China Tests ICBM With Multiple Warheads
Clinton-era tech transfer aided multi-warhead program
BY: Bill Gertz
December 18, 2014 5:00 am
China carried out a long-range missile flight test on Saturday using
multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, according
to U.S. defense officials.
The flight test Saturday of a new DF-41 missile, China’s longest-range
intercontinental ballistic missile, marks the first test of multiple
warhead capabilities for China, officials told the Washington Free
China has been known to be developing multiple-warhead technology, which
it obtained from the United States illegally in the 1990s.
However, the Dec. 13 DF-41 flight test, using an unknown number of inert
maneuvering warheads, is being viewed by U.S. intelligence agencies
significant advance for China’s strategic nuclear forces and part of a
build-up that is likely to affect the strategic balance of forces.
China’s nuclear arsenal is estimated to include around 240 very large
warheads. That number is expected to increase sharply as the Chinese
deploy new multiple-warhead missiles.
The current deployed U.S. strategic warhead arsenal includes 1,642
warheads. All 450 Minuteman III missiles have been modified to no longer
carry MIRVs. However, Trident II submarine-launched missiles can carry
up to 14 MIRVs per missile.
Additionally, the development of China’s multiple warhead technology was
assisted by illegal transfers of technology from U.S. companies during
the Clinton administration
, according to documents and officials
familiar with the issue.
Details of the flight test and the number of dummy warheads used during it could not be learned.
However, the DF-41 has been assessed by the National Air and Space
Intelligence Center (NASIC), the intelligence community’s primary
missile spy center, as capable of carrying up to 10 warheads.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jeff Pool declined to comment on the DF-41
test. “We encourage greater PRC transparency regarding their defense
investments and objectives to avoid miscalculation,” Pool said in
response to questions about the Chinese missile launch.
China’s government has made no mention of the test, which was carried
out at an unknown missile test facility. Past tests of the DF-41 have
been carried out at the Wuzhai Missile and Space Testing facility,
located about 250 miles southwest of Beijing.
A report made public earlier this month by a congressional China
commission stated that the DF-41 will be able to carry up to 10 warheads
and is expected to be deployed 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,” the report said. “In
addition, some sources claim China has modified the DF–5 and the DF–31A
to be able to carry MIRVs.”
China also conducted a flight test in late September of another
long-range missile, called the DF-31B that also could be outfitted to
“China could use MIRVs to deliver nuclear warheads on major U.S. cities
and military facilities as a means of overwhelming U.S. ballistic
missile defenses,” the report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security
Review Commission said.
NASIC intelligence analyst Lee Fuell told the commission that China’s
mobile MIRV-modified missiles provide greater targeting with fewer
missiles and allow for a larger reserve of missiles during a conflict.
“China is likely to employ a blend of these three as MIRVs become
available, simultaneously increasing their ability to engage desired
targets while holding a greater number of weapons in reserve,” Fuell was
quoted as saying in the report.
A classified NASIC report dated Dec. 10, 1996 stated that China
developed a “smart dispenser” for launching multiple satellites using
technology developed under a contract with Motorola to launch Iridium
. The technology transfer was approved by the
administration of President Bill Clinton.
“An initial NAIC study determined that a minimally-modified [smart
dispenser] stage could be used on a ballistic missile as a
multiple-reentry vehicle post-boost vehicle” that could be used for
multiple warheads “with relatively minor changes.”
In 2000, the State Department fined Lockheed Martin Corp. $13 million
for improperly exporting weapons data on the rocket technology used in
The U.S. data was provided to China’s state-run Great Wall Industries, a
missile manufacturer, through a Hong Kong company called Asiasat and
used in systems called expendable perigee kick motors—a key element used
in MIRV guidance.
The kick motors are used to position a multiple warhead “bus” or stage as part of the targeting process.
The transfers were made under loosened export controls by the Clinton administration beginning in 1993.
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
“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.”
Rick Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military, said the advent of
China’s MIRV capability should mark the end of U.S. efforts to reduce
the number of nuclear warheads.
“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.”
Fisher, with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said
China may deploy a combination of single-warhead and multiple warhead
DF-41s, with the single warhead version carrying a huge “city buster”
“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,” Fisher said. “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
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.”
The DF-41 was revealed inadvertently by the Chinese government last
summer when details, including the fact that it will be a multi-warhead
missile, appeared on a provincial government website before being
quickly censored and removed.
The Shaanxi provincial government announced June 13 in a progress report
on its Environmental Monitoring Center Station that the DF-41 missile
was among its projects.
“On-site monitoring for Phase Two of the project’s final environmental
assessment and approval of support conditions for the development of the
DF-41 strategic missile by the 43rd Institute of the 4th Academy of
Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) was initiated,” the notice
said. AVIC is China’s state-owned aerospace and defense conglomerate.
A state-run Global Times report, also later censored and taken offline,
quoted a Chinese expert as saying the missile will carry multiple
The flight test Saturday was the third such test for the new DF-41. The
Free Beacon first reported the second flight test of the missile in
December 2013. The first flight test was carried out July 24, 2012
After several years of silence on the DF-41, the Pentagon disclosed the
existence of the new missile in its latest annual report on the Chinese
military, made public in June.
“China also is developing a new road-mobile ICBM known as the Dong
Feng-41 (DF-41), possibly capable of carrying multiple independently
targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV),” the report says.