DF-21A MRBM System in service with the PLA Second Artillery Corps (Chinese Internet)
The DongFeng 21 (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). Developed from the JuLang 1 (JL-1) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the DF-21 was originally intended for strategic missions but its later variants were designed for both nuclear and conventional missions. The latest DF-21D was said to be the world’s first and only anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) system. The DF-21 has also been developed into space launcher and anti-satellite/anti-missile weapon carrier.
August 1965 – The Chinese Premier Zhen Enlai ordered to start the development of the solid-propellant rocket technology. A design team was formed within the 4th Space Academy, and a single-stage ballistic missile design DongFeng 61 (DF-61) was proposed.
1967 – The PLA decided to build its first nuclear-powered missile submarine, and demanded a medium-range ballistic missile to be carried onboard. As a result, the PLA decided to abandon the DF-61 design and develop a submarine-based two-stage solid-propellant ballistic missile JL-1.
1970 – The design of the JL-1 airframe was separated from the 4th Space Academy and reassigned to the 1st Space Academy, while the 4th Space Academy concentrated on the development of the solid-propellant rocket technology.
Early 1970s – The PRC made several major breakthroughs in developing the solid-propellant rocket technology. At the same time, the PLA began to explore the possibility of developing a land-based version of the JL- 1.
1975 – Two parallel development programmes were underway – the submarine-based JL-1 and the land-based DF-21, which share the same airframe and engine design.
1976 – The JL-1/DF-21 programme was reassigned to the 2nd Space Academy, which was previously responsible for the missile defence programme. Huang Wei-Lu was appointed as the chief designer. The 2nd Space Academy was also assigned to the development of the transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle, missile canister, missile testing and aiming, and other support systems for the DF-21.
May 1985 – The first successful DF-21 flight from Base 25 (Wuzhai).
May 1987 – The Second successful DF-21 flight from Base 25 (Wuzhai).
1987 – The DF-21A development programme was initiated. The missile features a 60% increase in its range.
1988 – The DF-21 MRBM was certified for design finalisation.
1995 – The first successful DF-21A flight test from Base 25 (Wuzhai).
1996 – Initial operational capability of the DF-21A was achieved.
DongFeng 21 (CSS-5 Mod-1)
The basic variant DongFeng 21 has a maximum range of 1,700km, and a payload of 600kg. The missile can carry a single 500kT nuclear warhead, with an estimated CEP of 300~400m. This version did not enter operational service.
DongFeng 21A (CSS-5 Mod-2)
The DF-21A is the extended-range version developed in the 1990s. The PLA demanded a new land-based MRBM as a successor to its DongFeng 3A in 1985, and the contract with the CASIC to develop the DF-21A was signed in 1987. The development programme suffered from major setbacks in 1991, when two flight tests both failed. The PLA allocated additional funds to the programme in 1993 for an improved design. Four successful flight tests were carried out between 1995 and 1996 and the missile was operational by 1996.
The DF-21A has an increased range of 2,700km, and an estimated CEP of 100~300m. The missile is believed to be configured for strategic missions only. The missile is carried inside a canister mounted on a truck-towed trailer for road-mobile. It was estimated that so far around 60~80 DongFeng 21 missiles and 30~40 launcher systems may have been deployed by the PLA Second Artillery Corps in 7 missile brigades:
- 802 Brigade
- 807 Brigade
- 808 Brigade
- 809 Brigade
- 811 Brigade
- 822 Brigade
- 823 Brigade
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 DongFeng 21. There have reports suggesting that some DongFeng 21 MRBMs have been re-fitted with conventional warheads.
DongFeng 21C (CSS-5 Mod-3)
First revealed in 2006, the DF-21C is a conventionally-armed MRBM system with upgraded mobile launcher and guidance system. The missile was said to have a payload of 2,000kg and a maximum range of 1,700km. Unlike the road-mobile DF-21A, the DF-21C is mounted on a 10X10 WS2500 TEL vehicle, which offers some limited off-road travelling ability. The new GPS-based guidance system has reduced the missile’s CEP to 30~40m, enabling it for precision-strike missions.
DongFeng 21D (CSS-5 Mod-4)
The U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed the existence of the DF-21D land-based ASBM system, which is the world’s first and only of its kind. By combining manoeuvrable re-entry vehicles (MaRVs) with a terminal guidance system, the DF-21C is capable of targeting a slow-moving aircraft carrier battle group from a land-based mobile launcher. The maximum range of the missile was said to be 3,000km, possibly achieved by carrying a smaller payload.
Kaituozhe 1 Space Launch Vehicle
The Kaituozhe 1 (KT-1) is a four-stage, solid-propellant space launcher based on the DF-21 design. It is capable of placing up to 50kg payload into 600km Low Earth Orbits (LEO). The launcher made its maiden flight in September 2002 and then a second flight in September 2003, none of which was fully successful. CASIC also developed a larger KT-1A, which is capable of sending 300kg payload into the Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) and polar orbit, and the KT-1B with even greater payload capability (400kg and up to three separate payloads). None of the two designs has ever been launched.
SC-19 Kinetic Kill Vehicle Carrier
The launch vehicle for the kinetic kill vehicle (KKV) used during China’s first ASAT weapon test in January 2007 was reported to be SC-19, a modified variant of the DF-21 or KT-1. This is hardly surprising since the PLA studied the feasibility of using a single missile airframe for three missions: SLBM, land-based MRBM, and ballistic missile defence, from the very beginning of the JL-1/DF-21 programme.