the 10 nominated to receive a National Award for Excellence in Innovation.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force is developing its third-generation SLBM JL-3, with a range of over 12,000km (7,450 miles), far enough to hit the United States if the missile was launched from the Chinese coast. China conducted a few test flights in 2018 and 2019.
Chinese military observers have said the missile tests were in response to US President Donald Trump’s targeting of China in his deterrence strategy.
This missile’s predecessor, JL-2, which had a range of 7,400km, was deployed on Type 094A nuclear submarines for operational patrol in 2015, signalling that China finally had a credible sea-based nuclear capability.
The new intercontinental-range solid-fuel JL-3 is estimated to be fully integrated with the next-generation submarine Type 096 in 2025.
Its last test, in December, was conducted using the Type 094 nuclear submarine, but the Chinese military plans to arm the Type 096 submarine with the missiles, a process that could take years to complete.
A number of individuals from military and space research institutions were also nominated for commemorative decorations and honorary mentions.
Personnel working on the “hypersonic pre-cooled aerospace engine” and “vehicle system for high-speed interconnection in space” – for space station docking – were also nominated.
Last year, the revelation of China’s DF-17 missiles represented the world’s first hypersonic glider weapons in service. But the DF-17 is believed to be propelled by a traditional rocket engine before its payload-carrying vehicle enters unpowered glide.
The hypersonic pre-cooled aerospace engine is more advanced and can be used to power hypersonic cruise missiles and aircraft, as it sustains cruise flights at over five times the speed of sound, and even aerospace planes when fully developed.
It breathes in and pre-cools the air that overheats during hypersonic flying as the oxidant. The leader in this area is Britain’s Sabre engine, originally designed for the space plane Skylon. Britain is expected to start building and testing a prototype this year.
The extent of China’s progress in such engines is unknown, but the award nomination suggests that significant research work has been completed.
The scientists behind the docking system won their award for working out how to safely and efficiently connect spaceships to a space station in orbit when both are moving at the first cosmic velocity of 7.9km/s (4.9 miles a second).
Last week, a new design of spaceship was launched into space then retrieved, taking another step towards building a permanent Chinese space station, which is set to be completed in 2022.
With the improved quick docking technologies, the time a spaceship takes preparing for docking to the station could be reduced from two to three days to six hours, saving significantly on fuel, making time for emergency missions and improving astronauts’ space experience.
China tested quick docking in 2017 using a cargo spaceship and experimental space station Tiangong-2, after extensive manned and unmanned conventional docking and detaching in space with Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2.
The National Award for Excellence in Innovation was launched in 2017 and intended to be held every three years.
The first edition’s winners included teams working on the BeiDou satellite system, the Long March-5 rocket and the warship integrated electricity system at the PLA Naval University of Engineering.