Development of the DF-15 began in 1985. The missile design was approved by the PLA in 1987 and the first test launch took place in June 1987. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, a range of test launches were conducted from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (Shuang Cheng Tzu, or Base 20) in the Gobi Desert in northwest China. The missile system was first unveiled during the 1988 Beijing International Defence Exhibition, and a small number was believed to have been delivered to the PLA’s strategic missile force as early as 1989.
China’s first conventionally-armed SRBM system, the basic variant DF-15 is capable of delivering a 500 kg warhead over a distance of 600 km. The missile’s export name (M-9) suggested that it was also offered to the international market. However, contradictory to many misconceptions, the missile has never received any order, possibly due to the restrictions of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) that prohibits the export of delivery systems and related technology for those systems capable of carrying more than 500 kg payload over a range of 300 km or above.
The 2009 US DoD Report to the Congress estimated that 350—400 missiles and 90—110 launchers were in operational deployment with the PLA Second Artillery Corps (now the PLA Rocket Force). In more recent years, the basic variant DF-15 in service has been replaced by the more capable DF-15B and C models, which feature extended range and more sophisticated re-entry vehicle.
1995/96 Taiwan Strait Missile Crisis
Between July 1995 and March 1996, the PLA conducted a series of military exercises and missile tests near the Taiwan Strait, intended to signal China’s displeasure at the island’s pursue of independence and intimidate Taiwan in the lead-up to a presidential election. The state-run Xinhua News Agency announced the missile tests shortly before they took place, and warned foreign aeroplanes and ships to avoid entering the target zones.
During the first missile test taking place from 21 to 23 July 1995, a total of six missiles were launched from an unknown location in Fujian Province. All missiles were launched between 01:00 to 04:00 hours local time in the early morning to avoid hitting civilian aircraft and ships accidentally. 5 out of 6 missiles reportedly hit the target zone in the international waters off the northwest coast of Taiwan.
The second test launch took place in March 1996, with two target zones set in international waters off the southwest and east coasts of Taiwan respectively. In the early morning (00:00 local time) on 8 March, two missiles were launched almost simultaneously from two launch sites, and both hit their target zones. At around 01:00 local time, another missile was launched from one of the launchers which were involved in the earlier launches to demonstrate its rapid reloading capability. On 12 March, the fourth missile was launched and hit the scheduled target zone.
According to US Navy intelligence, the missile launch and support troops involved in this operation were mobilised from their base in Jiangxi Province to the launch sites over a distance of several hundred kilometres, 60 hours prior to the scheduled launch time. About 20—30 missile launchers took part in the operation.
The DF-15 uses an inertial guidance package, coupled to a faster on-board computer system to give a high accuracy. The early model has a circular error probable (CEP) of 300—600 m, but subsequent improvements on the guidance system has increased the missile’s accuracy to CEP 150—500 m. This allows the DF-15 to be used for a conventional precise-strike to destroy large fixed targets such as command & control centres, air defence missile sites, and airports. Further improvement in accuracy has been achieved by integrating a global positioning system (GPS) or a similar indigenously-developed satellite-based navigation and positing system.
The DF-15 carries a 500 kg single warhead and has a maximum range of 600 km. The missile is carried onboard an 8-wheeled Taian Special Vehicle Factory TA5450 transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle to provide full road and cross-country mobility. In time of crisis the missile system could be quickly mobilised from bases to launch locations by railway. The TEL vehicle then carries the missile to a launch site with pre-calculated coordinate data. Alternatively, the missile can be launched from an unprepared location by using GPS to obtain coordinate data.
The DF-15 can carry a range of warhead types including high-explosive, high-explosive incendiary, and armour-piercing sub-munitions. Other warhead types under development include mine-laying and electromagnetic shockwave.
DF-15B (CSS-6 Mod-2)
The improved DF-15B features active radar-homing terminal guidance and manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle (MaRV), which increase the missile’s accuracy to CEP 35—50 m. The B model can be identified by four small stabilising fins in the mid-section for corrections during the final phase of the flight. The DF-15B entered service with the PLA around 2008, and was first unveiled to the public during the National Day military parade on 1 October 2009.
DF-15C (CSS-6 Mod-3)
The DF-15C is similar to the DF-15 in appearance, but features an extended cylindrical-shaped nosecone, which was speculated to house a deep-penetration type warhead designed specifically to attack hardened underground bunkers.
|Class:||Short-Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM)|
|Length:||9.10 m (DF-15/A), 10 m (DF-15B/C)|
|Payload:||320–750 kg single conventional; MaRV (DF-15B)|
|Propulsion:||Single-stage solid propellant|
|Basing:||Road-mobile, TA5450 TEL|