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Communist China at 70

China unveils ICBM capable of reaching US with 10 warheads

Long-range and hypersonic missiles show strides toward parity with Washington

Military vehicles carrying DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles travel past Tiananmen Square during the military parade marking the 70th anniversary of People's Republic of China.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- China flaunted rapid advances in its weapons technology in a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on Tuesday, demonstrating progress toward its goal of becoming a military superpower on par with the U.S.

Among the weaponry unveiled at the event -- one of the largest such parades in modern Chinese history -- was the Dongfeng-41, a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile that can carry up to 10 independent nuclear warheads able to strike different targets, making it an exceedingly difficult threat to intercept.

With a range estimated at 12,000 km to 15,000 km, a DF-41 launched from a mobile platform in mainland China could reach the continental U.S.

The People's Liberation Army's nuclear capabilities have long been eclipsed by those of the U.S. Beijing held 290 nuclear warheads to Washington's 6,185 as of January 2019, according to estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. But the deployment of new delivery vehicles like the DF-41 could spur China to expand its arsenal.

The parade also sought to show off Beijing's rapid strides toward catching up with Washington in conventional warfare, with J-20 stealth fighter jets and H-6U aerial refueling tankers flying overhead.

China has largely followed in the footsteps of the U.S. in its military buildup, including with moves in recent years to restructure its discrete land, sea and air forces into a joint force with a regional command structure.

This also goes for equipment. The J-20 is said to have been developed using secret technology stolen from the American military through hacking. Five of the jets flew in formation at the parade, showing that mass production is underway.

Yet many analysts in the U.S. and Japan say it is impossible to tell how the jets actually compare to their American counterparts without seeing them in real combat. The performance of stealth fighters hinges on the capabilities of their engines, and much remains unclear about those of the J-20.

The parade featured new technology seen as "game changers" for modern warfare. One example is the DF-17, a hypersonic weapon that can change its path after reentering the atmosphere to evade American missile defense systems. The U.S. and Russia are scrambling to develop similar weapons, but it has been speculated that China has beaten them to the punch.

Beijing also displayed an array of unmanned vehicles, including Sharp Sword stealth drones. The U.S. makes heavy use of unmanned aircraft to strike terrorist targets, and China seeks to catch up using technology that would enable swarms of drones to act in concert.

Other advances on display included electronic warfare vehicles capable of disrupting enemy communications and a "carrier killer" missile said to boast a highly precise targeting system. Views on the missile's actual performance are mixed, but if it is as accurate as some estimates suggest, it could restrict the ability of U.S. carrier strike groups to act in the region in the event of a conflict.

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