The Ju Lang-1 (JL-1, CSS-N-3) is China’s first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), deployed on the Type 092 (‘Xia’ class) nuclear-powered missile submarine. The missile has also been developed into the DF-21 MRBM.

  • PLA designation: Ju Lang-1 (JL-1)
  • NATO code name: CSS-N-3
  • Type: Submarine-launched ballistic missile
  • Designer: 2nd Academy
  • Manufacturer: 307 Factory (Nanjing)
  • Payload: Single 200—1,000 kT thermonuclear
  • Range: 1,700 km (JL-1); 2,500 km (JL-1A)
  • Propulsion: Two-stage solid (HTTB)
  • Guidance: Computer-platform inertial
  • Basing: Nuclear-powered submarine with ‘cold’ launch
  • In service: 1988
  • Status: Retired


Solid-Propellant Propulsion

While China’s early ballistic missiles were entirely based on liquid propellants, preliminary research on the solid-fuel rocket propulsion technology was also initiated in the late 1950s. Chinese engineers had successfully produced small-sized (65 mm and 107 mm diameter) solid rockets by 1960, followed by the successful testing of the 300 mm-diameter solid rocket in 1965. The Institute of Solid Rocket Engine was created in Sichuan Province in 1962 as the dedicated R&D centre for the solid rocket technology.

In 1964, the Institute of Solid Rocket Engine was reorganised into the 4th Academy of the Seventh Ministry of Machinery Industry (Ministry of Astronautics), and a decision was taken to relocate the academy to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, where a large R&D and production complex would be built. However, changing security situation forced led to a decision in 1966 to scale down the operations in Hohhot and build a new solid rocket R&D facility codenamed Base 063 in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province.

While the construction of Base 063 progressed at slow pace, the 4th Academy in Inner Mongolia continued with their research. By the late 1960s, the academy had achieved breakthrough in large solid rocket development, first producing a 654 mm diameter solid rocket, followed by an even larger 770 mm diameter solid rocket to be used as the third-stage on the CZ-1 launch vehicle for China’s first satellite launch.

JL-1 Development

In 1965, the Chinese military tasked the 4th Academy with the development of a land-based, single-stage, solid-fuelled ballistic missile. However, the development programme was cancelled only two years later, while the military demanded a more advanced sea-based, two-stage missile that could be launched from a nuclear-powered submarine. The design proposal produced by the 4th Academy was approved in November 1967. At the same time, the Seventh Ministry of Machinery Industry decided to transfer the SLBM development to the 1st Academy (CALT) in Beijing, while the 4th Academy would only be responsible for the development of the solid-fuelled rocket engine.

The SLBM development team was transferred from the 4th Academy in Inner Mongolia to the 1st Academy in Beijing in 1970, with Huang Weilu appointed the chief designer of the development programme. After some initial design work was completed, a decision was then taken in 1975 to transfer the SLBM development to a new R&D facility (307 Factory) in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Just while the development was underway, yet another decision was taken to transfer the SLBM development to the 2nd Academy in Beijing. Finally, the JL-1 development was completed jointly by the four institutions involved (1st Academy, 2nd Academy, 4th Academy, and 307 Factory).

By the late 1970s, many sub-systems of the JL-1 had been completed their development. These include the underwater launch system developed by the 701 Shipbuilding Institute, the lightweight warhead (600—700 kg) developed by the 14th Nuclear Institute, the gyroscope platform developed by 717 Shipbuilding Institute, the onboard computer developed by the 771 Space Institute, and the inertial guidance system developed by 707 Shipbuilding Institute. The missile assembly was completed at Nanjing-based 307 Factory. The construction of an SLBM test site with underwater communication and observation facilities and land-based missile tracking and telemetry network was finished in the early 1980s.

JL-1 Testing

The first land-based pad-launch JL-1 test was successfully conducted from Taiyuan missile test centre (Base 25) on 17 June 1981. This was followed by two successful land-based tube-launch tests on 7 January and 22 April 1982.

The JL-1 testing subsequently moved to the sea-based tests. The original plan was to fire the missile from the sea-based missile range in the Yellow Sea towards west to the missile impact zone in Xinjiang. However, for safety reasons the testing was changed to fly to a sea target zone at 28°13’N, 123°52’ E in the East China Sea, off the coast of Fujian Province.

Land-based JL-1 test launch from a missile tube

The first sea-based launch from a Type 031 (‘Golf’ class) diesel-electric missile submarine (SSB, hull No. 200) took place on 7 October 1982. The missile lost control shortly after launch and was ordered for self-destruction. After some modifications on the missile, the second test launch on 12 October 1982 succeeded.

Preparation for the test launch from the Type 092 nuclear-powered missile submarine (hull No.406) began in 1984. Between March and April 1984, four mock-up missiles were successfully launched from hull 200 SSB in order to test the underwater launch system.

On 1October 1984, the JL-1 was displayed to the public during the military parade in Beijing to mark the 35th anniversary of the founding of the PRC.

JL-1 on display during the military parade on 1 October 1984

On 28 September 1985, a JL-1 missile launched from hull 406 SSBN exploded in the mid-air shortly after the take-off. Two subsequent test launches also failed. Despite the failures, it was concluded that both the submarine and its underwater missile launch system functioned as expected. The programme planner decided to go ahead with the full-range testing as scheduled. Preparation for the full-range testing began in late 1987.

At 09:00 local time on 15 September 1988, a naval task force including hull 406 SSBN and 30 various support vessels departed from their base to the test range in the Yellow Sea. At 12:30, hull 406 SSBN began to submerge to get ready for the test launch. At 14:00, a JL-1 missile was launched from the submarine. Few minutes later, the missile’s re-entry vehicle hit its target zone. This was followed by a second test launch on 27 September 1988.

A JL-1 missile tube being loaded onto a Type 031 conventional missile submarine
A JL-1 missile tube being loaded onto a Type 092 nuclear missile submarine


The JL-1 employs a two-stage solid-propellant engine, with a maximum range of 1,700 km (2,500 km for the JL-1A) and an accuracy of 700 m CEP obtained from an ‘computer-platform’ inertial guidance system. It delivers a payload of a single warhead that weighs 600 kg, which is believed be 200—1,000 kT yield. The missile has no stabilising fins or wings. A Type 092 SSBN can carry twelve JL-1 missiles inside its missile tubes behind the sail.

The JL-1 is stored and transported inside a cylinder missile tube, which is loaded onto the submarine at its homeport before departure. The missile is fired using a ‘cold’ launch method., with the missile ejected from the submarine missile tube using fuel gas, and the first-stage engine igniting after the missile has emerged from the water. Because the missile does not have establishing or controlling surfaces, it completely relies on the swinging nozzles of its first stage engine to maintain its course of flight. On the head of the second-stage there are three mini rocket motors to help the stage separate from the warhead.


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


Leave a Reply