On August 6, China has tested its newest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with two guided simulated nuclear warheads, according to information obtained by The Washington Free Beacon.
The August 6 flight test was the fourth time a DF-41 (CSS-X-20) long-range missile has been tested in the last three years and allegedly confirmed that the ICBM is capable of carrying multiple warheads.
China’s first test of the DF-41’s multiple warhead (aka multiple, independently-targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs) capability allegedly took place in December 2014, according to The Washington Free Beacon. Previous tests occurred in July 2012 and December 2013 at the Wuzhai Missile and Space Testing facility located some 250 miles southwest of Beijing. The location of the August 2015 test site, however, remains unknown.
“China’s MIRV technology is based on illegally exported U.S. satellite technology transferred during the administration of President Bill Clinton. Lockheed Martin was fined $13 million in 2000 as part of the illicit exports that China diverted to its MIRV warhead program,” the Free Beacon reported back in December 2014.
Development of the missile reportedly started in 1986 but was abandoned in the early 2000s. According to unconfirmed media reports, the program (Project 41H) was only relaunched in 2009. Nevertheless, most details about the DF-41 program and the missile’s true capabilities remain cloaked in mystery.
“Few details on deployment plans technical characteristics are currently available. Once fully operational, the DF-41 is expected to be the PLA’s most sophisticated ICBM to date,” Mark Stokes, a former Pentagon analyst, told the Free Beacon.
U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that the DF-41 can carry up to ten 150-300 kiloton yield thermonuclear warheads per missile and that it is capable of targeting the entire continental United States. It is solid fueled, road mobile and has an estimated range of between 12,000 and 15,000 km (6,835 miles and 7,456 miles). The most recent U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report notes that the missile could be already deployed this year, however, a 2018-2020 time frame appears much more likely, according to independent experts.
Rick Fisher, an analyst at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, concurs with the above report stating that the DF-41 is “nearing operational status.”
“The mobile and solid-fueled DF-41 will be the second MIRV-equipped ICBM to enter PLA Second Artillery Corps service after the currently deployed, liquid-fueled and silo-launched DF-5B. The bottom line is that China potentially is beginning a new phase in which its nuclear warhead numbers will be increasing rapidly,” Fisher said in an interview with the Free Beacon.
According to the Missile Threat website, the DF-41 “represents the peak of PRC technology” and “will likely become the core of the PRC’s nuclear strike force.” In addition the website notes that the “DF-41 appears similar to the Russian R-12 (SS-27) and it is possible R-12 technology was purchased or stolen.”
As I reported in June (See: “Will This Chinese Weapon Be Able to Sink an Aircraft Carrier?”), a Popular Science article discusses the possibility of WU-14 hypersonic glider vehicles (HGVs) being installed on the DF-41. This, the authors note, would provide Beijing for the first time with a precision strike capability to hit any target in the world within an hour.