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The DF-4 (Dong Feng-4, CSS-3) is a two-stage, transportable, liquid-fueled intermediate to intercontinental ballistic missile (IRBM/ICBM) that entered service in 1980. It was expected to be decommissioned by 2005, but one brigade remains operational near Lingbao, Henan province.1

DF-4 at a Glance

Originated from
Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile
Possessed by
Launch Weight
82,000 kg
2,200 kg
Single nuclear warhead, 1-3 MT yield
Two-stage, storable liquid propellant
4,500 – 5,500 km
In service

DF-4 Development

Development of the DF-4 began in 1965, in parallel with the DF-3 (CSS-2).2 The missile was originally designed to strike U.S. bases in Guam, but following clashes along the Sino-Soviet border in 1969, the DF-4 was redesigned to extend its range to be capable of striking Moscow.3

The DF-4 was first tested, unsuccessfully, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in November 1969. The second stage failed to separate causing the missile to detonate.4

China successfully tested the missile on January 30, 1970, and carried out a full-range test in November 1970 at the then-newly constructed Northeast Missile test base near Jingyu in Jilin province. Shortly after these tests, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) started work on extending the missile’s range, but progress was delayed until 1975 due to complications stemming from the Cultural Revolution and a higher priority placed upon completing the DF-5 ICBM.5

Early trials tried to perfect silo- and road-based variants, but these efforts failed. China ultimately opted to store most of the missiles in caves—where they can be safely fueled before being rolled out for launch.6

The first DF-4 deployments began in 1980.7

DF-4 Specifications

The DF-4 is a two-stage intermediate to intercontinental-range, transportable, liquid-fueled ballistic missile. It has an estimated range of between 4,500-5,500 km and carries a 2,200 kg payload. Its payload is designed to accommodate a single nuclear warhead with a yield between 1 and 3 megatons and has an accuracy of approximately 1.5 km CEP. It has a length of 28.0 m, a body diameter of 2.25 m, and a launch weight of 82,000 kg.8

Service History

Despite achieving initial operational capability in 1980, the PLA Second Artillery Corps was slow to put DF-4s into the field. By 1984, only four  were in service.9 By 2000, China deployed around 25 DF-4s.10

The missile was expected to be retired between 2001 and 2005, and replaced by the solid-fueled DF-31 ICBM.11 However, as of 2017, an estimated 10-15 DF-4 launchers remain operational.12 The DF-4 eventually led to a three-stage satellite launch vehicle known as the Long March-1 (LM-1 or CZ-1). This was the vehicle used to launch the first Chinese satellite in 1970.13


    1. Hans M. Kristenson, “New FAS Nuclear Notebook: Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2016,” Federation of American Scientists, July 1, 2016, https://fas.org/blogs/security/2016/07/china-notebook-2016/.
    2. “Dong Feng-4,” in IHS Jane’s Weapons: Strategic 2015-2016, ed. James C. O’Halloran (United Kingdom: IHS, 2015), 6.
    3. John Wilson Lewis and Hua Di, “China’s Ballistic Missile Programs: Technologies, Strategies, Goals,” International Security 17, no. 2 (1992), 17, https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/china%27s_ballistic_missile_programs.pdf.
    4. Mark A. Stokes, “The People’s Liberation Army and China’s Pace and Missile Development: Lessons from the Past and Prospects for the Future,” in The Lessons of History: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army at 75, ed. Laurie Burkitt, and et al. (July 2003), 193-249, http://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pdffiles/pub52.pdf.
    5. Ibid.
    6. Jeffrey Lewis, “The Ambiguous Arsenal,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 61, no. 3 (2005), 55, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost.
    7. IHS, 6.
    8. IHS, 6.
    9. “DF-4,” Federation of American Scientists, 2000, https://fas.org/nuke/guide/china/theater/df-4.htm.
    10. Shirley A. Kan, “China: Ballistic and Cruise Missiles,” Congressional Research Service, August 10, 2000, http://carnegieendowment.org/pdf/npp/CRSchinamissilesupdated081000.pdf.
    11. IHS, 7.
    12. “Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat,” National Air and Space Intelligence Center, June 2017, http://www.nasic.af.mil/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=F2VLcKSmCTE%3d&portalid=19.
    13. IHS, 5.
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Missile Defense Project, "DF-4," Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 26, 2017, last modified April 23, 2024, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/df-4/.