The Dong Feng-3 (DF-3, CSS-2) is a liquid-propellant, nuclear- or conventionally-armed medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) introduced in 1969, capable of reaching U.S. military bases in the First Island Chain.

  • PLA designation: Dong Feng-3 (DF-3)
  • NATO code name: CSS-2
  • Type: Medium-range ballistic missile
  • Designer: China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT)
  • Manufacturer: Capital Astronautics Machinery Co. (Factory 211)
  • Payload: Single 3 MT-yield thermonuclear
  • Range: 2,660 km (DF-3); 2,810 km (DF-3A)
  • Propulsion: Single-stage liquid (NO3/UDMH)
  • Guidance: Cascade compensation inertial
  • Basing: Road mobile, trailer
  • In service: 1971
  • Status: Retired


The goal of developing a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) that could reach U.S. military bases in the Philippines was set very early on in China’s ballistic missile programme. Shortly after its establishment in 1956, the Fifth Academy (Missile Research Academy) proposed the development of an indigenous MRBM that could be used as the delivery system for China’s nuclear weapon. By 1958, the Fifth Academy was running two development programmes in parallel: the licensed production of the Soviet R-2 (SS-2 ‘Sibling’) short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) under the code name “Project 1059”, and the indigenous MRBM with 2,000 km range under the designation DF-1.

The DF-1 MRBM concept proposed in 1958 featured a number of new technologies, including a larger missile body, a new rocket engine burning storable propellants, and a cascade inertial guidance package. However, when the ‘1059” missile became successful in 1960, little progress had been made on the DF-1 development. As a result, the PLA demanded the Fifth Academy to develop a 1,200 km range DF-2 based on the R-2/”1059” technology as a stopgap before the MRBM could be developed. By 1962, the DF-1 development had been suspended so that resources could be focused on the DF-2 development. The DF-1 designation was also reassigned to the “1059” missile.

After the DF-2 development had achieved significant progress, the MRBM programme was finally revived in October 1963 under a new designation DF-3, with the objective of developing a missile with 2,000 to 2,500 km range. In January 1964, the DF-3 development was officially initiated as part of the national economic and industrial plan. The DF-3 design proposal produced by the 1st Academy (CALT) of the Seventh Ministry of Machinery Industry (Ministry of Astronautics) was officially approved by the PLA in March 1965, which kicked off the development programme. Ground testing of the liquid-propellant YF-2 engine module succeeded in October 1966.

In order to support the DF-3 flight testing, a ground telemetry and tracking system known as “Project 150” was developed and installed at the Jiuquan missile test centre to replace the original Soviet-made system. The system could receive radio telemetry signals and provide optical tracking of the missile throughout its flight, allowing its flight status to be monitored for later analysis.

The DF-3 testing was initially conducted from the Jiuquan missile test centre (Base 20), with four missiles in the Batch-01 standard produced. The first DF-3 test launch took place on 26 December 1966. The missile flew normally for 111.2 seconds before losing one of its four YF-1 engines, resulting in the missile missing its target impact zone. The same fault occurred again in the second test launch in January 1967. After some tweaking to the rocket engine, the third test launch in May 1967 succeeded. However, the fourth test launch in June 1967 suffered the same failure again.

After the Batch-01 tests, the DF-3 team went back to the drawing board to review the rocket engine design. In September 1968, the 1st Academy began to prepare for the full-range flight tests using the DF-3 Batch-02 missile from the Taiyuan missile test centre (Base 25). Base 25 is located some 1,000 km east of Base 20, which allows the DF-3 to fly its full-range westwards to the target impact zone in Xinjiang. The first launch on 18 December 1968 was a success, followed by a second successful test launch in January 1969.

The DF-3 certification was initiated in May 1969, and the initial batch production of the missile began in October 1969. Between September and October 1969, two DF-3 missiles attached with a dummy nuclear warhead were successfully launched from Base 25, demonstrating the missile’s readiness for operational deployment. Certification of the DF-3 missile, YF-2 engine, guidance and control system, and ground launch equipment officially began in October 1970. The missile was officially certified for design finalisation on 4 August 1975. Western intelligence began to obtain satellite imagery showing operational deployment of the DF-3 in 1972.

Development work to extend the maximum range of the DF-3 began in 1981. The first two test launches of the improved DF-3A failed due to engine faults. The third test launch on 27 December 1985 and the fourth on 13 January 1986 both succeeded. The missile replaced the early basic variant DF-3 in service with the PLA.

Service History


The DF-3/3A has been deployed by the PLA Second Artillery Corps at least two locations in northeast and southwest China, facing the Korean Peninsular/Japan and India respectively. The number of missiles in operational deployment reached 110 by the mid-1980s, and had shrunk to 50 by the mid-1990s. It was estimated by the U.S. DoD that there were 17 missiles and 10 launchers in operation as of 2010 under a single brigade. These missiles may have been withdrawn from service by 2014.

Saudi Arabia

In 1987, China sold a conventionally-armed version of the DF-3A, including 30—60 missiles and 9—12 launchers, to Saudi Arabia and these systems were delivered in 1988. As part of the deal estimated to be worth US$3—3.5 billion, China also helped build two missile bases in the country and sent technicians to train the Saudis to operate these missiles.


The DF-3 is a single-stage rocket with a separable re-entry vehicle. The missile body is 20.65 m in length and 2.25 m in diameter. The missile has two propellant tanks: an oxidiser tank at the front and a fuel tank at the rear, separated by an intermediate plate. The propulsion system uses an YF-2 engine unit consisting of four YF-1 liquid propellant rocket motors placed in parallel with a common turbo pump unit and fixed nozzles. The engine burns a liquid-propellant with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) as fuel and red fuming nitric acid (HNO3) as an oxidiser.

The missile utilises a cascade compensation inertial guidance system, which controls the flight of the missile with the help of four four jet vanes located in the nozzles of the rocket motors. There are also four fixed stabilising fins attached to the bottom of the missile body.

The basic variant DF-3 has a range of 2,660 km, and the improved DF-3A has a range of 2,810 km. The missile carries a single thermonuclear warhead with a designed yield of 3 MT, or a single conventional high-explosive warhead, with an estimated accuracy of 870 m CEP.

The missile is road-mobile on a carriage towed by an 8×8 truck, and is launched from a pre-surveyed launch spot located near its base. The missile requires 2 hours for fuelling and preparation before firing.


  • Overall length (m): 20.65
  • Core stage diameter (m): 2.25
  • Launch weight (kg): 65,000
  • Take-off thrust (t): 104

Image Gallery


Leave a Reply