Catherine DillOpen Silos

As many of you know, the latest annual China Military Power Report produced by the U.S. Department of Defense for Congress came out last week. The reports contains quite a few interesting tidbits, but I spotted one thing that really stood out against the backdrop of expected developments and progress in China’s missile programs.

In addition to noting that China generally is “enhancing its silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs),” this year’s report in particular had a fascinating nugget on basing options for the the DF-41 ICBM (aka CSS-X-20).

“Development of the CSS-X-20 (DF-41), a new MIRV-capable and road-mobile ICBM, continued in 2017. China appears to be considering additional DF-41 launch options, including rail-mobile and silo basing.”

This appears to be the first official confirmation of a potential silo basing option for this missile system that I can recall. Naturally, I proceeded to spend a bit of time poking around in imagery of DF-41 bases provided by Planet Labs, and lo and behold, there is a new silo at Wuzhai. And back in March a Planet Labs Skysat just happened to capture it while it was open. The site does not yet appear operational for testing.

Wuzhai is where China tests multiple missile systems in various basing modes, including the DF-41. We would expect to see evidence of experimental basing modes, including the silo option, at Wuzhai.

The silo, potentially for the DF-41, is located at 38.888740°, 111.597570°. © 2018 Planet Labs, inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

This beautiful image from 24 March 2018 seems to confirm that China indeed may be considering a silo-basing option for the DF-41. The question of why China may be considering this option is a little less visible and whether China intends to use it as a model for future deployments elsewhere in addition to experimental testing.

Historical imagery in Google Earth indicates that construction began around 2013 and continued in earnest through 2014.

In an image available in Google Earth from 14 February 2017, a building shrouds the silo, presumably to cover the the construction site. Work on the silo appears to have been completed in late 2017.

It is very rare to get imagery of an open silo in commercial satellite imagery, especially in China (I can think of only two other instances, but I am happy to hear of any others in the comments!).


  1. (History)

    Pretty neat they caught it open.