China conducted a flight test of its Dong Feng (DF)-31 long-range missile on November 4, the Pentagon said December 12. Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon would not provide many details on the test, saying simply, "The test was pretty much as expected in terms of timing and in terms of results."
The test, which was first reported in The Washington Times, advances China's strategic modernization program, which is designed to increase the survivability and reliability of its small nuclear deterrent force.
The DF-31 is a solid-fueled, road-mobile missile with an estimated range of 8,000 kilometers, meaning that, when deployed, it will be able to target portions of the northwestern United States. It was first flight-tested in August 1999. According to The Washington Times, China also tested the DF-31 in the spring of 2000 and in mid-December, but the Pentagon refused to confirm those tests.
Currently, China is reported to have only about 20 ICBMs, known as DF-4s, capable of hitting the continental United States. The DF-4 is liquid-fueled and silo-based and has been in service for over 20 years. In addition to the DF-31, China is developing another mobile ICBM that will have a longer range and will likely replace the DF-4.