China’s Dong Feng-41 (DF-41) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) could enter service as early as the first half of 2018, the state-owned Global Times newspaper reported on 19 November following media reports stating that the ICBM possibly underwent another test a few weeks ago.
“The missile must have matured considerably if it is to start serving in the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] and, if so, official deployment could be in the first half of next year,” Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, was quoted by the paper as saying on 15 November on China Central Television (CCTV).
Other speculation centers on whether the Chinese fired off the DF-41 as political payback for Mr. Xi’s April summit with Mr. Trump in Florida. During the Chinese leader’s visit at the Mar-a-Lago resort, the president ordered a 39-missile salvo of Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack, a not-so-subtle sign of Mr. Trump’s approach to the use of military force.
The secret DF-41 test, however, was not made public at the time by either Beijing or Washington. Pentagonspokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan declined to comment on the test, citing a policy regarding intelligence matters.
The latest test was China’s ninth DF-41 launch and highlights efforts to develop newer and more powerful nuclear arms.
Chinese press reports have suggested the DF-41 could be armed with up to 10 150-kiloton warheads, or a single, massive 5.5 megaton warhead.
“China’s DF-41 test on the eve of Trump’s visit constitutes a personal demonstration to the president of the essential, systemic hostility in Chinese-American relations and justifies his intentions to increase American military strength in Asia and to increase military cooperation with our Asian allies and friends,” said Rick Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
The missile test was expected. Several days before the launch, an air traffic safety notification was issued by Chinese authorities warning aircraft not to travel in an air-closure zone that was used in the past for a previous DF-41 test. The closure zone activation was reported by the online blog East Pendulum.
Asked about a possible missile test coinciding with the president’s visit, a senior White House official said a day after the test that one was possible but that the Chinese appeared to be making great efforts to avoid upsetting the Trump-Xi summit.
“I am familiar with the different situations that have happened in the past, obviously,” the official told Inside the Ring. “They told us it was just bad coincidences, but let’s hope that there are no bad coincidences on this trip. We’ll see what happens.”