International standards consider guided missiles to be IRBMs if they have a range of more than 3,000 kilometers. Due to China's geopolitical considerations, however, the PLA only considers a missile to be an IRBM if it has a range of greater than 4,000 km.
China's first-generation IRBM is the DF-4, which represents a number of breakthroughs in weapons technology such as multi-stage rockets, warhead heat resistance, high-altitude ignition engines and inertial navigation, the report said.
The DF-4 provided the foundations for the country's satellite-launching and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology. The Long March 1 carrier rocket which launched China's first satellite in 1970 was developed from DF-4 technology.
With a range of 4,000 km — later improved to 4,750 km — and the ability to carry a hydrogen bomb with a blast yield equivalent to 3 million tons of TNT, the DF-4 has been a core weapon of the PLA's Second Artillery Corps since it entered service in the 1980s.
However, the DF-4 is still a first-generation IRBM and recent trends such as the replacement of first-generation medium-range ballistic missiles and ICBMs indicates that the DF-4 is also in the process of being replaced by the new DF-26, which may have entered service around 2010.
The DF-26, a two-stage solid-fuel rocket IRBM, is reportedly 14 meters long with a diameter of 1.4 m and a launch weight of 20 tons. It can carry a nuclear or conventional warhead weighing 1,200-1,800 kilograms and has an estimated maximum range in excess of 5,000 km, meaning it can strike American military bases in the Asia-Pacific such as Guam or Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
Recent leaked photos of the DF-26 show the missile being transported by a six-axis missile delivery vehicle, suggesting that it also has mobile launch capability.
Sina Military said the DF-26 stands above the pack as the most advanced IRBM in the world. The United States and the Soviet Union are unable to develop missiles similar to the DF-26 due to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987. The treaty eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges, defined as between 500-5,500 km.
The only other missile comparable to the DF-26 is India's Agni-V, which has a range of about 5,000 km but has been categorized by some as an ICBM due to claims that its range could be up to 8,000 km. However, Sina Military said, the DF-26 is vastly superior to the Agni-V because even though it is significantly smaller in size and weight, the DF-26 can carry heavier warheads and can be fired with greater precision.
The People's Liberation Army latest weaponry the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM).