The DF-21 (NATO code name: CSS-5) is a two-stage, solid-propellant, single-warhead medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) system developed by China Changfeng Mechanics and Electronics Technology Academy (also known as 2nd Space Academy). The missile design is based on the two-stage JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The DF-21 is capable of delivering a 500kT nuclear warhead over a distance of 1,800km. The improved DF-21A was reportedly introduced in 1996.
In March 1967 the Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defence (COSTIND) decided to develop a land-based solid-propellant strategic ballistic missile. However, due to the impact of the Culture Revolution, the missile development did not start until August 1978.
In 1979 the solid-propellant ballistic missile design team, which was also in charge of the JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) development, was subordinated to 2nd Aerospace Academy, with Huang Wei-Lu appointed as the chief designer. The proposal to develop the DF-21 land-based medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) based on the JL-1 SLBM design and technology was finally approved by the PLA in June 1980.
|The road-mobile DF-21 MRBM system (Chinese Internet)|
As well as the development of the ballistic missile, 2nd Aerospace Academy was also responsible for developing the transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle, missile canister, missile testing and aiming, and other launch and ground support systems. These systems had received rigid tests in various environment and weather conditions in 1984.
The first test launch of the DF-21 missile took place in May 1985, followed by a second test launch using modified ground support system in May 1987. The missile entered operational service in the late 1980s. In the mid-1990s, 2nd Aerospace Academy also introduced the improved DF-21A (CSS-5 Mod 2) with increased range and accuracy.
The DF-21 is a two-stage, solid-fuel, single-warhead medium-range ballistic missile system designed to provide target coverage in Asia and West Pacific regions. No detailed information is available regarding the missile’s performance or design, but it is estimated that the DF-21 might be similar to the JL-1 SLBM in general aerodynamic layout. The missile might uses nozzle controls with no stabilising fins.
|DF-21 in the 1999 national day parade (Chinese Internet)|
The missile uses an inertial guidance, coupled to a terminal radar-guidance system to increase the accuracy. The missile’s CEP is estimated to be about 300~400m. The missile carries a single 100kT, 200kT, or 500kT nuclear warhead, but can also configured to carry conventional HE warheads.
The missile is contained in an alumni-alloy cylinder launch–tube which keeps the missile in an invariable temperature environment. The launch tubes have an elevation range of 0 to 90 degrees. The azimuth range is from -180 to +180 degrees. The missile launch-tube is carried on a 3-axes semi-trailer TEL, which is towed by a HY473 6X6 tractor truck. The TEL trailer and tractor are equipped with hydraulically operated stabilisers which are lowered in preparation for the missile launch.
It is estimated that so far around 40~ 50 DF-21 missiles and 30~40 launcher systems may have been deployed by the PLA Second Artillery Corps in 4 locations:
- Tonghua, Liaoning Province, near Korea Peninsula, Japan and the Far East Russia
- Liangxiwang, Jiangxi Province, near Taiwan Strait
- Jianshui, Yunnan Province, near South-East Asia
- Xining, Qinghai Province, near China-India border and Middle Asia
These missiles are generally deployed in areas closer to China’s borders to ensure adequate target overage of areas previously covered by the DF-3 IRBM, which has a longer range, but is less accurate compared to DF-21. Many reports claimed that some DF-21 missiles are fitted with conventional warheads but this cannot be confirmed. The total number of DF-21 in deployment may not increase significantly in the future since the PLA has already deployed enough number of DF-11 and DF-15 theatre missiles for potential regional wars.
Operational DF-21 unit
Launch weight: 14,700kg
Propellant: Solid fuel
Guidance: Inertial + terminal radar guidance
Deployment: Road mobile, 6X6 tractor truck + 6-wheel trailer; or silo
Re-entry vehicle mass: 600kg
Warhead: Single 500 yield kT nuclear
Accuracy: CEP 300~400m
Launch preparation time: N/A