China’s multi-warhead DF-41 ICBM likely to enter service next year


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China has recently (on Dec. 13th) tested its newest ICBM, the DF-41, a missile capable of carrying up to 10 independently-targetable warheads. This was, of course, hardly the first test of this missile type. Deploying even small numbers of it will greatly increase the nuclear striking power of China’s Second Artillery Corps (SAC), the PRC’s strategic missile force.

According to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s report, released just a few weeks ago, the DF-41 may enter service next year:

“The DF-41, which could be deployed as early as 2015, may carry up to 10 MIRVs, and have a maximum range as far as 7,456 miles, allowing it to target the entire continental United States.”

When the DF-41 enters service – whatever time that may be – it won’t be a single missile launcher entering service, but rather, at least half a dozen – enough for a full missile regiment, which in the PLA’s SAC is usually equipped with 6 operationally deployed missile launchers.

Which means that, when the DF-41 is declared operational, at least 6 missile launchers will have been deployed. A missile is not considered “operationally deployed” unless at least one fully equipped unit has been deployed.

Therefore, if the DF-41 ICBM does enter service next year, it means Beijing will deploy at least 6 DF-41s – each armed with up to 10 warheads. This means that next year China will deploy at least an additional 60 warheads deliverable to the Continental US – not counting the warheads on any new DF-31 and JL-2 missiles it may deploy next year.

In effect, this means a total, embarrassing failure of the unilateral disarmament policy being implemented by the Obama Administration and advocated by American far-left, pro-unilateral-disarmament organizations such as the Arms Control Association and the Council for a Livable World.

As the IASC’s China expert Richard Fisher rightly says:

“The Chinese have not and likely will not disclose their nuclear warhead buildup plans, Russia is modernizing its nuclear forces across the board and violating the INF treaty with new classes of missiles, so it would be suicidal for the Washington to pursue a new round of nuclear reductions as is this administration’s preference. China may deploy a combination of single-warhead and multiple warhead DF-41s, with the single warhead version carrying a huge “city buster” multi-megaton bombs.

The beginning of China’s move toward multiple warhead-armed nuclear missiles is proof that today, arms control is failing to increase the security of Americans. Instead, it is time to be rebuilding U.S. nuclear warfighting capabilities, to include new mobile ICBMs, new medium range missiles and new tactical nuclear missile systems.”

And as the Washington Free Beacon reports:

Larry Wortzel, a former military intelligence official who specialized on China, said the Chinese military has been working on a MIRV-modified DF-41 for a number of years.

Wortzel said Chinese military research literature has documented work on the DF-41 but the Pentagon “has been reluctant to discuss or confirm these developments.”

“The United States is now threatened with a more deadly and survivable nuclear force that makes our weak ballistic missile defenses less effective,” Wortzel said. “We need to improve our own defenses and modernize our own deterrent force as the Chinese are doing.” (…)

Georgetown University Professor Phillip Karber has studied China’s nuclear forces and believes its arsenal is far larger than the U.S. intelligence estimate of 240.

“The Chinese development of the DF-41 has been a long term, methodical process,” Karber said. “However, if as we suspect they are going to put a MIRVed version of the missile on both rail and road-mobile launchers, the number of reentry vehicles could grow quite rapidly depending on the number of warheads they end up putting on the missiles.”

Earlier this year, I estimated that there was only a handful of DF-41 ICBMs deployed – perhaps just one. But because the Review Commission has reported that the DF-41 may be operationally deployed as early as next year – which is only 12 days away – I will update that estimate.

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