December 21, 2015 | In The News | Free Beacon

China Tests New ICBM from Railroad Car

U.S. intelligence agencies recently monitored a Chinese test of a new rail car-based long-range missile capable of hitting targets throughout the United States.

The canister ejection test of a DF-41 missile from a rail-mobile launcher was detected on Dec. 5 in western China, said defense officials familiar with reports of the test.

Few details were available on the DF-41 launcher ejection test.

However, Chinese rail-based missile development has been carried out in the past at the Wuzhai missile test center, also known as the Taiyuan satellite launch center since 1982, according to declassified CIA documents. The launch site is located in China’s central Shanxi Province.

The test this month marks a significant milestone for Chinese strategic weapons developers and demonstrates that Beijing is moving ahead with building and deploying the DF-41 on difficult-to-locate rail cars, in addition to previously-known road-mobile launchers, the officials said.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban declined to comment. “We do not comment on PRC weapons tests, but we do monitor Chinese military modernization carefully,” he said.

Previous disclosures from China on the DF-41, including Internet photographs, all showed the heavy missile deployed on a wheeled transporter erector launcher that is moved on roads.

The DF-41, with a range of more than 7,500 miles, is China’s most potent ICBM and was flight tested a day before the rail car ejection test with two multiple-independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), officials said.

Military analysts say the mobile basing of missiles is designed to complicate preemptive attacks on nuclear forces, such as those envisioned under the Pentagon’s Prompt Global Strike program, which will use precision-guided conventional weapons capable of striking targets at any location on earth within minutes of their discovery.

U.S. intelligence agencies estimate the DF-41 when deployed will carry up to 10 MIRVs—vastly increasing Beijing’s current warhead stockpile, which is based on single-warhead missiles, and currently estimated to include around 300 warheads. Details of the Chinese rail-based missile system were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon in 2013.

China is believed to have obtained rail-mobile missile technology from Ukraine, which during the Soviet period built the SS-24 rail-based ICBM, according to a report by Georgetown University’s Asian Arms Control Project.

China state television in 2006 released the first details of the train basing for missiles in video footage showing missile launch cars, command cars, and other missile system railcars—all disguised as passenger train cars.

The Georgetown report said the Chinese rail-mobile ICBM system is modeled on the Ukrainian-designed SS-24, and is known as a “land nuclear submarine”—an indication the rail launcher uses an ejection tube to boost the missile from the train car shortly before ignition of its engine.

China also is developing an extensive rail and tunnel system devoted to the missile train in central China, according to the report.

Phillip A. Karber, a defense expert who heads the Potomac Foundation, said his organization recently identified a DF-41 at a special launch site at Taiyuan. The missile was revealed in commercial satellite photos.

“If that missile train hosts the DF-41 ICBM it means it will also have a MIRV potential,” Karber said. “The combination of high-speed mobility, launch cars disguised as civilian passenger trains, tunnel protection and secure reloading of missiles, coupled with multiple warheads, makes the system extremely hard to regulate or verify the number of systems.”

Karber, who also is affiliated with the Georgetown arms control project, said the project first identified the rail-based ICBM system four years ago. However, the arms control community dismissed reports about the basing mode, he said.

“Since then there have been reports that China’s 2nd Artillery Corps, the force that operates the missiles, had built 2,000 kilometers [1,243 miles] of heavy gauge rail for this system,” Karber said.

The dedicated missile rail and tunnel system will significantly expand China’s ability to target ICBMs in the United States by avoiding missile overflight of Alaska, where U.S. anti-missile interceptors are based.

“We have also seen imagery of huge tunnel complexes capable of hosting three missile trains side by side,” Karber said.

China’s first public disclosure of the DF-41 occurred in August 2014 when details about the missile program were published on a regional Chinese government web site.

After the disclosure, Chinese military spokesman Geng Yansheng told state media that “research and development [of missiles] is normal for the military without any specific enemy in mind.”