China is developing the CSS-X-20 (DF-41), a new road-mobile ICBM possibly capable of carrying a MIRV payload. China appears to be considering additional DF-41 launch options, including rail-mobile and silo basing. The DF-41, which is expected to have a range of about 14,000 kilometers and be mobile. China has conducted several tests of the DF-41 but has yet to deploy the missile. The number of warheads on Chinese ICBMs capable of threatening the United States is expected to grow to well over 100 in the next 5 years.
China has still not completed development of the long-awaited DF-41 ICBM (CSS-X-20), which has been reported in development at least since 1997. The US Defense Department believes that this missile is capable of carrying MIRVs and rumors have spread in the media that the DF-41 can carry six to 10 warheads.
As is likely the case with the DF-5B, though, the number of warheads that the DF-41 carries may be significantly less––perhaps three––and the additional payload capability may focus on decoys and penetration aids to overcome the US ballistic missile defense system. The PLARF conducted its tenth test of the DF-41 in May 2018 and followed it up with a simulated second-strike exercise in January 2019, which may have included the DF-41.
This could indicate that the missile has nearly completed its development and testing cycle; however, the missile is not yet listed as operational in the 2019 Defense Department report. The DF-41 is expected to eventually replace the aging DF-5 ICBM and could potentially be launched from silos and railcars, in addition to mobile TELs.
China will put its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile into service as early as this year, according to a regional defence magazine.
The DF-41, which was described by Washington as the world’s longest-range missile, has entered its final test phase, according to Canada-based Kanwa Asian Defence.
With an operational range of up to 14,500km, the DF-41 would first be deployed to the advanced brigade of the People’s Liberation Army’s new Rocket Force based in Xinyang in Henan province, the report said.
From there, the missile would be able to strike the United States within half an hour by flying over the North Pole or slightly more than 30 minutes by crossing the Pacific, the report said.
But defence analysts said it was not clear if the DF-41 could break through the multilayered US missile defence system in the Asia-Pacific region.
“No one questions the longest range of the DF-41 is near 15,000km. But within just a few minutes of being launched, it might be blocked by the US’ defence system at its Guam naval base,” Professor He Qisong, a defence policy specialist at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said.
The solid-fuel, road-mobile ICBM had been tested at the Wuzhai Missile and Space Test Centre – also known as the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre – in Shanxi province since last summer, the Kanwa report said.
The DF-41 has been tested at least five times since July, 2014, according to the US-based Washington Free Beacon.
Earlier reports from the website said US intelligence agencies had detected that the PLA’s missile force submitted a DF-41 missile to a “canister ejection test” from a railway-mounted mobile launcher on December 5.
The test was a milestone for Chinese strategic weapons developers and showed that Beijing was moving ahead with building and deploying the DF-41 on difficult-to-locate rail cars, in addition to previously known road-mobile launchers, the website said.
Kanwa chief editor Andrei Chang said the strike rate of the DF-41 would improve further after 2020 when China completed its home-grown BeiDou navigation satellites, helping to wean the PLA off its dependence on the US’ Global Positioning System.
But He said the US might develop technology to jam the BeiDou system’s signals.
“The US has spared no effort to upgrade its missile defence system year after year,” He said. “The missile systems – so far – are just a game of threats played among the great powers.”
Missile Defense Project, “Dong Feng 41 (DF-41 / CSS-X-20),” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 12, 2016, last modified June 15, 2018, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/df-41/.