China’s land-based ICBM arsenal includes the older liquid-propellant, silo-based DF-4 and DF-5A; the MIRV-equipped DF-5B; and the solid-propellant, road-mobile DF-31 and DF-31A. The more capable DF-41, also MIRV-equipped, is currently undergoing intensive testing. Most of these missiles have been incorporated with a variety of aids to help penetrate ballistic missile defences, including manoeuvrable re-entry vehicles, MIRV, decoys, chaff, jamming, and thermal shielding. China is also testing a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) which could further enhance its ICBM capabilities.

DF-41 (CSS-X-10 / CSS-X-20)

The DF-41 (NATO designation: CSS-X-10 or CSS-X-20) is a road-mobile, solid-fuelled, MIRV-equipped ICBM system currently under development. Believed to represent the highest technological achievement of Chinese missile technology, the DF-41 has been carefully kept under high secrecy. The U.S. DoD confirmed the existence of the DF-41 for the first time in its annual report to Congress on China’s military power in 2014.

It is believed that the DF-41 is similar to the Russian Topol-M (SS-27 ‘Sickle B’) in size and profile, with an estimated maximum range of over 12,000 km, allowing it to strike any targets in North America when launched from central China. Additional to silo and road-mobile deployment methods, unconfirmed reports claimed that China is developing a railway-based version of the missile.

The development of the DF-41 began in the mid-1980s, but was suspended around 2002 due to resources being focused on the DF-31A development. The development may have resumed around 2007, with the first test launch reportedly taking place in 2013 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre. It was reported that on 13 December 2014 a DF-41 test launch carrying two MIRV warheads was conducted from Taiyuan to a target impact zone in Xinjiang. The 4th test launch of the missile reportedly took place in August 2015, followed by the 5th test launch in December 2015, and the 6th test launch in April 2016.

PLA designation.......Dong Feng-41 (DF-41)
NATO designation......CSS-X-20
Range.................12,000+ km
Payload...............?
Stages................3
Propellant............Solid
Guidance..............Inertial
Warhead...............MIRV
Deployment............Road mobile / railway?
R&D...................1986
FSF...................2013
IOC...................2016?

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DF-31 / DF-31A (CSS-9)

The DF-31 (NATO designation: CSS-9) is a road-mobile, three-stage, solid-propellant ICBM. The programme began in 1986 originally intended as a successor to the DF-4 (CSS-3) IRBM to cover targets in the European theatre of the Soviet Union. The design task was assigned to the 4th Department of the Ministry of Astronautics (now CASIC 4th Academy). The solid-propellant rocket motors used on the missile were successfully tested in 1983-84, and the engineering development phase began in 1987.

The first test launch of the DF-31 on 2 August 1999 was only partially successful. Two further tests in late 2000 were unsuccessful. With its 8,000 km range, the DF-31 could only reach a smaller corner of the west coast of the United States when launched from central China. Following the temporary cancellation of the DF-41 ICBM programme in 2002, it was decided that an improved variant DF-31A (CSS-9 Mod-2) was to be introduced. The first test launch of the DF-31A was successfully carried out on 4 September 2006.

The 2007 U.S. DoD report to Congress on China’s military power suggested that the DF-31 had reached “initial threat availability (ITA)” in 2006 and possible “operational status by May 2007”. The 2008 version of the report confirmed that less than 10 DF-31/31A missiles/launchers were being deployed by the PLA’s strategic missile forces. This number is likely to have increased since then.

DF-31

PLA designation.......Dong Feng-31 (DF-31)
NATO designation......CSS-9 Mod-1
Range.................8,000 km
Payload...............700 kg
Stages................3
Propellant............Solid
Guidance..............Inertial
Warhead...............Single, 1,000 kT
Deployment............Road-mobile
R&D...................1986
FSF...................2003?
IOC...................2007

DF-31A

PLA designation.......Dong Feng-31A (DF-31A)
NATO designation......CSS-9 Mod-2
Range.................11,200 km
Payload...............700 kg
Stages................3
Propellant............Solid
Guidance..............Inertial
Warhead...............Single, 1,000 kT
Deployment............Road-mobile
R&D...................?
FSF...................2006
IOC...................2008?

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DF-5A / DF-5B (CSS-4)

The 40-year-old DF-5 (NATO designation: CSS-4) has been the backbone of China’s ICBM arsenal since the early 1980s, with some 20 to 30 examples in the improved DF-5A (CSS-4 Mod 2) variant deployed in underground silos today. The DF-5 is a large two-stage, liquid-propellant rocket with a throw-weight of 3,000 kg. The DF-5 and DF-5A both carry a single three-megaton-yield thermal nuclear warhead, but the introduction of the new generation lighter warheads has made it possible for the DF-5 to carry multiple warheads on a single missile.

The 2015 edition of the U.S. DoD report to Congress revealed for the first time that China had fielded a MIRV-equipped variant of the DF-5. The missile, designated DF-5B (CSS-4 Mod 3), was unveiled during the military parade in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII on 3 September 2015. The DF-5B features a blunt re-entry vehicle, much similar to the payload fairings of the CZ-2C orbital launcher, as opposed to the conical shaped re-entry vehicle featured on the DF-5 and DF-5A. However, it is not clear whether the DF-5Bs are newly built units, or refurbished from existing DF-5A airframes.

DF-5s in operational service are stored in underground silos and “hot launched” from within the silo. The DF-5A requires about 2 hours for pre-launch preparation. The missile’s liquid-propellant is storable, which allows the missile to be fuelled days before the firing in order to reduce the launch preparation time.

The exact number of the DF-5 in deployment is unknown, and observer estimations vary significantly, ranging from less than 10 to over 30. According to some reports, DF-5 missile units in the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) consist of three missile launch brigades, each operating 6 to 10 missiles. These units included 801st Brigade (cover designator: 96261 Unit) headquartered in Lingbao City, Henan Province, 803rd Brigade (cover designator: 96311 Unit) headquartered in Jingzhou County of Huaihua City, Hunan Province, and 804th brigade (cover designator: 96263 Unit) headquartered in Luanchan County of Luoyang City, Henan Province.

PLA designation.......Dong Feng-5A/B (DF-5A/B)
NATO designation......CSS-4 Mod-2/3
Range.................13,000 km
Payload...............3,000 kg
Stages................2
Propellant............N2O4/UDMH
Guidance..............Inertial
Warhead...............Single (DF-5A)
                      MIRV (DF-5B)
Deployment............Silo
R&D...................1965
FSF...................1970
IOC...................1980s (DF-5A)
                      2014 (DF-5B)

DF-5/5A

DF-5B

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DF-4 (CSS-3)

Around 15 to 20 older liquid-propellant two-stage DF-4 (NATO designation: CSS-3) remain operational with the PLA today. The missile has a maximum range of 4,700 km, and employs an obsolete cascaded inertial guidance package, giving a CEP of several hundred metres. The DF-4 is China’s first underground-silo-deployed missile, stored vertically in underground silos and raised to surface level before firing, much like the early U.S. Titans and Atlases. Fuelling inside the silos can take place up to 15 days prior to the firing. Alternatively, the missile can be stored horizontally in a tunnel, and rolled out to a pre-surveyed launch spot immediately outside the mouth of the tunnel, erected, fuelled, and fired.

PLA designation.......Dong Feng-4 (DF-4)
NATO designation......CSS-3
Range.................5,400 km
Payload...............2,200 kg
Stages................2
Propellant............HNO3/UDMH
Guidance..............Inertial
Warhead...............Single, 3,000 kT yield
Deployment............Road-mobile / silo
R&D...................1965
FSF...................1970
IOC...................1980s

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