CHINA has unveiled its most powerful weapon yet and its new intercontinental ballistic missile is a force to be reckoned with.
The DF-41 ICBM can carry up to 10 manoeuverable warheads ranging from 100 to 200 kilotonnes to megaton size and has a range of between 12,000kms and 15,000kms.
In comparison, North Korea’s Hwasong-15, which was launched yesterday, has an estimated range of 13,000km.
China’sPeople Dailynewspaper revealed the DF-41 could enter service as early as the first half of next year.
Military expert Yang Chengjun told a TV program broadcasted on China Central Television (CCTV) earlier this week the DF-41 is China’s latest strategic missile and was quick, mobile and precise.
“The missile can hit every corner of the earth, allowing China to counter a nuclear strike on the country,” Mr Yang said.
According to the newspaper, the test launches have had a 100 per cent success rate.
Dr Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst in defence strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said this was China’s most advanced ICBM.
“It’s a road-mobile, solid fuelled ICBM with the range to cover all targets in the continental United States,” Dr Davis said.
“Its MIRVed — MIRV standing for multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles.
“This means the missile can carry multiple nuclear warheads — up to 10 warheads each with yields of around 150 kilotons (150,000 tons TNT equivalent) — or a single warhead with a yield up to 3 megatons (millions of tons of TNT).”
Dr Davis said 24 of these missiles could deliver between 240 warheads against the US.
“The North Korean Hwasong-15 would by contrast carry a single warhead,” he said.
“It would also carry penetration aids (‘penaids’) designed to confuse US missiles defences.”
Dr Davis said China is also developing ‘MARVs’ — manoeuvring re-entry vehicles — that would give them the ability to further defeat US missile defence, and potentially, attack mobile targets.
“They are also developing hypersonic glide vehicles which would carry individual warheads and glide at up to Mach 20 at very high altitude on a highly evasive trajectory, with the hypersonic glide vehicle (called a ‘DZ-ZF’) being launched atop the DF-41 in place of the regular payload of warheads,” he said.
Beijing’s overall objective is to ensure Chinese ICBMs like the DF-41 can defeat US missile defence systems, Dr Davis said.
Nuclear disarmament campaigner John Hallam said the DF-41 was simply the most powerful nuclear missile in the world and was the “ultimate doomsday weapon”.
“It’s a whopper, comparable to the biggest Russian missiles, which it resembles, including the recently tested Sarma,” Mr Hallam said.
He said there have been rumours and claimed sightings of this missile for some time and that it has been tested before.
“The backbone of China’s strategic force has always been the somewhat ancient DF-5 missile, each with a single 5 megaton warhead (by far) the biggest warhead in actual military use,” Mr Hallam said.
“For a long time there were just 20 of these things, but a few years back the Chinese started to upgrade, update, and add to the DF5’s, so there might be 30 now, and they started to deploy something called the DF-41 — the same designation as this one.”
The missile also could have a deadly impact if used in conflict.
“Just one of these missiles, with 10 warheads each of 100kt plus range, could essentially destroy either the major cities or the significant military capacity of the United States, especially if command and control nodes are prioritised,” Mr Hallam said.
“The DF-41 with multiple big warheads and probably a middling accuracy is ideally suited for incinerating cities, and its being mounted on a TEL (Transporter-Erector-Launcher), is consistent with that — it moves around so it can’t easily be targeted like a silo.
“That said, it needs to be pointed out that China has always said that they do not have a first strike policy, but do have a doctrine of No First Use. They are the only nuclear weapons power that has adopted NFU.”
He said it was concerning that some in the Chinese military were pushing for the policy to be dropped.
The Chinese, like the US and Russia, have conducted an end to end test in which a warhead is loaded on to a missile, fired, and exploded, Mr Hallam said noting the test took place entirely within Chinese territory.