DF-12 (M20)

Originally designed for export, the DF-12 (M20) is a single-stage, solid-fueled ballistic missile with an advertised range of 280 km.1 The missile was first offered for sale in 2011 and entered service with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2013. Domestic variants of the missile are estimated to reach ranges over 400km. 2

DF-12 At a Glance

Originated From: People’s Republic of China (PRC)
Possessed By: Qatar, PRC
Alternate Names: M20 (Primary name), CSS-X-15, A/MGG-20
Class: Short-Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM)
Basing: Road-mobile
Length: 7.3 m
Diameter: 0.92 m
Launch Weight: 4010 kg
Payload: 480 kg
Warhead: High-explosive, submunition, earth-penetrator, thermobaric
Propulsion: Single-stage solid propellant
Range: 280 – 420 km
Status: Operational
In Service: 2013 (PRC)

Development

The DF-12 was built for export by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation’s (CASIC) 9th Academy and was first revealed at the 10th International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in 2011. Videos shown at the event indicate that the weapon had been flight tested prior to that date.3

Following its debut, CASIC exhibited the M20 at several international defense exhibitions, including IDEX and the Zhuhai Air Show. In 2017, Belarus exhibited a domestically-assembled variant of the M20 for its ‘Polonaise’ MLRS at the MILEX arms exhibition.4 CASIC then displayed the missile at the Kazakhstan Defense Exhibition in 2018 and in Minsk in 2019.5

CASIC displayed two new variants of the DF-12 at the Zhuhai Air Show in 2018: The M20A and M20B. Described as a “high-precision” variant, the M20A appears to have an optical sensor for terminal guidance. The M20B is an anti-ship variant.6

Specifications

Reaching a maximum altitude of 50km, the DF-12 is reportedly capable of maneuvering in flight, performing a pull-up maneuver before the terminal phase. Using GPS and inertial guidance, the missile is accurate to a Circular Error Probable (CEP) of 30m, though other reports suggest a 50m CEP.7

According to CASIC, two DF-12s are carried on each wheeled transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). Each TEL can be readied for launch within ten minutes. A typical M20 battalion consists of 1 command vehicle, 1 support vehicle, 9 TELs, and 9 loading vehicles.8

The DF-12s produced for domestic use could possess a much longer range. Like Russia’s Iskander-E, the DF-12 export variant appears to deliberately stop short of exceeding the 300km/500kg range and payload threshold mandated by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an agreement to limit exports of advanced missile technologies. However, units intended for domestic use are not limited by MTCR requirements. Much as Russia’s domestic Iskander variant—the Iskander-M—possesses a much longer range than its export version, DF12s intended for domestic service may have ranges greater than 420 km.9

Service History

The DF-12 entered service with China’s People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force in August 2013. Qatar is the only other known operator of the missile, which it first displayed publicly at its National Day celebrations in December 2017.10

    1. “China’s M20 missile system, A100 MLRS, A200/A300 GMLRS and CX-1 supersonic cruise missile,” YouTube video, 6:49, posted by Global Times, October 31, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_UVZeqc6nY; U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, (Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio: 2013), https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a582843.pdf.
    2. Bill Gertz, “China Reveals New Short-Range Missile, The Washington Free Beacon, August 2, 2013, https://freebeacon.com/national-security/china-reveals-new-short-range-missile/.
    3. J. Michael Cole, “China’s Second Artillery Has a New Missile,” The Diplomat, August 7, 2013, https://thediplomat.com/2013/08/chinas-second-artillery-has-a-new-missile/; “M20短程弹道导弹 [M20 short-range ballistic missile],” China Youth Daily, May 24, 2012, http://news.youth.cn/js/wqzb/201205/t20120524_2193647.html.
    4. Gennady Mozheyko, “Выставка вооружений MILEX-2017: Беспилотники-камикадзе, новая ракета для «Полонеза» и противотанковый робот [MILEX-2017 Arms Exhibition: Kamikaze UAVs, new rocket for Polonaise and anti-tank robot],” Komsomolskaya Pravda Belarus, May 20, 2017, https://www.kp.by/daily/26681.7/3704101/; “The multiple-launch rocket system Polonez,” Belarus.by, May 20, 2017, https://www.belarus.by/en/press-center/photo/the-multiple-launch-rocket-system-polonez_i_9282.html?page=4.
    5. “China to reveal new M20 short-range tactical missile system at Zhuhai Airshow 2016, Defense Blog, October 24, 2016, https://defence-blog.com/news/china-to-unveil-new-m20-short-range-tactical-missile-system-at-zhuhai-airshow-2016.html; “Chinese missile system barred from entering Lithuania from Belarus,” LRT, May 23, 2019, https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/news-in-english/19/1062239/chinese-missile-system-barred-from-entering-lithuania-from-belarus; Hang Panyue, “Chinese military equipment exhibited in Kazakhstan,” China Military Online, May 25, 2018, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/news/2018-05/25/content_4815083.htm.
    6. “Ultrafast Anti-Ship Missiles Offered for Sale, China Daily, December 25, 2018, http://eng.chinamil.com.cn/view/2018-12/25/content_9388061.htm; Henri Kenhmann, Twitter post, November 9, 2018, https://twitter.com/HenriKenhmann/status/1061066331326271488.
    7. Henry Kenhmann, “Airshow China 2016 : M20, missile balistique dédié à l’export [Airshow China 2016: M20, Ballistic Missile Built for Export], East Pendulum, November 5, 2016, http://www.eastpendulum.com/airshow-china-2016-m20-missile-balistique; “M20 short-range ballistic missile,” China Youth Daily, 2012; “[防务展会] LQ-008反潜助飞火箭系统航展曝光![(Defense Exhibition) LQ-008 anti-submarine missile air show exhibition!],” CJDBY.net,  https://lt.cjdby.net/thread-2508384-1-1.html.
    8. “China’s M20 missile system, A100 MLRS, A200/A300 GMLRS and CX-1 supersonic cruise missile,” Global Times, 2016.
    9. Ibid; Mozheyko, “MILEX-2017 Arms Exhibition,” 2017.
    10. “Qatar National Day Parade 2017: Full Military Assets Segment,”  YouTube video, 26:54, posted by Firefighter 0278, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zo9TBGQOaIw.