China tests long-range multiple warhead ICBM as program advances

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 by

( The Chinese military recently tested a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple warheads that can reach targets throughout the United States, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

The test involved the DF-41 ICBM and took place Dec. 4, Pentagon officials told the news site. It was the latest to demonstrate the use of two multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles.

Officials said the missile launch and trajectory of the dummy warheads was tracked by satellites to an impact range in the western portion of the country, the WFB reported.

The test was the second this year and the fifth test of the DF-41 since 2012. U.S. intelligence agencies believe the final version of the missile will be capable of carrying and delivering between three and 10 warheads. The earlier test this year came on Aug. 6, officials told the WFB.

Pentagon officials would not comment on the latest test, but said the Defense Department monitors Chinese military modernization efforts.

The DF-41 is considered a versatile weapon in that it is road-mobile, making it difficult to locate and destroy in wartime, and because it has a range of about 7,500 miles. The Pentagon views the missile as China’s most capable since its development began around 2000.

Mark Stokes, a former Pentagon official who specializes in Chinese military development for the Project 2049 Institute, told the WFB that the DF-41 program seems to be in an advanced stage of development.

“A reasonable speculation is that the system adapts a modified variant of the post-boost vehicle used on the DF-5B ICBM onto a new large diameter solid rocket motor,” he said. “Assuming final design certification, the missile system could enter the Second Artillery’s operational inventory within the next five years.”

The Second Artillery Corps is China’s nuclear and conventional missile command.

Another expert on the Chinese military, Rick Fisher, told the WFB that the two-warhead test may have been an effort by the Chinese to hid the full warhead load.

“It appears that China is pursuing a modest test schedule and the use of a low number of reentry vehicles may indicate a desire to conceal the full capability of the DF-41,” he said.

He added that testing the DF-41 with a smaller number of warheads gives Chinese missile engineers the ability to expand the warheads’ trajectories. That test data then allows them to develop missiles with additional warheads.

The WFB reported that the Chinese were able to obtain multiple satellite launch technology from the U.S. during the Clinton administration via illicit space cooperation. That technology is thought to have provided the Chinese with a starting point for the multiple warhead design used with the DF-41.

China is currently involved in expanding and upgrading its nuclear arsenal, as noted in a 2014 congressional report.

“Despite the uncertainty surrounding China’s stockpiles of nuclear missiles and nuclear warheads, it is clear China’s nuclear forces over the next three to five years will expand considerably and become more lethal and survivable with the fielding of additional road-mobile nuclear missiles; as many as five JIN [missile submarines], each of which can carry 12 JL–2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles; and intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs),” the report said.

In addition, Navy officials told the WFB that Chinese submarines armed with nuclear weapons had begun operational patrols.

Also, as has reported, the Chinese have also tested a hypersonic weapon/warhead designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses. Russia and the U.S. have also tested hypersonic vehicles.

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