BEIJING – China has reportedly tested a new version of a missile that can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads, which can bring a major shift in its nuclear capability.

The flight test of the Dongfeng-5C missile was carried out last month using 10 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

The test of the inert warheads was monitored closely by US intelligence agencies, said two officials familiar with reports of the missile test.

The DF-5C missile, carrying 10 dummy warheads, was launched from the Taiyuan Space Launch Centre in Shanxi province, and flew to a desert in western China, the report said.

The missile is a new variant of the DF-5, an intercontinental ballistic missile that first went into service in the early 1980’s.

For decades, the US has put the estimated number of warheads in China’s nuclear arsenal at about 250. But the report suggested that the latest test with 10 warheads meant the actual number could be larger.

The timing of the test coincided with the election of Donald Trump as US President who signalled a tougher stance against China over a range of issues, from the trade deficit to Beijing’s military build-up in the disputed South China Sea.

Officials in Beijing have warned Trump against entering a confrontation, while some Chinese government media outlets have published a number of reports calling for strengthening the Chinese military to compensate for an increased perceived threat from the US.

Unlike China, the US has not pledged not to use nuclear weapons in a first strike, although the nuclear option is reserved for only dire circumstances in US military doctrine.

Just over two weeks ago, China launched a stealthy attack drone – Sharp Sword – that has two internal bomb bays and a likely payload of about 4,400 pounds.

The Sharp Sword is the first non-NATO stealthy unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). Built by Aviation Industry Corporation of China, with much of the work done by the Hongdu Aviation Industry Group, the drone has a non-afterburning WS-13 turbofan engine, with serpentine inlet to hide the engine from enemy radars. It has a length of about 33 feet, and a wingspan of about 46 feet.