The DF-26 (Dong Feng-26) is a Chinese intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). With its range of 4,000 km, it is China’s first conventionally-armed ballistic missile capable of striking Guam.1 The missile—China’s first nuclear-armed system “that can conduct precision strikes”—can be armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead.2 An antiship variant, the DF-26B, was tested in 2020.
DF-26 at a Glance
- Originated from
- Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM)
- Possessed by
- 14 m
- 1.4 m
- Launch Weight
- 20,000 kg
- 1,200 – 1,800 kg
- Nuclear, conventional
- Two-stage solid propellant
- 4,000 km
- In service
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) began developing the DF-26 some time before 2010, when the U.S. Department of Defense first disclosed a Chinese effort to acquire conventional IRBMs.3 In 2012, photos of the system’s launcher began to circulate among Chinese sources, and in March 2014, U.S. intelligence sources explicitly confirmed the DF-26’s existence, designating the missile the “DF-26C.”4
In September 2015, China publicly unveiled the DF-26 during a military parade in Beijing.5 At the event, China displayed 16 missiles on road-mobile transporter-erector launchers (TELs).6 Official commentary during the parade described the missile as possessing both nuclear and conventional capabilities, a claim corroborated by U.S. Department of Defense assessments.7 According to the U.S. Department of Defense, China began fielding the DF-26 in 2016.8
China may have conducted its first operational DF-26 test in early 2017. On May 9, 2017, China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) released a statement acknowledging a flight test of a new missile in the Bohai Sea, which attained “expected results.”9 While several Chinese military analysts speculated that the test involved a DF-26, others suggested the system was a submarine-launched missile, such as China’s developmental JL-3 SLBM.10
On July 29, 2017, China flight tested 4 DF-26 missiles in Inner Mongolia, simulating a strike on a U.S. THAAD missile defense battery. In August 2020, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) flight tested an antiship DF-26 variant, the DF-26B, in the South China Sea, which reportedly struck a moving ship.11 In June 2021, a PLARF missile brigade conducted a night exercise with DF-26 missiles, simulating the relocation of missile batteries in a conflict scenario.12
The DF-26 is a two-stage, solid-fueled IRBM with a range of 4,000 km.13 According to Chinese sources, the missile measures 14 m long, 1.4 m in diameter, and has a launch weight of 20,000 kg. 14 Its first-stage motor reportedly features similar dimensions to the preceding DF-21D MRBM.15 It is a road-mobile system, and is transported and fired from a wheeled Taian HTF5680 transporter erector launcher.
The DF-26 employs a “modular design,” allowing operators to rapidly swap nuclear and conventional payloads in the field.16 A new model of DF-26 TEL appeared shortly after the DF-26’s 2015 debut with a hinged, separate warhead cover, potentially to facilitate warhead-loading operations.17
These payloads are typically housed in a finned, biconic maneuvering reentry vehicle (MaRV), similar to the warheads featured on China’s DF-15B, DF-21C/D, and DF-16 missiles. The missile’s guidance system remains unknown, and analysts estimate the missile’s accuracy at 150 – 450 m circular error probable (CEP). 18 The DF-26’s anti-shipping variant, informally designated the DF-26B, likely features an active terminal seeker to engage moving targets.
The PLA Rocket Force began deploying the DF-26 in 2016 and, as of 2020, is thought to field roughly 200 – 350 IRBM launchers, including the DF-26.19 Each DF-26 brigade may feature 12 – 18 launchers, and various estimates placed the quantity of DF-26 launchers between 80 and 100 in 2020.20
According to several estimates, the PLARF operated at least one DF-26 brigade in 2016.21 The brigade was reportedly stationed near Luoyang in Henan province.22 In 2018, China’s ministry of defense announced the commissioning of its first permanently-based DF-26 brigade with 18 launchers at Xinyang in Henan Province.23
In 2019, China deployed twelve DF-26 TELs to a training range at Alxa in China’s Inner Mongolia region.24 By 2020, China reportedly fielded three known DF-26 brigades: the 625 Brigade in Jianshui, Yunnan Province, the 626 Brigade at Qingyuan, Guangdong Province, and the 666 Brigade at Xinyang, with a possible fourth brigade set based in Korla, Xinjiang, and a base under construction at Dengshahe in Liaoning Province.25
- Jordan Wilson, “China’s Expanding Ability to Conduct Conventional Missile Strikes on Guam,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, May 10, 2016, 8, https://www.uscc.gov/Research/china%E2%80%99s-expanding-ability-conduct-conventional-missile-strikes-guam; IHS Jane’s 360, “Eurosatory 2016: Regional Focus, Asia Pacific,” June 16, 2016, http://www.janes.com/article/61438/regional-focus-asia-pacific-es2016d4.
- Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020: Annual Report to Congress (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, 2020), https://media.defense.gov/2020/Sep/01/2002488689/-1/-1/1/2020-DOD-CHINA-MILITARY-POWER-REPORT-FINAL.PDF.
- Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2010: Annual Report to Congress (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, 2010), https://archive.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/2010_CMPR_Final.pdf.
- Bill Gertz, “China Fields New Intermediate-Range Nuclear Missile,” The Washington Free Beacon, March 3, 2014, https://freebeacon.com/national-security/china-fields-new-intermediate-range-nuclear-missile/.
- Andrew S. Erickson, “Panel I: China’s Hypersonic and Maneuverable Re-Entry Vehicle Programs,” Testimony before Hearing on China’s Advanced Weapons, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, February 23, 2017, 2, https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Erickson_Testimony.pdf.
- Anthony H. Cordesman, “China’s Nuclear Forces and Weapons of Mass Destruction (Working Draft),” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 20, 2016, 26, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/160720_China_Nuclear_Weapons_Report.pdf; IHS Jane’s 360.
- “Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” The National Interest, September 3, 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/showtime-china-reveals-two-carrier-killer-missiles-13769?page=show.
- DoD 2020, p. 56.
- “PLA Rocket Force Test-fires New-type Missile Weapons,” China Ministry of National Defense, May 9, 2017, http://eng.mod.gov.cn/news/2017-05/09/content_4780122.htm.
- “China Says It Successfully Tests New Type of Missile,” Defense News, May 10, 2017, https://www.defensenews.com/land/2017/05/10/china-says-it-successfully-tests-new-type-of-missile/; “China’s Missile Tests in Bohai ‘Aimed at THAAD,’” South China Morning Post, May 10, 2017, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2093711/chinas-missile-tests-bohai-aimed-thaad-south-korea; Franz-Stefan Gady, “China Tests New Missile Close to Korean Peninsula,” The DIplomat, May 11, 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/05/china-tests-new-missile-close-to-korean-peninsula/.
- Kristin Huang, “China’s ‘aircraft-carrier killer’ missile successfully hit target ship in South China Sea, PLA insider claims,” The South China Morning Post, November 14, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3109809/chinas-aircraft-carrier-killer-missiles-successfully-hit-target.
- Kristin Huang, “China’s rocket force tests ‘carrier killer’ DF-26 ballistic missiles,” The South China Morning Post, June 10, 2021, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3136789/chinas-rocket-force-tests-carrier-killer-df-26-ballistic; Liu Xuanzun, “PLA Rocket Force practices night DF-26 missile launch, Global Times, June 9, 2021, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202106/1225886.shtml.
- “Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat 2017,” National Air and Space Intelligence Center, June 2017, http://www.nasic.af.mil/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=F2VLcKSmCTE%3D&portalid=19.
- “东风-26弹道导弹：世界首屈一指中远程弹道导弹,” 军事新闻中心, China Internet Information Center, September 3, 2015, http://military.china.com.cn/2015-09/03/content_36491162.htm, archived: https://web.archive.org/web/20151009092005/http://military.china.com.cn/2015-09/03/content_36491162.htm.
- Tate Nurkin et al., China’s Advanced Weapons Systems, (London: Jane’s IHS Markit, 2018), https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/Jane’s%20by%20IHS%20Markit_China’s%20Advanced%20Weapons%20Systems.pdf.
- DoD 2020, p. 56; Wilson 2016, p. 8.
- Joshua Pollack and Scott Lafoy, “China’s DF-26: A Hot-Swappable Missile?” Arms Control Wonk, May 17, 2020, https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1209405/chinas-df-26-a-hot-swappable-missile/.
- DoD 2020, p. 166; Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat 2020, (Wright-Patterson AFB, OH: National Air and Space Intelligence Center, July 2020).
- Hans Kristensen, “China’s New DF-26 Missile Shows Up At Base In Eastern China,” Federation of American Scientists, January 21, 2020, https://fas.org/blogs/security/2020/01/df-26deployment/; Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Chinese nuclear forces, 2020,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 76, No. 6, (2020), pp. 443 – 457, DOI: 10.1080/00963402.2020.1846432.
- “Chapter Six: Asia,” in The Military Balance 2016 (London: IISS, 2016), 240; “Chapter Six: Asia,” inThe Military Balance 2017 (London: IISS, 2017), 279.
- Mark Stokes, “China’s Advanced Weapons,” Testimony before the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission, Washington, D.C., February 23, 2017, https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/transcripts/China%27s%20Advanced%20Weapons.pdf; Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Worldwide Deployments of Nuclear Weapons, 2017,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 73, no. 5, August 31, 2017, 290, https://doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2017.1363995.
- Kristensen 2020.
- Sean O’Connor, “DF-26 TELs sighted at new PLARF training facility,” IHS Jane’s, January 10, 2019, https://web.archive.org/web/20190111133519/https://www.janes.com/article/85647/df-26-tels-sighted-at-new-plarf-training-facility.
- Kristensen and Korda 2020, 449.