China’s Ballistic Missile Arsenal: DF-41, DF-31, DF-26, DF-21D, And DF-15 Capabilities Unveiled

With ballistic missiles such as the DF-41, DF-31, Dong Feng-26, DF-21D, and DF-15, China has been making strides in its ballistic missile arsenal. 

China boasts a formidable arsenal of missiles, encompassing a wide spectrum of ranges from short to long, including Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). China has primarily concentrated its efforts on land-based nuclear-capable missiles, which make up the majority of its arsenal. The country has prioritized the modernization of its nuclear delivery systems in this particular domain. China is currently in the process of modernizing its ballistic missile inventory. China’s missile capabilities have been a subject of significant interest in recent years. With ballistic missiles such as the DF-41, DF-31, Dong Feng-26, DF-21D, and DF-15, China has been making strides in its ballistic missile arsenal.

Chian’s Ballistic Missile Arsenal

The DF-41 which is also called Dong Feng [East Wind]-41 or CSS-X-20 is a Chinese road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). With a maximum operational range of 15,000 km, this missile stands as China’s most extensive-reaching weapon. Furthermore, it is believed to possess the capability of carrying multiple warheads that can be independently targeted. The Missile 20- 22 metres long with a diameter of 2.25 metres, 80,000 kilograms launch weight with 2,500 kilograms payload and a range of 12000- 15000 kilometres.

In July 1986, China’s Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) embarked on the development of the DF-41. 1. Project No. 204, the initial undertaking, was originally planned to be completed in 1999. However, it was later integrated into China’s DF-31 missile development initiative. In 1994, China supposedly conducted tests on DF-41 prototypes as part of a renewed effort and subsequently transferred operational missiles to the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) in 2010. The inaugural flight test of this missile took place in July 2012. A canister-ejection test for the missile from a rail-mobile launcher was conducted in December 2015. October 2019 marked the public unveiling of the missile.

The DF-31, also known as Dong Feng or East Wind-31 and CSS-10, is a road-mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) developed by China. This three-stage, solid-fuelled missile was first deployed in 2006 and has an estimated range of 7,000 – 11,700 km. The missile, which is approximately 15 meters long, 2 meters in diameter, and weighs 42,000 kg at launch, is carried on an 8-axle, tractor-trailer-based launcher built by Hanyang. It is launched from its canister using a cold-gas ejection system and is armed with a single nuclear warhead weighing roughly 1,050 – 1,750 kg. The missile is known for its accuracy, with a circular error probable (CEP) of 150 – 300 m. As of 2020, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) is known to maintain one DF-31 brigade.

China’s state-owned Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) initiated research and development on a three-stage, solid-fuelled ballistic missile in August 1970. After successfully test-firing a 2m-diameter solid-propellant motor in late 1983, CALT commenced development of the DF-31 and its submarine-launched variant, the JL-2, in January 1985. China first publicly displayed the DF-31 during a military parade in 1999. Although initially planned for deployment in the mid-late 1990s, delays in procuring the missile’s guidance system postponed its service introduction to 2006.

China’s Dong Feng-26, also known as the DF-26, has emerged as a game-changer in the realm of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). With an impressive range of 4,000 km, it is the first conventionally- armed ballistic missile in China’s arsenal capable of striking Guam. The missile, which can be armed with either a conventional or nuclear warhead, is China’s first nuclear-armed system capable of precision strikes.

In 2020, China tested an anti-ship variant of the missile, the DF-26B. The DF-26 is a two-stage, solid-fuelled IRBM, measuring 14 m in length and 1.4 m in diameter, and weighing 20,000 kg at launch. Its first-stage motor reportedly shares similar dimensions with the preceding DF-21D MRBM. The missile is road-mobile and is transported and fired from a wheeled Taian HTF5680 transporter erector launcher.

The DF-26’s anti-shipping variant, informally known as the DF-26B, is believed to feature an active terminal seeker to engage moving targets. This development underscores China’s commitment to enhancing its military capabilities and maintaining a robust defence posture.

The CSS-5 Mod 6, also known as DF-21D, is a ballistic missile that is road-mobile and medium-range. It became operational in 2012 and is the first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) in the world that can target ships at sea. It has a range of 1,500 km (930 mi; 810 nmi) and can manoeuvre during re-entry, making it capable of targeting large vessels during the terminal phase of its flight. The U.S. Department of Defence estimated in 2008 that China had between 60-80 of these missiles and 60 launchers.

China’s DF-15, also known as CSS-6, is a remarkable force in the realm of military technology. This solid-fuelled ballistic missile, which is short-range and road-mobile, showcases China’s advanced capabilities in missile technology. With a range of 600-900 km and the ability to carry a payload of 500-750 kg, it holds significant strategic value. It is worth noting that the DF-15, along with its newer counterpart, the DF-16, are the only non-nuclear missiles currently utilized by the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force. Fuelled by solid propellant and equipped with a single-stage rocket, the DF-15 has the potential to target areas in Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, and northern India from mainland China.

These missiles are a significant part of China’s strategic deterrent force and are a testament to the country’s advancements in missile technology.