China's DF-41 long-range nuclear missile 'closer to operational'
The People's Liberation Army tested the Dongfeng-41 (DF-41) intercontinental ballistic missile, which can carry multiple warheads, on August 6, US website The Washington Free Beacon reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed US defence officials.
The DF-41 can hit any US city and is one of China's most powerful nuclear missiles. It was the fourth time the missile had been tested in three years, and a successful test would mean it was closer to becoming operational, the report said.
The test was significant because it confirm ed the missile's ability to deploy multiple warheads, the report quoted US defence officials as saying.
The website's previous reports on Chinese missile tests were later confirmed by Chinese state media. The Pentagon expected the missile to be ready for deployment as early as this year, the report said.
With an estimated range of 12,000km, one missile can carry up to 10 warheads that can separate from the body of the rocket and target individual destinations in the final stage of flight, making defence difficult.
The mobile missile could also be transported by road, allowing it to be hidden easily before deployment, the report said.
The test comes ahead of a military parade in Beijing next month to commemorate the end of the second world war.
Richard Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Centre, was quoted as saying that repeated flight tests suggested the missile was "nearing operational status".
"The bottom line is that China potentially is beginning a new phase in which its nuclear warhead numbers will be increasing rapidly," Fisher was quoted as saying.
The PLA launched its last comprehensive test of the missile in December.
That test involved MIRVs, or multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, which can hold several warheads.
The Second Artillery Corps, the PLA's strategic missile force, also reportedly held at least two other DF-41 tests at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in Shanxi province in 2013 and 2012.
According to the Pentagon's annual report to the US Congress on China's military this year, the Second Artillery Corps has between 50 and 60 ICBMs.
The report said the DF-41 was "possibly capable of carrying MIRVs".
The Ministry of National Defence could not be reached for comment.
At the opening of the National People's Congress in March, General Zhang Haiyang , former political commissar of the Second Artillery Corps, said China should develop nuclear weapons, adding that the PLA "will have greater development and expansion in the next five-year plan".
The missile's previous model, the DF-31, was estimated to have a range of 10,000km, allowing it to reach the west coast of the United States and European capitals.