China has deployed its newest ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) to the northeastern region of the nation, and in an unusual move for the communist state, they permitted the state run media to report on it.

China claims their newest missile, the Dong Feng-41 (DF-41), which means East Wind, can carry up to twelve individual nuclear warheads and boasts a reported range of 8,699 miles, which places most of the entire globe within its firing radius; the only exceptions being portions of South America and Antarctica.

China’s Global Times newspaper reported that the People’s Liberation Army had positioned two DF-41s to the Heilongjiang Province.  Photographs of the missiles, as well as large missile launchers traveling along Chinese roads were released along with the story.  China claims the missiles and launchers were designed specifically to travel via the nation’s vast network of paved roads in order to make them easy to deploy and hard to track.

China’s decision to place the missiles in a northern province does not indicate concerns over their northern border.  Because of the incredible range afforded to the platform, the Chinese government could have chosen to place the missiles just about anywhere within their borders without losing any tactical advantage – instead, they likely chose to position the missiles near their Russian border as an indicator of their friendly status with the nation.

Again, the range of the missiles makes placement a moot point, so why bother transporting them through Daqing, a city that boasts nearly three million residents?  The answer is likely that they wanted to make a statement.  China is a nuclear power with a capable arsenal, and one that isn’t particularly fond of recent US involvement in the South China Sea or of America’s new president, Donald Trump.

Donald Trump repeated criticized China throughout his presidential campaign, accusing them of utilizing predatory trade deals with the United States.  Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, even went so far as to accuse China’s development of militarized islands in the international waters of the South China Sea as comparable to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, calling it “taking of territory that others lay claim to.”

While China responded via diplomatic channels, it would seem they chose to accompany their formal statements with a wink and a nuclear nudge to the new president, reminding him that China is a formidable opponent, and one for which America lacks a clear upper hand in dealing with.

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The United States has a missile defense system in place that would theoretically be capable of taking down the DF-41 if ever such an attack were to occur, but the missile’s compliment of a dozen warheads and the U.S.’s confirmed success rate with its existing system would require that five ground based interceptors be fired at a single Chinese DF-41 – and the United States currently has only thirty-seven such interceptors in service.

Hypothetically, the United States could keep the Chinese missiles from reaching their targets, but if China launched multiple missiles, stopping them would have to be at the expense of our entire anti-ICBM arsenal – a worst case scenario if a global nuclear war were ever to take place.

Of course, the chances of going to war against China, particularly nuclear war, are minuscule, as both national economies have grown increasingly interdependent in recent decades.  The decision to publicly relocate these missiles was certainly a political one, but likely one intended to serve as a reminder, and not necessarily a warning.

 

Image courtesy of GlobalSecurity.org