China DF-21/-21A/-21B/-21C/-21D (CSS-5)

DF-21 (Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems)
Basing:Road-mobile or silo-based
Length:10.7 m
Diameter:1.4 m
Launch Weight:14,700 kg
Payload:Single warhead, 600 kg
Warhead:250 or 500 kT nuclear, HE, submunitions, chemical
Propulsion:Two-stage solid propellant
Range:2,150 km
In Service:1991

The DF-21 (CSS-5) is a medium-range, road-mobile or silo-based, solid-propellant ballistic missile. It was the first road-mobile, solid propellant missile system developed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It is a variant of the CSS-N-3 (JL-1) submarine-launched system and replaced the obsolete DF-2 (CSS-1) in the early 1980s. The primary advantage of the DF-21 is its solid-propellant system, which significantly increases its service life and mobility while decreasing its maintenance cost and the required launch time. The DF-21 represented a shift in the PRC missile programs away from the original liquid fueled designs.

JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile. The DF-21 is very similar in appearance.
Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems

The DF-21 system is highly mobile, resulting from its solid propellant and Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) vehicle launch system. It can easily be transported, and its launch time is only several minutes, allowing it to be deployed during a rapidly changing military situation. Its TEL system enables it to be moved to critical areas quickly and avoid targeting by opposing forces. This greatly increases its effectiveness as a tactical system and enables it to be hidden in rough terrain.

The DF-21 can deploy its 600 kg payload with a minimum range of 500 km (311 miles) and a maximum range of 2,150 km. Its payload carries a single warhead that can be equipped with a 250 or 500 kT yield nuclear device, conventional high explosives, submunitions, and chemical agents. It uses an inertial guidance system that is capable of striking with an accuracy of 700 m CEP. It has a length of 10.7 m, a diameter of 1.4 m and a launch weight of 14,700 kg. The missile uses a two-stage solid propellant engine.

The first DF-21 test launch occurred in 1982 and became operational in 1991. China has since developed four modified versions of the DF-21 missile.

DF-21A

  • Physically, the DF-21A has a modified nose section, a length of 12.3 m, a body diameter of 1.4 m, and a launch weight of 15,200 kg.
  • This version is believed to have the ability to be fitted with an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) warhead.
  • The accuracy is reportedly 50 m CEP.

DF-21B

  • The DF-21B is estimated to be the same physical size and shape of the DF-21A, but it is equipment with an enhanced terminal guidance system. The accuracy is believed to be 10 m CEP.
  • The re-entry vehicle (RV) may have pop-out fins to help it maneuver after it has entered the atmosphere.
  • It has similar warhead options as the DF-21/-21A, but may also have a rod or flechette warhead. This could be used to destroy ship-based radar and communication systems.
  • It is unclear if the DF-21B is operational.

DF-21C

  • The range of the DF-21C is significantly shorter than the DF-21A/-21B due to a larger payload. This missile can carry a single warhead up to 2,000 kg.
  • The accuracy is reportedly 40 to 50 m CEP.

DF-21D

  • According to reports, the DF-21D is designed for use against naval-based targets.
  • U.S. reports suggest a range a 1,450 to 1,550 km, but Chinese reports indicate a range of 2,700 km.
  • Similar to the DF-21B, the warhead is likely maneuverable and may have an accuracy of 20 m CEP. 1

  1. Lennox, Duncan. “DF-5 (CSS-5).” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). September 28, 2012. (accessed September 12, 2012).
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