The DF-15 (CSS-6) is a short-range, road-mobile, solid propellant ballistic missile. It is a member of the “M” family, which began development in 1984. The “M” type missiles were developed specifically for the purpose of export, and are sold with high explosive warheads. It is believed that the DF-15, otherwise known as the M-9, was developed for Syria and that the DF-11 (CSS-7), or M-11, was created for Pakistan. The “M” family class of missiles was derived from the Soviet S-75 (SA-2) short-range surface-to-air missile (SAM).
The tactical use of the DF-15 is similar to the use of Iraqi ‘Scuds’ in the Gulf War. This involves using the missiles to strike at military targets or to bombard civilian areas outside the range of traditional ordinance. This takes advantage of the range and mobility of the missile’s Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) vehicle. The DF-15 has double the range of the older ‘Scud’ system, but lacks the previous payload capacity. This lower payload is compensated for by the use of modern high explosives (HE) or nuclear weapons, which results in equivalent damage. The original system was equipped with an inaccurate inertial guidance system that was only sufficient for use against large targets such as airfields, staging areas and military bases. Later versions coupled the inertial guidance with a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system, making the missile a viable asset for attacking hardened targets or moving military units.
The DF-15 is capable of rapid targeting and does not require wind corrections before launch, due to its inertial guidance system and onboard digital computer. The ability to ignore the wind, combined with the hinged doors on the TEL vehicle top which protect the missiles from the environment, allows the DF-15 to be effectively deployed anywhere in China. The eight-wheeled TEL system and the use of solid propellant makes the system capable of being quickly transported and launched. It also makes the missile difficult to target and destroy, both before and after a missile launch.The DF-15 can deliver a payload of 500 kg to 750 kg up to a maximum range of 600 km (373 miles). Its payload carries a single separating warhead which can be equipped with a 90 kT nuclear device, HE, chemical agents, submunitions, fuel-air explosives (FAE) or an electromagnetic pulse. It is possible that the nuclear device can have a selectable yield of 20 kT, 90 kT, and 150 kT, enabling the missile commander to change the yield based on the target. The missile has an accuracy of 300 m CEP. The missile is 9.1 m in length with a diameter of 1.0 m and a launch weight of 6,200 kg.
The export numbers for the DF-15 are extensive. Unconfirmed reports suggest that in 1989, Libya bought around 140 DF-15 missiles and passed 80 of these to Syria. In addition, there is substantial evidence that either DF-15 missiles themselves or the technology to manufacture them have been sold to Iran, Pakistan and Egypt. There is no confirmation that China delivered any of these missiles.
The “M” family of export missiles is believed to have entered development in 1984. The first flight test occurred in 1988. The DF-15 was later adopted by the PLA, and probably entered service in 1990. Following the development of the DF-15, the PRC developed at least two variations. These missiles are detailed below.
- Cosmetically, the DF-15A is slightly longer than the DF-15 at 10 m, and it also has a rounded nose shape.
- The accuracy of this variation has improved due to the sectored control fins at the rear of the missile, GPS updates and a radar terminal correlation system, and possibly flip-out control fins on the re-entry vehicle (RV). The accuracy is estimated to be 30 to 45 m CEP.
- The payload is reportedly 600 kg, but some have suggested that it could be varied. A 2009 report indicated that the maximum range is 900 km.
- Similar to the DF-15A, the DF-15B has components that greatly increase the accuracy including sectored control fins, improved terminal guidance, control fins on the RV, and an active radar seeker and laser range finder. The accuracy is estimated to be 5 to 10 m CEP.
- The range is reported to be between 50 and 800 km depending on the payload.
- An unconfirmed report suggested a third variation is being developed. This version is designed to strike hardened underground facilities by impacting at a steep trajectory. 1
- Lennox, Duncan. “DF-15 (CSS-6/M-9)” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). August 9, 2012. (accessed September 12, 2012). ↩