China ICBM
Military vehicles carrying DF-21D ballistic missiles roll to Tiananmen Square during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, in Beijing, ChinaDamir Sagolj/Reuters

China is thought to have tested a train-mounted long-range ballistic missile capable of hitting the US. The canister ejection test of a DF-41 missile is believed to have been carried out from a moving rail carriage on 5 December in western China.

The entire missile system – including a command carriage and launch carriages – was reportedly disguised as a passenger train. The Washington Free Beacon said US intelligence officials had kept track of the test, but details remain sketchy.

US officials have not formally commented on the suspected test. Pentagon spokesperson Commander Bill Urban responded: "We do not comment on PRC weapons tests, but we do monitor Chinese military modernisation carefully."

This is the latest addition to China's growing arsenal, which already contains road-mobile launchers. The carriage-based launchers – which would facilitate the firing of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) – are difficult to track, analysts fear.

"If that missile-train hosts the DF-41 ICBM it means it will also have a MIRV [multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle] potential. 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," defence expert Phillip A Karber, who is with the Potomac Foundation, told the daily.

The train-missile system would help Beijing evade the US's anti-missile interceptors stationed in Alaska. Though China is known to have started developing train-mounted missile launchers as early as 1982, the latest system – capable of carrying DF-41 missiles – is considered a significant development.