China’s first indigenous ballistic missile based on the DF-1/R-2. The improved DF-2A was China’s first operational nuclear missile system and delivered a live nuclear missile test in 1966.

PLA designation: Dong Feng-2 (DF-2). NATO code name: CSS-1. Type: Short/medium-range ballistic missile. Designer: CALT. Manufacturer: Capital Astronautics Machinery Co. (Factory 211). Warhead: Single conventional (DF-2) or 12 kiloton-yield nuclear (DF-2A). Propellant: Liquid (LOX/Alcohol). In service: 1964. Status: Retired.


Chinese engineers gained considerable knowledge and experience in ballistic missile design through the copying of the Soviet R-2 (SS-2 ‘Sibling’) missile in the late 1950s. Increased confidence led to the proposal in 1960 to extend the DF-1/R-2 missile’s range from 590 km to over 1,000 km, by increasing propellant supply and rocket motor chamber pressure. The Fifth Academy of the Ministry of National Defence finalised the 1,200 km-range missile design in March 1960. The Central Military Commission approved the missile design proposal in August 1960 under the designation DF-2.

The DF-2 was largely based on the airframe of the DF-1/R-2, and also retained the missile’s guidance system and launcher equipment. Main improvements on the DF-2 include:

– Replacing the steel liquid oxygen tank with an aluminium alloy one to reduce the structural weight;
– Pressurised liquid oxygen tank for improved sealing;
– Redesigned chamber motor with better performance and reliability;
– Improved radio guidance system with increased power output;
– Replacing the sharp conical warhead with a blunt conical one to reduce the re-entry heat;
– Simplified launcher equipment for shortened launch preparation time;

The DF-2 programme entered engineering development in early 1961, with the target to conduct the first test launch by 1 October of that year. However, the 5D60 liquid rocket engine did not pass the 125s full-thrust test until November. Some of the design flaws in the engine were deliberately overlooked to avoid further delay in the test launch. The first DF-2 missile rolled out of the factory in February 1962 and was delivered to the Jiuquan rocket test range (Base 20) in March.

The first DF-2 test launch was conducted on 21 March 1962. Shortly after take-off, the missile began to veer off the course and its engine was soon caught on fire. The test ended with the missile falling to the ground with a violent explosion at T plus 69 seconds. The failure was a major blow to China’s missile programme, resulting in a two-year delay while engineers at the Fifth Academy reviewed the missile design. The development team was restructured with Lin Shuang appointed as the chief designer and the System Design Department placed at the centre of the development effort to provide support for the chief designer and coordinate with all parties involved—a model followed by all subsequent missile development programmes.

Over the next two years, the development team reviewed all technical details of the DF-2 in order to identify its design faults. However, the rocket engine’s structural strength remained an issue. As a compromise, the military agreed to temporarily reset some of the missile’s technical specifications, with the engine’s thrust lowered from 46 t to 40.5 t, and the missile’s range reduced from 1,200 km to 960 km. The redesigned DF-2 missile was successfully test launched on 29 June 1964, but the missile did not enter service. Instead, the Fifth Academy moved onto the development of the improved DF-2A.


The Chinese strategic weapon programme began the planning for a missile-delivered nuclear test in March 1963, nineteen months before the country’s first nuclear test (15 October 1964). The Central Special Committee agreed in June 1964 to use an improved variant of the DF-2 missile, designated DF-2A, as the delivery-system for the live nuclear missile test. The development of the DF-2A was authorised by Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in August 1964, and was officially listed as a key project in the Missile Development Outline (1965-1972) drafted by the Seventh Ministry of Machinery Industry (Ministry of Astronautics) in 1965.

The DF-2A was the first Chinese missile to be developed as an operational weapon system rather than technology demonstration. Requirements for the DF-2A included:

– A maximum range of no less than 1,200 km;
– To increase the engine thrust from 40.5 t to 45.5 t;
– To increase the specific impulse (Isp) from 213.3 s to 219 s;
– To replace the old inertial + radio guidance with a full inertial guidance;

In order to ensure that the missile carried enough propellants to reach the maximum range, the missile’s ground launch equipment was added with a fuelling truck, designed to keep pumping the liquid oxygen into the missile’s propellant tank until the launch.

On 13 November 1965, the first DF-2A tech launch was conducted successfully from the Jiuquan rocket test range. A further seven test launches were conducted in the following two months, six of which succeeded.

Development of the nuclear-armed DF-2A began in early 1965. The Central Special Committee agreed in March 1966 that the live nuclear missile test would begin with ‘cold’ tests using a dummy warhead with no nuclear material, followed by a ‘hot’ test using a real nuclear warhead. The Seventh Ministry of Machinery Industry was asked to produce seven DF-2A missiles by August of the same year.

Between 10 April and 23 May 1966, the DF-2A made four flights to test the reliability of the warhead detonation system. The test missiles and their launch crew arrived at the Jiuquan rocket test range in September to began the launch campaign. On 13 and 16 of October, the DF-2A made two ‘cold’ test launches carrying a dummy warhead and both were successful, with the warheads successfully detonated over the impact zone. The ‘hot’ test using a live nuclear warhead was authorised by the Chinese political leadership.

On 27 October 1966, a DF-2A carrying a 12 kT-yield atomic warhead (code name: “548”) was launched from the Jiuquan rocket test range at 09:00 local time. The missile flew west towards Xinjiang as scheduled and the warhead was then separated from the booster. 9 minutes 14 seconds after the launch, the missile’s warhead was successfully detonated at 569 m above the ground in the target zone at Lop Nor, marking a major milestone in China’s nuclear weapon programme and demonstrating the readiness of an operational nuclear weapon system.

The DF-2A entered service with the PLA Second Artillery Corps (now PLA Rocket Force) in the late 1960s. The missile was withdrawn from active duty in the early 1980s.

Design Features

The DF-2 retained the DF-1/R-2 airframe design but was slightly longer. It was a single-stage rocket powered by a 5D60 liquid rocket engine burning alcohol as fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) as oxidiser. The missile was 20.9 m in length and 1.65 m in diameter, with four delta-shaped stabilising fins attached to the bottom of the missile body. The missile had a launch weight of 29.8 t.

The basic variant DF-2 has a maximum range of 960 km. The improved DF-2A has a maximum range of 1,200 km, which effectively put it in the class of medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM), though Chinese official writings still referred to the missile as a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). The missile was transported on a truck-towed wheeled trailer, which also served as the missile’s erecter and launcher.


Overall length (m):.........20.9
Wingspan (m):...............2.13
Core stage diameter (m):....1.65
Take-off mass (kg):.........29,800
Take-off thrust (t):........45.5
Maximum range (km):.........960 (DF-2); 1,200 (DF-2A)
Payload:....................12 kT-yield fission (DF-2A)
Propellant:.................Liquid (LOX/Alcohol)
Guidance:...................Inertial+radio (DF-2); Inertial (DF-2A)
Launch method:..............Mobile, trailer

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