China DF-3/-3A (CSS-2)

DF-3 (Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems)
Originated From:China
Possessed By:China
Length:21.2 m
Diameter:2.25 m
Launch Weight:64,000 kg
Payload:Single warhead, 2,150 kg
Warhead:Nuclear 1-3 MT
Propulsion:Liquid propellant
Range:2,650 km
In Service:1970

The DF-3 is a medium-range, surface-based, liquid propellant ballistic missile. CSS-2 is the NATO designation for the missile (Chinese Surface-to-Surface Missile-2); DF-3 is the Chinese designator for the same missile (Dong Feng-3). The DF-3 was designed as a replacement for the previous DF-2 (CSS-1) design, which used a primitive liquid propellant that could not be effectively stored. This prevented the weapon from remaining fueled for long periods of time or being launched under short notice. It also had an increased payload and range, capable of striking all US bases in the Philippines while carrying a payload sufficient for the estimated load of a hydrogen bomb. An improved version, designated DF-3A, was later developed and deployed in 1987.

DF-3 test launch.
Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems

The DF-3 has a range of 2,650 km (1,647 miles) and carries a payload of 2,150 kg. This payload is equipped with a single nuclear warhead with a 1 to 3 MT yield. It is believed to have originally used a radio-command guidance system, but this has since become an inertial system with an accuracy of 2,000 m CEP. It has a length of 21.2 m, a width of 2.25 m and a launch weight of 64,000 kg. It uses a single-stage liquid propellant engine. The DF-3 was development in the early 1960s, with a series of flight tests having occurred from 1966 to 1968. It is believed to have entered service in 1970 with between 100 and 150 having been deployed since.In 1985 development began for another new version of the DF-3A which would employ multiple warheads in multiple RVs (Re-entry Vehicles). This upgrade would have allowed a single missile to strike multiple targets. It is believed that these tests were unsuccessful, leaving the DF-3 with a single warhead, single RV design.

Chinese DF-3 intermediate-range ballistic missile.
Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems

In 1987 China developed a conventional HE warhead version of the DF-3 for sale to Saudi Arabia. This version is believed to have a shorter maximum range of 2,400 km, though if the payload were reduced than the range could be increased. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Saudi Arabia developed chemical warheads for the missile. Some 50 to 60 missiles were probably deployed in Saudi Arabia.


The DF-3A is a follow on program to the original DF-3 (CSS-2) intermediate-range ballistic missile. The PRC began development of the DF-3A version in the early 1980s with the first tests occurring in 1986. It became operational in 1987. The missile was most recently test fired in August 2001. Despite being an obsolete design, the missile remains in service to maintain the PRC’s nuclear dominance of the region.

The DF-3A has a length of 21.2 m, a diameter of 2.25 m, and a launch weight of 64,000 kg. It carries a single HE or nuclear warhead with a weight of 2,150 or 2,500 kg. The DF-3A has range of 2,800 km and an increased accuracy of 1,000 m CEP. By reducing the payload to 1,000 kg, it is believed that the DF-3A could achieve a range up to 4,000 km.

In recent years, the PRC has reported a steep decline in the number of DF-3A missiles as it is replaced by the solid-propellant DF-21A missile. The DF-3A will likely be withdrawn from service shortly, though a 2007 report suggested that 15 to 20 missiles were still operational. The PRC has begun to rely more upon sea-launched systems, particularly cruise missiles, as these systems are better suited for deployment against island nations such as Japan.

The DF-3A has the distinction of being the oldest deployed ballistic missile in China. 1

  1. Lennox, Duncan. “DF-3 (CSS-2)” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems (Offensive Weapons). August 8, 2012. (accessed September 12, 2012).
Back to Top