China puts on show of force with DF-31B mobile ICBM missile test
PLA puts upgraded Dongfeng-31 system through its paces to underscore nuclear strength as US makes military pivot to Asia-Pacific region
The first flight test of an upgraded mobile intercontinental ballistic missile in the lead-up to National Day aimed to show the world that China was reinforcing its nuclear deterrent, military experts said yesterday.
The People's Liberation Army launched a Dongfeng-31B on September 25 from the Wuzhai Missile and Space Test Centre - also known as the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre - in Shanxi province, according to US-based online newspaper The Washington Free Beacon.
The DF-31B is an upgraded version of the DF-31A and the launch was at least the second time the PLA's Second Artillery Corps had tested a DF-31 missile in the past three months. In late July, the PLA conducted a flight test of a DF-31A in what was the fourth known flight test of that missile in two years.
The DF-31 system has an estimated range of nearly 10,000 kilometres - enough to deliver a nuclear warhead to the capitals of Europe or the west coast of the United States. The mobile missiles are designed specifically for travel over rugged terrain and in difficult road conditions.
Xu Guangyu , a Beijing-based retired PLA major general, said the test had a strategic aim.
"Beijing just wants to increase China's military might and its nuclear strategic threat. It's not really targeting the US or other countries," Xu said.
"China needs to conduct intensive weapon tests and military drills because the [US-led build-up] now in the Asia-Pacific area is not good for Beijing."
Earlier state media reports said Beijing would roll out the Dongfeng-41, a system designed to have a range of 12,000km, allowing it to hit anywhere in the US.
Xu said the US' "pivot to Asia" and its plan to send 60 per cent of its military force to the region by 2020 had put pressure on Beijing to step up missile development. "It's normal for China to develop other, more advanced missiles given that a weapon cycle is between five and seven years, and the DF-31A was delivered to the PLA in 2006," he said.
Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said it was hard to tell the difference between the DF-31A and DF-31B, but the upgraded version might have better performance.
"The DF-31A was designed to carry three warheads. I think the new DF-31B is possibly a multi-warhead version with higher accuracy," Wong said.
In January, PLA Daily posted 17 photos of a live drill of the DF-31A on its website, the first public glimpse of the advanced weapon.
The PLA also tested a hypersonic vehicle, the Wu-14, on August 7 in Shanxi. The launch failed despite a successful first test in January.