China/U.S. Designation DF-3/CSS-2
Missile Variants DF-3A
Mobility and Role Silo-based/Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile
Designer/Producer People’s Republic of China
Range 3,000km
Warhead Type and Weight Nuclear or Conventional/2000kg
MIRV and Yield No MIRV capability/700kt
Guidance System/Accuracy Inertial/1,000-4,000m CEP
Stages/Propellant Single/Liquid
IOC/Retirement 1971/Still operational
Status/Number of Units Operational/ N/A


Designed to be China’s first modern missile, the DF-3 carries a range of up to 3,000km and was deemed operational in 1971. The silo-based, single-stage, IRBM uses a liquid propellant and an inertial guidance system.[i] The DF-3, and its improved variant the DF-3A, have largely been replaced by the DF-21 and only a minimal number of DF-3 missiles are suspected to exist today. Many outmoded DF-3 missiles have been outsourced to Saudi Arabia as well.

The DF-3A is an upgraded variant of the DF-3 that became operational in August 1988. Like the DF-3, the DF-3A lacks significant road-mobile capabilities however it is deployed using a towed launcher. The improved missile possesses a range of up to 4,000km and a more accurate guidance system than the DF-3. Both missiles share the same propellants, diameter, and burn time, however the DF-3A has an improved version of the YF-2 engine.[ii]

Strategic Implications

As China’s first missile with the ability to reach U.S. basing in the First Island Chain, the IRBM provided China with many new striking capabilities and opportunities. The DF-3 also granted China the power to successfully launch space vehicles and satellites such as the CSL-1 and the CZ-1.[iii] Establishing China as a force to be reckoned with in regards to ballistic missiles, the DF-3 and the DF-3A proved that China possesses the technological capacity to produce IRBMs and granted China the chance to expand their A2/AD range. This also paved the way for many of China’s advances in ballistic missiles such as the D-21 and its several variants.[iv]


[i] http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-PLA-Ballistic-Missiles.html#mozTocId62206

[ii] http://www.b14643.de/Spacerockets/Specials/DF-3/index.htm

[iii] https://fas.org/nuke/guide/china/theater/df-3a.htm

[iv] http://www.deagel.com/Ballistic-Missiles/DF-3_a002120001.aspx

Missile Threat and Proliferation


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