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Expert: What's Behind China's Trial Launch of DF-5C Intercontinental Missile


BEIJING --- Some international media reported recently that China trial-launched its new intercontinental missile DF-5C carrying 10 MIRVs (Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle) in early January. 

What's the strategic significance of the successful trial launch of DF-5C? What technological innovations does it have? 

History of DF-5C 

The Dongfeng family has DF-5, DF-5A, DF-5B and DF-5C. 

As the first-generation intercontinental ground-to-ground strategic missile developed by China, DF-5 accomplished its first successful full-range flight test on May 18, 1980. 

With a full length of 32.6m, missile diameter of 3.35m and takeoff weight of 183 tons, the missile adopted second stage liquid rocket motor and was launched from the silo. 

It had the maximal firing range of 12,000km-15,000km (DF-5A), and could carry one 3000kg nuclear warhead of three or four million tons of TNT equivalent or four to five MIRVs (DF-5A), with a hitting accuracy of 500m. 

At first DF-5 series were deployed in a similar way. The missile was stored at a plane position in a tunnel under the mountain and could be vertically launched at the outside of the tunnel gate. Data show that it used to take two hours to fuel the missile. 

The productive DF-5 and modified DF-5A later were deployed in the silo and kept in a ready-launch state. 

At the military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the victory of Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression on September 3, 2015, the modified DF-5B ballistic missile was debuted. 

As to DF-5C, it adopts fixed silo and is the latest modified version of DF-5 series. A conservative guess is that DF-5C's firing range is bound to exceed 10,000km, making it a real trump card for China. 

How powerful is DF-5C? 

DF-5C was exposed less than two years after DF-5B's debut. What technological innovations does it have? 

"Being able to carry ten MIRVs, DF-5C can strike independent targets in a region of hundreds of kilometers and adjust the timing and sequence of the strike, thus largely improving the penetration capability and strike effectiveness, " Wang Yunfei, an expert on military strategy, told the reporter. DF-5C makes the deterrence of China's strategic nuclear force more flexible and effective, he added. 

Some media found through China's tests of DF-5 missiles that DF-5A and DF-5B were able to carry three to five MIRVs, which increased to ten for DF-5C, indicating the multiplied combat capability. 

Others held that the increase of MIRVs indicated that the deceptive technology of DF-5C's bait warhead has reached a high level. 

Some military experts analyzed that DF-5C can carry ten MIRVs means that China has broken through its technical bottleneck in downsizing nuclear warhead. 

Why is DF-5C unveiled now? 

"China announces the progress on its weapon and equipment development at specific points, which has something to do with its policy on open and transparent military development," Wang Yunfei said. 

Unveiling the DF-5C now is part of China's plan to enhance the deterrent capability of its nuclear force, he added. 

First, by demonstrating its latest nuclear "weapon", China shows the international community its resolve and capability of strategic gaming. 

Actually at the military parade on September 3, 2015, China already showed the world that it not only had weapons against aircraft carriers, but also new weapons like DF-5B, but that's obviously not enough, so it recently revealed the DF-41 intercontinental missile that's already been deployed, and trial-launched the modified DF-5C at almost the same time. 

Second, China is responding to a series of moves taken by certain countries that break the regional strategic balance, including deploying the THAAD system around China, trial-launching and preparing to deploy the SM-3 Block IIA missile. Trial-launching a major weapon like DF-5C now is to show the world that China won't make any strategic concession. 

Third, China is displaying its strength to countries like the ROK and Japan. Compared with Japan's stance on the Diaoyu Islands and its history of aggression, the ROK's decision to deploy THAAD is a more pressing issue for China. 

The Chinese government has expressed its concern and opposition to THAAD repeatedly. Exposing the deployment of DF-41 on a high profile and trial-launching DF-5C now is a targeted response to ROK. 

Fourth, China is verifying the MIRV technology for mobile land-based nuclear missile and next-generation submarine-launched nuclear missile. China has made substantial progress in this key technology. 

Generally speaking, China's new nuclear weapon in the future will be at least "downsized", "mobile" and "hypersonic". 

Wang Yunfei stressed that despite the continual growth of China's nuclear force, it's still of a small scale and is kept in the minimal scope among the five nuclear countries recognized in the international stage. 

Therefore, both the frequent exposure of DF-41 and the successful trial launch of DF-5C are aimed to make sure that China's peaceful rise isn't threatened by nuclear weapons from any other country. 

Sources of Information: 

China Military

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