DongFeng 31A (CSS-9) Intercontinental Ballistic Missile
The DongFeng 31A (NATO reporting name: CSS-9 Mod-2) is a road-mobile, three-stage, solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), designed to carry a single 1,000kT thermal nuclear warhead. The missile was developed from the DongFeng 31 (CSS-9), with extended range and improved performance. About 10 DongFeng 31A missiles have been deployed by the PLA Second Artillery Corps since 2006~07 to supplement its silo-based DongFeng 5 (CSS-4) ICBM. A submarine-launched ballistic missile JuLang 2 is also being developed based on the DongFeng 31 technology.
The DongFeng 31A offers a number of technological and operational advantages over older Chinese missiles such as DF-4 (CSS-3). Instead of being launched from a fixed location, the DongFeng 31A can be transported on its transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle to one of many predetermined launch sites, giving greater survivability in the event of a first strike. The use of solid propellant gives the missile a longer service lifespan and shorter launch preparation time compared to the liquid fuel ICBMs.
The DongFeng 31A is said to be armed with a lightweight warhead allegedly copied from the U.S. W-88 or W-70 warhead designs, though so far no sound evidence has been found to support this claim. Furthermore, the DongFeng 31A is believed to have incorporated many advanced technologies similar to current generation Russian ICBMs, including the use of penetration aids such as decoys or chaffs to complicate enemy’s missile warning and defence system.
DongFeng 31A launch test (Chinese Internet)
The DongFeng 31 programme began in 1986, originally intended as a successor to the DF-4 (CSS-3) intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) to cover targets in the European theatre of the Soviet Union. The design task was assigned to the 4th Department (Solid-Propellant Missile Design Department, now part of the CASIC 4th Academy). The solid-propellant rocket motors used on the first- and second-stage of the DongFeng 31 were successfully tested in late 1983. The third-stage rocket motor was tested in mid-1984. The programme entered the engineering development phase in 1987.
The first test launch of the missile using a dummy warhead was conducted on 2 August 1999, from Taiyuan missile test facility (known as Wuzhai Missile Test Centre) in Shanxi Province to the impact zone in Lop Nor in Xinjiang. The test was only partially successful. The DongFeng 31 missile system was briefly displayed during the 1999 National Day military parade, though the missile itself could not be seen as it was concealed in the large canister carrier on a truck-trailer transport-erection-launch (TEL) vehicle. Two further tests were carried out in late 2000, but they were said to be also unsuccessful.
DongFeng 31A TEL vehicle (Chinese Internet)
The DongFeng 31 was originally developed in parallel with the 12,000km-range DF-41 (CSS-X-10) ICBM. However, the end of the Cold War and a review of China’s nuclear strategy resulted in the DF-41 being cancelled in the late 1990s, leaving DongFeng 31 China’s only active ICBM programme. However, with its maximum range of 8,000km, the DongFeng 31 was regarded inadequate to provide an effective nuclear deterrent. For example, when launched from central China, the missile could only reach a smaller corner of the west coast of the United States. This limitation, coupled with various design flaws and technical issues, led to the decision to develop an improved variant DongFeng 31A, which caused further delay in the operational deployment of the missile. A flight test of the DongFeng 31A was carried out on 4 September 2006, and the test was said to be fully successful.
The 2007 U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) report to congress on the PRC military power suggested that the DongFeng 31 had reached “initial threat availability (ITA)” in 2006 and possible “operational status by May 2007”. The 2008 version of the report confirmed that less than 10 DongFeng 31A missiles/launchers were being deployed by units within the PLA Second Artillery Corps.
DongFeng 31A third-stage (PLA Pictorial)
It was estimated that the DongFeng 31A had a payload of about 700kg (other source suggested between 1,050 and 1,750kg), which can be equipped with a single 1,000kT yield nuclear warhead. The maximum range of the missile is 10,700~11,200km. The missile uses an inertial guidance system that is equipped with a stellar update system, and is expected to have an accuracy of at least 300m CEP. Some resource suggested that the silo and TEL-based versions of the DongFeng 31A have 100m and 150m CEP respectively.
The road-mobile DongFeng 31A is carried inside a large canister launcher mounted on a 16-wheeled HY473 or HY4301 TEL consisting of a tractor and a semi-trailer. The TEL vehicle appeared to be only suitable for road travelling, with little, if any, off-road travelling capability. A new single 12- or 16-wheeled TEL similar to those used by the Russian ICBM systems is reportedly in development. There has been speculation that China was also developing a railway-based TEL for the DongFeng 31 but this cannot be confirmed.
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Official name: DongFeng 31A (DF-31A)
NATO reporting name: CSS-9 Mod-2
Contractor: CASIC 4th Academy
Service status: In service
Configuration: Three-stage, solid propellant
Deployment: Road mobile, 8X8 tractor truck + 8-wheel trailer; or silo
Body diameter: 2.25m
Launch weight: 42,000kg
Re-entry vehicle mass: 700kg (or 1,050~1,750kg)
Warhead: One single 1,000kT yield
Guidance: Inertial + stellar update
Accuracy: 100~300m CEP
Launch preparation time: 15~30 min
Last update: 15 February 2009