DF-17

The DF-17 (Dong Feng-17) is a Chinese medium-range missile system equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle. U.S. officials first confirmed the existence of DF-17 prototypes (DF-ZF/Wu-14) in 2014.

DF-17 at a Glance

Originated From: China
Possessed By: China 
Class: Medium-range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) / Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV)
Basing: Road-mobile
Length: 11 m
Launch Weight: 15,000 kg
Payload: Conventional or nuclear
Speed: Mach 5-10 (1.72-3.43 km/s)
Range: 1,800-2,500 km
Status: Operational

DF-17 Development

China has invested significant resources in the DF-17 and its other hypersonic weapon programs. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has reportedly done so to counter adversary missile defenses, as well as to develop a fast, long-range, high-precision strike capability that “leaves enemies with little time to react.”1While slower than a conventional ballistic reentry vehicle, HGVs’ higher maneuverability and lower-altitude flight make them harder to track and predict their flight path, challenging legacy ballistic missile defense systems.

In 2018, one U.S. official noted that China had conducted around 20 times the number of hypersonic weapons tests as the United States had in the preceding decade.2

China’s 10th Research Institute is responsible for developing the DF-17 and other Chinese HGVs. Also known as the “Near Space Flight Vehicle Research Institute,” the organization operates under the China Aerospace Science Industry Corporation (CASIC) 1st Academy.3 U.S. officials confirmed the DF-17’s existence in 2014, identifying it as the Wu-14.4 News media later identified the missile as the DF-ZF – likely an early Chinese designation.5 Between January 2014 and November 2017, China conducted at least nine flight tests of the DF-17. Tests took place at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in Shanxi Province.

DF-17 Flight Tests
January 9, 2014First test launch. Aviation Week
August 7, 2014Failed test, missile broke up soon after launch. Arms Control Wonk
December 2, 2014Successful test. The Washington Free Beacon
June 7, 2015Apparent success, U.S. official noted the vehicle took “extreme maneuvers.” East Pendulum
August 19, 2015Apparent success, U.S. official noted the vehicle took “evasive actions.” The Washington Free Beacon
November 23, 2015Successful, with the HGV reaching a speed “beyond Mach 5.” IHS Jane’s
April 22, 2016Successful test. The Washington Free Beacon
November 1, 2017Flew approx. 1,400 km over 11 minutes, with the HGV flying at a depressed altitude of around 60 km. The Diplomat
November 15, 2017 Employed DF-17 to boost HGV to apogee. The Diplomat

Specifications

The DF-17 is solid-fueled, measures around 11 m in length, and weighs around 15,000 kg.6 The DF-17’s booster appears to be the same as that used for China’s DF-16 ballistic missile. Its accompanying DF-ZF HGV reportedly reaches speeds of Mach 5-10 (1.72-3.43 km/s) in its glide phase.7 U.S. intelligence assessments suggest that the DF-17 possesses a range between 1,800 and 2,500 km.8 Although Chinese commentators have emphasized the DF-17’s conventional mission, the missile may alternatively equip nuclear warheads.9 

The DF-17 has demonstrated a high degree of accuracy in testing, with one U.S. government official saying a test warhead “within meters” of its intended, stationary target.10 U.S. defense officials have also said the DF-ZF HGV performed “extreme maneuvers” and “evasive actions” in previous test flights.11  

Some reports suggest China could develop the DF-17 into a second-generation antiship ballistic missile (ASBM), further enabling China’s strategy to deter U.S. regional intervention.12 In January 2019, PLA officials claimed to have an antiship DF-17 variant under development.13  

DF-17 Service History

The DF-17’s status remains unclear. Its appearance in China’s October 2019 military parade, however, has raised speculation that it may have entered PLA service.14 

    1. Yang Sheng and Liu Xuanzun, “DF-17 ballistic missile makes debut at National Day parade,” Global Times, October 1, 2019, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1165933.shtml; U.S.-China Economic & Security Review Commission, 2017 Annual Report-Section 2: China’s Pursuit of Advanced Weapons, 562, https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/Chapter%204,%20Section%202%20-%20China’s%20Pursuit%20of%20Advanced%20Weapons.pdf; Eleni Ekmektsioglou, “Hypersonic Weapons and Escalation Control in East Asia,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, Summer 2015, 50, https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/26271074.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A34d18f8dc820209815b9dd0cc2024a4b.
    2. John A. Tirpak, “Griffin Says Hypersonics, Acquisition Reform are Top Priorities,” Air Force Magazine, March 6, 2018, https://www.airforcemag.com/Griffin-Says-Hypersonics-Acquisition-Reform-are-Top-Priorities/.
    3. Mark Stokes and Dean Cheng,  “China’s Evolving Space Capabilities: Implications for U.S. interests,” Project 2049, April 26, 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20160409220918/http:/project2049.net/documents/uscc_china-space-program-report_april-2012.pdf.
    4. Bill Gertz, “China Conducts First Test of New Ultra-High Speed Missile Vehicle,” Washington Free Beacon, January 13, 2014, https://freebeacon.com/national-security/china-conducts-first-test-of-new-ultra-high-speed-missile-vehicle/.
    5. James Acton, “China’s Advanced Weapons,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 23, 2017, https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/02/23/china-s-advanced-weapons-pub-68095.
    6. Military-Today.com, “DF-17,” http://www.military-today.com/missiles/df_17.htm.
    7. Henri Kenhmann, “Et si c’est lui le planeur Boost-Glide DF-ZF?” East Pendulum, October 11, 2017, http://www.eastpendulum.com/et-si-cest-lui-le-planeur-boost-glide-df-zf.
    8. Ankit Panda, “Introducing the DF-17,” The Diplomat.
    9. Ian Williams and Masao Dahlgren, “More Than Missiles,” CSIS.
    10. Ankit Panda, “Introducing the DF-17,” The Diplomat.
    11. Franz-Stefan Gady, “China Tests New Weapon Capable of Breaching US Missile Defense Systems,” The Diplomat, April 28, 2016, https://thediplomat.com/2016/04/china-tests-new-weapon-capable-of-breaching-u-s-missile-defense-systems/.
    12. Bradley Perrett, Bill Sweetman, Michael Fabey, “U.S. Navy Sees Chinese HGV As Part Of Wider Threat,” Aviation Week, January 27, 2014, https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/us-navy-sees-chinese-hgv-part-wider-threat; Franz-Stefan Gady, “China Tests New Weapon System,” The Diplomat.
    13. Military and Aerospace Electronics, “The emerging China hypersonic weapons threat to surface vessels at sea,” April 24, 2019, https://www.militaryaerospace.com/unmanned/article/16711522/the-emerging-china-hypersonic-weapons-threat-to-surface-vessels-at-sea.
    14. Sebastien Roblin, “Is China’s DF-100 Missile Good Enough To Kill America’s Navy?” The National Interest, November 17, 2019, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/chinas-df-100-missile-good-enough-kill-americas-navy-96476; Minnie Chan, “China and Russia’s push to develop hypersonic weapons raises fears of arms race with US,” South China Morning Post, January 19, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3046667/china-and-russias-push-develop-hypersonic-weapons-raises-fears.