US within reach: China shows off new and improved advanced missile system
A model of the Dongfeng-31AG intercontinental ballistic missile – capable of hitting the US and Europe and with a more mobile off-road trailer and launcher – goes on display at military museum
China has publicly displayed for the first time a model of an advanced form of one its intercontinental ballistic missiles as the country’s military prepares to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army later this year.
A model of the Dongfeng-31AG – an upgraded version of the DF-31A – was shown for the first time at an exhibition marking the anniversary at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution in Beijing last week.
The new missile system is expected to share a similar estimated range of 11,000km with the DF-31A – enough to reach most locations within the continental United States and the capitals of Europe – but will be more mobile thanks to its new carrier vehicle design, military experts said.
The DF-31AG is based on an eight axle launch vehicle that can go off-road – the DF-31A’s carrier is limited to hard surfaced roads.
The Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said the new type of missile system adopted technology used in intermediate-range missiles such as the DF-26 and long-range DF-41. They do not need a prepared launch site as their carriers can stop at any time to fire a nuclear warhead.
“Its survival capability is greatly enhanced,” Wong said.
Missiles with high mobility are seen as a greater strategic threat than those deployed in silos because they can be moved and hidden to avoid detection by satellites or other devices, making them harder to track down or target during a conflict.
Zhou Chenming, a military observer based in Beijing, said the DF-31AG may be able to carry a single or multiple nuclear warheads, or a large single conventional warhead.
“From the way it looks, the DF-31AG’s canister is a bit bigger than that of the DF-31A. This might mean that it’s more powerful, or that it might be used to fire conventional missiles in addition to nuclear missiles,” Zhou said.
China was heading towards developing ballistic missiles which can shoot both nuclear and conventional warheads, according to Zhou.
““We’re not in the cold war anymore, extremely powerful weapons like nuclear missiles are no longer the mainstrean,” said Zhou. “We’ll still keep our nuclear strength, but when we face some regular threats we don’t need to use nuclear warheads to attack, but will resort to some conventional warheads instead.”
The PLA Daily, the Chinese military’s official newspaper, said in May last year that the development of ground-to-ground missiles with nuclear and conventional strike abilities was “an inexorable trend”.
But military expert Anthony Wong Dong disagreed.
He said the new DF-31AG appeared to be only capable of carrying a single warhead and talk of it carrying nuclear and conventional payloads was pure speculation.
“It shouldn’t overlap with the function of DF-41 [a multi-warhead ICBM] and should serve a different purpose,” he said.
The US-based website the Washington Free Beacon reported three years ago that China had conducted the first test flight of what analysts suggested was a multi-warhead missile, based on the DF-31A, called the DF-31B.
The Chinese authorities have not commented on the report.