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China flight-tested a new long-range missile in what defense officials say represents a dramatic shift in Beijing’s strategic nuclear posture.The testing is significant because it indicates the Chinese military is increasing the number of warheads in its arsenal.
The DF-5C missile test was carried out recently using 10 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs. The test of the inert warheads was monitored closely by U.S. intelligence agencies.
“The [Defense Department] routinely monitors Chinese military developments and accounts for PLA capabilities in our defense plans,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross told FreeBeacon.com.
U.S. intelligence agencies reported that China had begun adding warheads to older DF-5 missiles, in a move that has raised concerns for strategic war planners.
Currently, U.S. nuclear forces—land-based and sea-based nuclear missiles and bombers—have been configured to deter Russia’s growing nuclear forces and the smaller Chinese nuclear force.
A boost in the Chinese nuclear arsenal to 800 or 1,000 (from the current 250) warheads would prompt the Pentagon to increase the U.S. nuclear warhead arsenal by taking weapons out of storage.
The new commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, stated during a Senate confirmation hearing in September that he is concerned about China’s growing nuclear arsenal.
“I am fully aware that China continues to modernize its nuclear missile force and is striving for a secure second-strike capability,” Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The 10-warhead missile test comes amid heightened tensions with China. State-run media in recent weeks has carried reports calling for China to expand its nuclear forces. A broadcast report showed that new long-range mobile missiles could strike the entire United States.
The Chinese state television channel CCTV-4 recently broadcasted nuclear threats, including graphics showing new DF-41 missiles deployed in northern China and graphics showing the missiles’ strike path into the United States, including a graphic of a 10-warhead MIRV bus for the DF-41.
The Chinese Communist Party propaganda newspaper Global Times, known for its anti-U.S. stance, issued calls for China to build up its nuclear arsenal for use against the United States. “China must procure a level of strategic military strength that will force the U.S. to respect it,” the newspaper said.
Rick Fisher, an analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the multi-warhead missile test appears to be aimed at sending a signal to the new Trump administration.
Trump has tangled with China in opposing its military buildup on disputed South China Sea islands and on U.S. policy toward Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province and not an independent country.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the United States is prepared to block China’s access to reclaimed islands he said are located in international waters and not China’s sovereign maritime domain.
“This test of the 10-warhead DF-5C is China’s latest nuclear intimidation exercise aimed at the new Trump administration. China’s nuclear intimidation signals have included the public revelation in late December via Chinese websites of the new DF-41 ICBM in Heilongjiang province, plus articles in China’s state-controlled media touting the need for China to increase its nuclear forces to intimidate Washington,” Fisher added.
Some analysts speculate that the recent test used the older missile as a test platform for a new warhead delivery “bus” that will be used on the new DF-41.
The Pentagon’s latest annual report on the Chinese military said Beijing continues to upgrade its nuclear forces by enhancing silo-based missiles and adding new road-mobile missiles.