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DF-21/CSS-5 Mod 1
Place of origin China
Service history
In service 1991
Used by Second Artillery Corps
Weight 14,700 kilograms (32,400 lb)
Length 10.7 metres (35 ft)
Diameter 1.4 metres (4.6 ft)
Warhead 1, or 5-6 (improved variant)[1] 200-300-500 kt[2]

Engine Solid fueled
1,770 km (1,100 mi) (DF-21)[3]
1,770 km (1,100 mi) (DF-21A)[3]
1,700 km (1,100 mi) (DF-21C)
exceeding 1,500 km (930 mi) (DF-21D ASBM)[4]
Speed Mach 10[5]
Inertial + terminal active radar guidance[6]
Mobile launcher

The Dong-Feng 21 (DF-21; NATO reporting name CSS-5 - Dong-Feng (Chinese: 东风; literally: "East Wind") is a two-stage, solid-propellant, single-warhead medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) in the Dong Feng series developed by China Changfeng Mechanics and Electronics Technology Academy. Development started in the late 1960s and was completed around 1985-86, but it was not deployed until 1991. It was developed from the submarine-launched JL-1 missile, and is China's first solid-fuel land-based missile. The U.S. Department of Defense in 2008 estimated that China had 60-80 missiles and 60 launchers.[7]

Originally developed as a strategic weapon, the DF-21's later variants were designed for both nuclear and conventional missions. As well as a nuclear warhead of around 300 kt, it is thought that high explosive and submunition warheads are available. The latest DF-21D was said to be the world's first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). The DF-21 has also been developed into a space-capable anti-satellite/anti-missile weapon carrier.

Though the launcher itself is road mobile, an actual launch requires support vehicles and a specially prepared launch platform to prevent backblast damage due to the hard launch.[8]

DF-21 (CSS-5 Mod-1)[edit]

The basic variant DF 21 has a range of 1,770+ km,[3] and a payload of 600 kg. The missile can carry a single 500 kt nuclear warhead, with an estimated CEP of 300~400 m. This version did not enter operational service.[6]

DF-21A (CSS-5 Mod-2)[edit]

The DF-21A was operational by 1996 and has improved accuracy with an estimated circular error probable (CEP) of 100~300m, with both GPS and an active radar homing-based terminal guidance in a redesigned nose.[6] This version is reported to have a similar range of 1,770+ km.[3]

DF-21C (CSS-5 Mod-3)[edit]

Revealed in 2006, DF-21C is believed to be a mod of DF-21. Its actual designation is unknown; it may be a version of the DF-25 missile. Its maximum range is believed to be about 1,700 kilometres (1,100 mi).[9] The new Beidou-based guidance system has reduced the missile’s CEP to 30~40m, enabling it for precision-strike missions.[6]

In 2010, the DF-21C was being deployed in central Western China.[10]

DF-21D (CSS-5 Mod-4) Anti-ship ballistic missile[edit]

Range of various Chinese missiles; DF-21 A/B range in red.

China has reportedly developed and tested its first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) called DF-21D, with a maximum range exceeding 1,450 kilometres (900 mi), according to the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center. The Intelligence Center did not believe it was deployed in 2009.[9] The guidance system is thought to be still in an evolutionary process as more UAV and satellites are added.[11]

The US Department of Defense stated in 2010 that China has developed and reached initial operating capability (IOC)[12] of a conventionally armed[13] high hypersonic[14] land-based anti-ship ballistic missile based on the DF-21. This would be its first ASBM and weapon system capable of targeting a moving aircraft carrier strike group from long-range, land-based mobile launchers.[15][16] [17] These would combine maneuverable reentry vehicles (MaRVs) with some kind of terminal guidance system. Such a missile may have been tested in 2005-6, and the launch of the Jianbing-5/YaoGan-1 and Jianbing-6/YaoGan-2 satellites would give the Chinese targeting information from SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) and visual imaging respectively. The upgrades would greatly enhance China's ability to conduct sea-denial operations to prevent US carriers from intervening in the Taiwan Strait.[18]

United States Naval Institute in 2009 stated that such a warhead would be large enough to destroy an aircraft carrier in one hit and that there was "currently ... no defense against it" if it worked as theorized.[19]

The United States Navy has responded by switching its focus from a close blockade force of shallow water vessels to return to building deep water ballistic defense destroyers.[19] The United States has also assigned most of its ballistic missile defense capable ships to the Pacific, extended the BMD program to all Aegis destroyers and increased procurement of SM-3 BMD missiles.[20] The United States also has a large network optimized for tracking ballistic missile launches which may give carrier groups sufficient warning in order to move away from the target area while the missile is in flight.[21]

Use of such missile has been said by some experts to potentially lead to nuclear exchange, regional arms races with India and Japan, and the end of the INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union, to which the People's Republic of China is not a party.[22][23]

Some have also suggested China could develop a "MIRVd" DF-21D with multiple independent missiles.[24]

China has recently launched a series of satellites to support its ASBM efforts:

China is reported to be working on an Over-the-horizon radar to locate the targets for the ASBM.[26]

An apparent test of the missile was made against a target in the Gobi desert in January 2013.[27]

A Russian Military Analysis report of the DF-21D has concluded that the only way to successfully counter it would be through electronic countermeasures. Conventional interceptions of high-speed objectives have worked in the past, with the Russian report citing the 2008 interception of a malfunctioning satellite by a U.S. cruiser, but in that situation the warship had extensive knowledge of its location and trajectory. Against an attack from the Mach 10 DF-21D without knowing the missile's launch point, the U.S. Navy's only way to evade it would be through electronic countermeasures.[28]

The emergence of the DF-21D has some analysts[who?] claiming that the "carrier killer" missiles have rendered the American use of aircraft carriers obsolete, as they are too vulnerable in the face of the new weapon and not worth the expense. Military leaders in the U.S. Navy and Air Force, however, do not see it as a "game changer" to completely count carriers out. Firstly, there are questions on whether it has even entered operational service. Chinese publications said it was deployed in 2010 and U.S. officials reported it reached IOC that same year. Even so, being deployed does not mean it is combat-ready, and the Xinhua News Agency reported that the DF-21D was “still in the research stage” and not yet operational as of July 2011. Secondly, the missile may not be able to single-handedly destroy its target. The warhead is believed to be enough to inflict a "mission kill" to make a carrier unable to conduct flight operations, while other missiles would follow to actually destroy the ship. Thirdly, there is the problem of finding its target. The DF-21D has a range estimated between 1,035 to 1,726 mi (1,666 to 2,778 km), so a carrier battle group would need to be located through other means before launching. Over-the-horizon radars could detect ships, but their exact locations could be off by miles. Chinese recon satellites would be able to look for and locate a battle group. Recon aircraft and submarines could also look for them, but they are vulnerable to the carrier's defenses. Finally, the missile may have a hard time hitting its target. To hit ships moving at 55 km/h (30 kn; 34 mph), the DF-21D has radar and optical sensors for tracking. These are supposed to make it accurate, but the missile has not yet been tested against a moving target, let alone ones at sea against clutter and countermeasures. The "kill chain" of the missile requires processing and constantly updating data of a carrier's location, preparing the launch, programming information, and then firing it. How often this is trained is not known, and the U.S. military's AirSea Battle concept involves disrupting an enemy's kill chain.[29] Some U.S. analysts believe that the DF-21D doesn't fly any faster than Mach 5.[30]

The DF-21D reentry vehicle appears to bear similarities to the American Pershing II missile's RV, deployed in 1983 and withdrawn in 1988 as part of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The Pershing II's RV weighed 1,400 lb (640 kg) and traveled at Mach 8. It was fitted with four control fins to perform a 25-G pull-up after reentering the atmosphere, then glided 30 nmi (35 mi; 56 km) to the target and pitched into a terminal dive. Army training manuals about the missile are available on the internet and public open-source literature extensively describes it. The DF-21 has a comparable range and payload. Though much is made of the DF-21D's damage infliction ability based solely on velocity and kinetic energy, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has calculated that the energy of an inert 500 kg (1,100 lb) RV impacting at Mach 6 had similar energy to the combined kinetic and explosive power of the American subsonic Harpoon anti-ship missile, which is one-quarter the energy of the Russian supersonic 12,800 lb (5,800 kg) Kh-22 missile traveling at Mach 4 with a 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) warhead. Studies conducted by McDonnell Douglas in the 1980s found that small warheads would at least cause enough damage to warships to put them out of commission for repairs.[31]


DF-26 is a development of DF-21 with range increased to 3500 km, and it has entered service for several years, but only in the mid 2010's its existence was confirmed.[32] The U.S. Department of Defense in its 2013 report to Congress on China's military developments made no mention of the DF-26 as a missile in service.[4]

Saudi Arabian purchase[edit]

In January 2014, Newsweek revealed that Saudi Arabia had secretly bought a number of DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles in 2007. They also said that the American CIA had allowed the deal to go through as long as the missiles were modified to not be able to carry nuclear warheads. Saudi Arabia had previously secretly acquired Chinese DF-3A ballistic missiles in 1988, which was later exposed by the United States. While the DF-3 has a longer range, it was designed to carry a nuclear payload, and so had poor accuracy (300 meters CEP) if used with a conventional warhead. It would only be useful against large area targets like cities and military bases. This made them useless during the Gulf War for retaliating against Iraqi Scud missile attacks, as they would cause mass civilian casualties and would not be as effective as the ongoing coalition air attacks. After the war, the Saudis and the CIA worked together to covertly allow the purchase of Chinese DF-21s. The DF-21 is solid-fueled instead of liquid-fueled like the DF-3, so it takes less time to prepare for launch. It is accurate to 30 meters CEP, allowing it to attack specific targets like compounds or palaces. The Saudis are not known to possess mobile launchers, but may use the some 12 launchers originally bought with the DF-3s. The number of DF-21 missiles that were bought is unknown. Newsweek speculates that details of the deal being made public is part of Saudi deterrence against Iran.[33][34][35]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ International Assessment and Strategy Center > Research > New Chinese Missiles Target the Greater Asian Region
  2. ^ "Nuclear Warhead Modernization". Nti.org. Retrieved 2010-03-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d The Military Power of the People's Republic of China - Annual Report to Congress (Report). Office of the Secretary of Defense. 2007. p. 42. Retrieved 28 November 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China. Office of the Secretary of Defense (Report) (U.S. Department of Defense). 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2014. The DF-21D has a range exceeding 1,500 km and is armed with a maneuverable warhead. 
  5. ^ "China Shows Off World’s First Anti-Carrier Ballistic Missile". asianweek.com. Retrieved 2010-12-29. 
  6. ^ a b c d DongFeng 21 (CSS-5) Medium-Range Ballistic Missile - SinoDefence.com
  7. ^ "Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2008". Office of the Secretary of Defense. p. 56 (p66 of PDF). 
  8. ^ Kristensen, Hans M. (September 28, 2010). "DF-21C Missile Deploys to Central China". fas.org. Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (Report) (Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency). April 2009. NASIC-1031-0985-09. Retrieved 20 February 2013. 
  10. ^ DF-21C Missile Deploys to Central China
  11. ^ PLAN ASBM development, informationdissemination.net, March 28, 2009.
  12. ^ Defensetech.org: China’s Carrier Killer Ballistic Missiles are Operational
  13. ^ IMINT & Analysis: OTH Radar and the ASBM Threat
  14. ^ Report: Chinese Develop Special "Kill Weapon" to Destroy U.S. Aircraft Carriers | U.S. Naval Institute
  15. ^ Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2008, p. 2 (p12 of PDF)
  16. ^ "How China could scupper US naval power". SCMP. 10 July 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  17. ^ "U.S. commander says China aims to be a 'global military' power". Asahi Shimbun. 28 December 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-05. 
  18. ^ Gertz, Bill, "Inside the Ring: China's anti-carrier missiles", Washington Times, Sep 3, 2009, p. B1.
  19. ^ a b Report: Chinese Develop Special "Kill Weapon" to Destroy U.S. Aircraft Carriers, U. S. Naval Institute, March 31, 2009.
  20. ^ "China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress."
  21. ^ Pomfret, John. "Military strength is eluding China." Washington Post, 25 December 2010.
  22. ^ Erikson, Andrew S.; Yang, David D. (2009). "On the Verge of a Game-Changer". Proceedings Magazine (United States Naval Institute) 135 (5). Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  23. ^ Mark Stokes; Dan Blumenthal (2 January 2011). "Can a treaty contain China's missiles?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  24. ^ Kazianis, Harry. "China’s Anti-Access Missile". The Diplomat. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  25. ^ "Chinese Anti-ship Missile Could Alter U.S. Power", Wendell Minnick, Defense News, p6a, 5 April 2010
  26. ^ CRS RL33153 China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities--Background and Issues for Congress
  27. ^ "China tests DF-21D missile on mock US aircraft carrier in Gobi desert."
  28. ^ Electronic Countermeasures maybe only way to counter Chinese DF-21D Ballistic Missile - Navyrecognition.com, 14 December 2013
  29. ^ China’s Carrier Killer: Threat and Theatrics - AirForcemag.com, December 2013
  30. ^ House GOP Defense Heavies Slam China After Hypersonic Missile Test - Breakingdefense.com, 14 January 2014
  31. ^ U.S. Navy Sees Chinese HGV As Part Of Wider Threat - Aviationweek.com, 27 January 2014
  32. ^ DF-26
  33. ^ CIA Helped Saudis in Secret Chinese Missile Deal - Newsweek.com, 29 January 2014
  34. ^ Saudi Ballistic Missiles Secretly Upgraded - Strategypage.com, 10 February 2014
  35. ^ "Saudi Arabia unveils part of strategic missile force - a deterrent move against Iran?". Defense Update. 2 May 2014. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 

External links[edit]

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Succeeded by