China’s official broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV), reported on Tuesday that the military had successfully tested the new 14,000 km-range Dongfeng-41 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) last month, amid renewed speculation surrounding the status of China’s most advanced missile.
The development of the missile, representing the third generation of China’s ICBMs, is a significant boost to the country’s deterrence capabilities. It can carry between three and 10 nuclear warheads, and is regarded as the first Chinese missile that can penetrate American missile defence systems with its mobility making it hard to detect. The DF-41 has been seen as reflecting China’s rapidly developing ICBM programme, which now has a range that can reach U.S. cities. In April, India tested its longest range ICBM, the 5,000 km Agni-V.
While the development of the DF-41 was much discussed in recent years, whether or not it was tested had been a matter of much speculation in recent weeks. Last week, the Global Times — a tabloid published by the People’s Daily that is known for its nationalistic views — denied a report published by the U.S.-based IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly saying the ICBM was tested in July. The Global Times said the missile was still being developed. It quoted Wei Guoan, whom it described as a military expert, as saying that the missile tested in July was not the DF-41.
However, the English-language news channel of CCTV reported that the missile was indeed tested. It said the ICBM’s range gave China “a formidable first-strike capability.” Still there were lingering doubts as to whether or not the missile tested by the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Artillery Corps was the DF-41. The news has, so far, not been confirmed either by CCTV’s Chinese language channels, which are seen as more authoritative, or the official Xinhua news agency.
Gregory Kulacki, a China Project Manager and security expert at the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, pointed out that there was no visual evidence, as yet, of the missile test. The missile shown in the CCTV report was a DF-15, he said, pointing out that there was a need to wait for analysis on the July test before jumping to conclusions. He added the missile may or may not have been the new ICBM.
This month, experts at the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a body created by the U.S. Congress to monitor security issues, said that as many as 10 nuclear warheads could be put on the missile.
Andrei Chang, an editor of the Kanwa Asian Defence Monthly, told the South China Morning Post that a full-course flight test for the third generation missile was still unlikely. “The challenges and difficulties between the second and third generation of ICBMs are very complicated, and the intelligence I’ve gathered tells me that China is still incapable of overcoming many problems, even though they have spent more than 20 years to develop it.”