China’s first ballistic missile system, a licensed copy of the Soviet R-2 (SS-2 ‘Sibling’) short-range ballistic missile.

Names: Dong Feng-1 (DF-1); Project 1059. Type: Short-range ballistic missile. Designer: CALT. Manufacturer: Capital Astronautics Machinery Co. (Factory 211). Warhead: Single conventional. Propellant: Liquid (LOX/Alcohol). In service: 1960. Status: Retired.


China took the decision in the mid-1950s to embark on a programme to develop its own nuclear weapon and missile delivery system, and sought assistance from its ally the Soviet Union. Moscow initially only agreed to sell the Chinese two examples of the obsolete R-1 (SS-1 ‘Scunner’, copy of the German V-2) and accept 50 Chinese engineers to study in aeronautics and astronautics in Soviet universities. However, by 1957 the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to up his offer in exchange for political support from Beijing.

In September 1957, a Chinese government delegation visited Moscow for the negotiation of military technology transfer. After 35 days of negotiation, the Soviet government agreed a package that included licensed local production of Soviet-designed ballistic, anti-ship, and surface-to-air missiles, sending Russian specialists to assist the construction of missile R&D and test facilities in China, accepting more Chinese students studying in the Soviet Union, and supplying prototype atomic bomb and an experimental nuclear reactor.

In December 1957, the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) delivered two R-2 missiles and their associated launch equipment to China. In January 1958, the Soviet Union agreed to help the Fifth Academy of the Chinese military to establish a rocket R&D branch (1st Sub-Academy), a rocket engine test facility, an aerodynamic research branch, and a control and guidance research branch (2nd Sub-Academy). Between June and October 1958, the Soviet Union also supplied six more examples of the R-2 missile, tools and equipment, and 10,151 volumes of blueprints and technical documentation. Soviet specialists also arrived in August 1958 to help China to build the rocket.

The Fifth Academy initiated the reverse-engineering work on the R-1 rocket in early 1957. One of the two missile examples supplied by the Soviet Union was completely dissembled and then re-assembled to help Chinese engineers and technicians to gain understanding of the missile’s structure and design. However, with the arrival of the more advanced R-2, the reverse-engineering of the R-1 stopped in late 1957.

The development of the first Chinese missile began at the Fifth Academy in August 1958. Initially two development programmes were run in parallel: a reverse-engineered version of the R-2 known as “1059”, and an indigenous medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) designated Dong Feng-1 (DF-1). However, it soon became clear that an MRBM was over ambitious for the inexperienced Chinese development team. The DF-1 project was scrapped and its resources were reassigned to the “1059” missile development.

The “1059 Missile” development began at the Fifth Academy in May 1958, with an objective to carry the first test launch in October 1959 to coincide with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. For the inexperienced Chinese missile engineers, even producing such a relatively simple missile by following Soviet-supplied blueprints and technical documents proved highly challenging. The missile’s development encountered numerous technical difficulties and also suffered poor product quality. The situation was made worse by the rapidly cooling relations between Beijing and Moscow, which led to delays in the delivery of special alloys, rubbers, electronic components, and liquid oxygen propellant from the Soviet Union. As a result, Chinese engineers had to source locally produced alternatives.

By 1960, the ideological disputes between Moscow and Beijing had turned into public arguments and eventually a breakup of all ties. In June 1960, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ordered the suspension of all Soviet assistance to China and the withdrawal of 1,400 Soviet advisers working in the country. However, by then the construction of missile R&D and test facilities had nearly completed and the Chinese team was able to continue with the development independently.

Campaign for the first missile test launch began in the spring of 1960. Three “1059” missiles (two operational missiles and a telemetry missile) were delivered to the Jiuquan rocket test range (Base 20) on 19 October 1960. On 10 September 1960, the Chinese missile troops successfully launched a Soviet-supplied R-2 missile fuelled with Chinese-made propellants from Jiuquan, paving the way for the indigenous missile’s test launch.

At 09:00 local time on 5 November, the first “1059” missile was successfully launched and the warhead hit the target zone 550 km away. Two further tests were conducted on 6 and 16 December, both of which were successful.

Under the new missile designation system introduced in 1961, the “1059” missile was officially designated DF-1 (Dong Feng-1). The missile entered small batch production for training and test purposes in the early 1960s and was test fired again in 1963, but it never entered operational service. The DF-1 production was stopped in 1966 after the success of the indigenous DF-2A.

Design Features

The DF-1 was a single-stage rocket powered by a 5D62 liquid rocket engine burning alcohol as fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) as oxidiser. The engine had a sea-level thrust of 38 t, an Isp of 214s, with a burn time of 90s. The engine was developed by the Institute of Liquid Rocket Engine of the Fifth Academy, the Missile Assembly Plant (Factory 211), and the Fifth Sub-Factory of the Shenyang Liming Aero-Engine Plant. The development of the engine was completed in September 1960.

The DF-1 was a copy of the R-2 rocket, which itself was derived from the German V-2 but with doubled range. The missile was 17.7 m in length and 1.65 m in diameter, with four trapezoidal-shape stabilising fins attached to the bottom. The missile had a launch weight of 20.5 t, and a take-off thrust of 37 t. The maximum flight range was 590 km. The missile was transported on a truck-towed trailer, which also served as the launcher platform.

The missile was designed to carry a single high-explosive (HE) warhead, though no combat warhead had ever been developed. The DF-1 used an inertial guidance coupled with remote radio mid-course lateral correction. The later required a large antenna array to be deployed on either side of the launcher, making the launch unit easily detectable in the battlefield.


Overall length (m):.........17.7
Wingspan (m):...............N/A
Core stage diameter (m):....1.65
Take-off mass (kg):.........20,500
Take-off thrust (t):........37
Thrust-weight ratio:........1.80
Maximum range (km):.........590
Payload:....................Single HE
Propellant:.................Liquid (LOX/Alcohol)
Guidance:...................Inertial + radio
Launch method:..............Mobile, trailer

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