The DF-41 (Dong Feng [East Wind]-41, CSS-20) is Chinese road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It has an operational range of up to 15,000 km, making it China’s longest-range missile, and is reportedly capable of loading multiple independently-targeted warheads (MIRV).
DF-41 at a Glance
- Originated from
- Alternate names
- Dong Feng-41, CSS-X-20
- Possessed by
- Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)
- Road-mobile, Rail-mobile, Silo
- 20 – 22 m
- 2.25 m
- Launch Weight
- 80,000 kg
- 2,500 kg
- Up to 10 nuclear warheads; MIRV
- Three-stage, solid propellant
- 12,000 – 15,000 km
- In development
China’s Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) began developing the DF-41 in July 1986.1 This initial project, named Project No. 204, was scheduled to conclude in 1999 but was instead absorbed into China’s DF-31 missile development effort.2 China reportedly tested DF-41 prototypes under a renewed effort in 1994 and transferred deployment-ready missiles to the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) in 2010.3 Photographs of the DF-41’s prototype launcher first began circulating in 2007, and on July 24, 2012, China conducted its first flight test of the system.4
The DF-41 underwent its second test on December 13, 2013, flying from the Wuzhai missile launch center in Shaanxi province to a test target in western China, and a third test on December 13, 2014.5 The 2014 test reportedly included an unknown number of dummy warheads.6
On August 6, 2015, U.S. defense officials confirmed that China had flight-tested the DF-41 with two independently-targeted warheads.7On December 5, 2015, China tested a canister-ejection system for a rail-mobile DF-41 launcher.8The PLARF conducted additional flight tests on April 12, 2016 (2 guided warheads), and November 6, 2017.9 Two additional tests may have taken place on December 12, 2016 and January 26, 2018.10
The missile likely entered limited production by 2019, with 18 launch vehicles appearing at a training site in Inner Mongolia earlier that year.11 On October 1, 2019, the People’s Republic of China unveiled 16 DF-41 launchers at its 70th anniversary parade.
|July 24, 2012||First test|
|December 13, 2013||Launch from Wuzhai|
|December 13, 2014||MIRV test|
|August 6, 2015||MIRV test; 2 warheads|
|December 5, 2015||Rail-mobile canister ejection test|
|April 12, 2016||MIRV test; 2 warheads|
|November 6, 2017|
The DF-41 is reportedly 21 – 22 m long, 2.25 m in diameter, and weighs 80,000 kg at launch. Other sources speculate the missile is 16.5 m long and 2.78 m in diameter.12 The DF-41 uses a three-stage solid propellant engine to reach ranges of 12,000 to 15,000 km. Chinese state-run media have claimed the missile can load up to 10 MIRV warheads with a total weight of 2,500 kg. A typical payload likely includes a few MIRV and several penetration aids to stress missile defense. It likely uses an inertial guidance system with stellar or satellite updates and possesses an accuracy of ~100m circular error probable (CEP).13
The DF-41 is road-mobile and is launched from an 8-axle transporter erector launcher (TEL) derived from the DF-31AG‘s TEL chassis. Satellite imagery has suggested that China is also exploring a silo basing option for its DF-41 force.14 As early as 2018, China had begun construction of several DF-41-sized siloes, and by 2021, had at least 16 under construction at its Jilantai training complex.15 China has also tested a train-based launch system but it is unclear whether it will enter service.
- John Lewis and Hua Di, “China’s Ballistic Missile Programs: Technologies, Strategies, Goals,” International Security 17, No. 2 (Fall 1992).
- M.S. Prathibha, “China’s DF-41 Ballistic Missile Deployment and the Impact on its Nuclear Deterrence,” Journal of Defence Studies 13, No. 4 (2019), pp. 51 – 69, https://idsa.in/system/files/jds/13-4-2019-china-df-41-ballistic-missile-ms-prathibha.pdf.
- Bill Gertz, “Manchu Missile Launch,” The Washington Free Beacon, August 15, 2012, https://freebeacon.com/national-security/manchu-missile-launch/.
- Bill Gertz, “China Conducts Second Flight Test of New Long-Range Missile,” The Washington Free Beacon, December 17, 2013, https://freebeacon.com/national-security/china-conducts-second-flight-test-of-new-long-range-missile/; Bill Gertz, “China Just Tested A Long-Range Ballistic Missile That Can Carry Multiple Warheads,” Business Insider, December 18, 2014, https://www.businessinsider.com/china-just-tested-a-long-range-ballistic-missile-that-can-carry-multiple-warheads-2014-12?r=UK.
- Bill Gertz, “China Tests New Long-Range Missile with Two Guided Warheads,” August 18, 2015, https://freebeacon.com/national-security/china-tests-new-long-range-missile-with-two-guided-warheads/.
- Bill Gertz, “China Tests New ICBM from Railroad Car,” The Washington Free Beacon, December 21, 2015, https://freebeacon.com/national-security/china-tests-new-icbm-from-railroad-car/.
- Bill Gertz, “China Flight Tests New Multiple-Warhead Missile,” The Washington Free Beacon, April 19, 2016, https://freebeacon.com/national-security/china-flight-tests-multiple-warhead-missile/; Minnie Chan, “Did China test missile that could hit any target in US two days before Donald Trump’s visit?” The South China Morning Post, November 9, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2119201/did-china-test-missile-could-hit-any-target-us-two-days; Bill Gertz, “Inside the Ring: China confirms DF-41 missile test,” The Washington Times, December 6, 2017, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/dec/6/china-confirms-df-41-missile-test/;
- Henri Kehnmann, “9th test of DF-41 ICBM and othersm” East Pendulum, January 30, 2018, http://www.eastpendulum.com/9e-essai-icbm-df-41-bien-dautres.
- Hans Kristensen, “New Missile Silo and DF-41 Launchers Seen In Chinese Nuclear Missile Training Area,” Federation of American Scientists, September 3, 2019, https://fas.org/blogs/security/2019/09/china-silo-df41/.
- Sun Wenyu, “China’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile expected to be deployed next year,” People’s Daily, November 28, 2017, http://en.people.cn/n3/2017/1128/c90000-9297997.html.
- “DF-41,” in IHS Jane’s Weapons: Strategic 2015-2016, ed. James C. O’Halloran (United Kingdom: IHS, 2015), 21-22.
- Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, 2018), https://media.defense.gov/2018/Aug/16/2001955282/-1/-1/1/2018-CHINA-MILITARY-POWER-REPORT.PDF.
- Hans Kristensen, “China’s Expanding Missile Training Area: More Silos, Tunnels, and Support Facilities,” Federation of American Scientists, February 24, 2021, https://fas.org/blogs/security/2021/02/plarf-jilantai-expansion/.