The Dong Feng-21 (DF-21, CSS-5) is China’s first-generation mobile-launch, solid-fuelled medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), developed from the JL-1 SLBM. The missile can be either nuclear- or conventionally-armed.

  • PLA designation: Dong Feng-21 (DF-21)
  • NATO code name: CSS-5
  • Type: Medium-range ballistic missile
  • Designer: CASIC 2nd Academy
  • Manufacturer: Nanjing Chenguang Group Co., Ltd. (307 Factory)
  • Payload: Single thermonuclear
  • Range: 1,700—2,500 km
  • Propulsion: Two-stage solid (HTTB)
  • Guidance: Computer-platform inertial
  • Basing: Road-mobile on mobile erector-launcher (MEL)
  • In service: 1996
  • Status: Operational


Development History

The 4th Academy of the Seventh Ministry of Machinery Industry (Ministry of Astronautics) began the development of a two-stage, solid-fuelled medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) in 1967. It was decided that the missile’s testing was to be carried out in three stages, starting with land-based launches from a missiles launcher, followed by land-based launches from a missile tube, before moving onto sea-based launches from submerged submarines. The ability to launch the missile from a land-based missile tube offered the possibility of developing the missile into a land-based MRBM system.

The idea to develop the JL-1 SLBM into a land-based MRBM system was first proposed by the 4th Academy in 1975 and gained support from the Chinese military. In August 1978, the National Defence Science and Technology Commission (NDSTC) initiated the development of China’s second-generation strategic missiles with mobile-launch capability. The commission agreed that the JL-1 will be developed into both sea-based SLBM and land-based DF-21 MRBM systems in order to develop and validate the road-mobile missile launch technology and capability.

The design team completed the necessary modifications to the missile’s design and technical specifications in March 1980. The development of the DF-21 land-based MRBM was officially approved by the Central Special Committee overseeing China’s strategic weapon programme in June. The development of a mobile erector-launcher (MEL) consisting of a truck and a semi-trailer was carried out by the 206th Institute of the 2nd Academy, 519 Factory, and Hanyang Special Vehicle Factory. The associated launch control vehicle, calibrating vehicle, and automated missile testing vehicle were developed by the 17th Institute.

Between April 1984 and April 1985, the DF-21 MEL underwent a series of field tests in order to demonstrate its travelling performance and rigidity in poor weathers and environment.

The first DF-21 test launch took place successfully on 20 May 1985, followed by a second test launch on 30 May. After some modifications to the MEL vehicle, the missile was successfully tested again in May 1987.

DF-21 in land-based test launch

DF-21A Development

The PLA demanded a new land-based MRBM as a successor to its DF-3A in 1985, and the DF-21A development was assigned to the Ministry of Astronautics in 1987. The development programme suffered from major setbacks in 1991, when two tests both failed. The PLA allocated additional funding to the programme in 1993 for an improved design. Four successful test launches were conducted between 1995 and 1996, and the missile was commissioned into operational service in 1996.

DF-21A in operational service
DF-21A in operational service
DF-21A in operational service
DF-21A in the 1999 military parade
DF-21A in the 1999 military parade
DF-21A in service with the PLA SAC



The basic variant DF-21 has a maximum range of 1,700 km, and a payload of 600 kg. The missile can carry a single 500 KT-yield thermonuclear warhead, with an estimated CEP of 300—400 m. This version did not enter operational service.


The DF-21A has an increased range of 2,700 km, and an estimated CEP of 100—300 m. The missile is configured for nuclear-strike missions only. It was estimated that so far around 85—95 missiles and 75—85 launchers were deployed by the PLA as of 2010. ((US DoD. 2010. Annual Report to Congress – Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2010. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2010_CMPR_Final.pdf. [Accessed 29 September 2017].)) The DF-21 units were deployed in areas closer to China’s borders to allow adequate overage of targets previously covered by the DF-3A, which has a longer range, but is less accurate.


No detailed information available. This variant may not exist.


First revealed in 2006, the DF-21C is a conventionally-armed MRBM system with a maximum range of 1,700 km. Unlike the early variants, the C-variant is mounted on a WS2500 10 x 10 transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle, which offers better travelling capability and survivability. The new GPS-based guidance system has reduced the missile’s CEP to 30—40 m, enabling it for near-precision-strike missions.


The U.S. Department of Defense first confirmed the existence of the DF-21D land-based ASBM system in 2008, which is the world’s first and only of its kind. By combining manoeuvrable re-entry vehicles (MaRVs) with a terminal guidance system, the DF-21C is capable of targeting a slow-moving aircraft carrier battle group from a land-based mobile launcher over a distance of 1,500 km.

Orbital Launcher


The Kaituozhe 1 (KT-1) is a four-stage, solid-propellant space launcher based on the DF-21 design. It is capable of placing up to 50 kg payload to 600 km Low Earth Orbits (LEO). The launcher made its maiden flight in September 2002 and then a second flight in September 2003, none of which was fully successful. CASIC also developed a larger KT-1A, which is capable of sending 300 kg payload into the Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) and polar orbit, and the KT-1B with even greater payload capability (400 kg and up to three separate payloads). None of the two designs has ever been launched.


The rocket booster for China’s kinetic kill vehicle (KKV) used during the January 2007 anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test was reported to be SC-19, a modified variant of the DF-21 or KT-1.


  • Overall length (m): 10.7
  • Core stage diameter (m): 1.34
  • Take-off mass (kg): 14,700
  • Payload mass (kg): 600—2,000


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