The People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducted the full test of the missile, DF-41, involving multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles on December 13, said the Washington Free Beacon which has earlier accurately reported about Chinese missiles tests.

The missile has an estimated range of 12,000 kilometres and can carry up to 10 warheads, which separates from the rocket during the final stage of its flight and target individual cities, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

There is, however, no confirmation from the Chinese military about the test and the number of warheads used.

A successful test would mean China has made a significant advance in its nuclear capabilities with far-reaching consequences for US's balance of power in the Asia-Pacific, the Post report quoted a defence policy expert as saying.

The DF-41 flight test is being viewed by US intelligence agencies as a significant advance for China's strategic nuclear forces and part of a build-up that is likely to affect the strategic balance of forces, it said.

The flight-test marks the first test of multiple warhead capabilities for China, the Beacon quoted US officials as saying.

China's nuclear arsenal is estimated to include around 240 very large warheads. That number is expected to increase sharply as the Chinese deploy new multiple-warhead missiles.

The current deployed US strategic warhead arsenal includes 1,642 warheads.

The Chinese military has previously carried out tests of the DF-41 but those probably involved only a single warhead, according to Professor He Qisong, a defence policy specialist at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

"A full-course flight test of the DF-41 means China has made another stride forward in building a great nuclear power. The new achievement will definitely raise concern from the US as it (shows China can)...break through Washington's ballistic missile defence systems in the Asia-Pacific region," the news agency reported.

The PLA has never officially confirmed the existence of the new generation warheads but a government environmental monitoring centre in Shaanxi mentioned its development on its website in June, possibly by accident, the agency reports said.

Macau-based expert Antony Wong Dong said President Xi Jinping is taking a more confrontational military stance as part of a wider strategy to consolidate allegiance within the
military.

"Xi is facing a certain resistance in dealing with the massive corruption problem in the PLA. With challenging international political tension, the army would be forced to listen to him just like during the eras of his predecessors, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping," he said.

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