Jeffrey LewisChina's Incredible Shrinking Missile

I was pleased to be quoted in a recent edition of The Economist (“Out of their silos,” June 8, 2006) saying “Chinese leaders are less worried about a pre-emptive strike by the Americans than about an accidental or unauthorised launch by a junior commander of the new missiles.”

I was a little baffled, however, by the splashy graphic that suggested China’s lone ICBM, the DF-5 (CSS-4), could reach only the West Coast of the United States (see above).

The Economist doesn’t usually make mistakes like that and, sure enough, the range depicted (8,460 km) is precisely the estimate in the two most recent editions of Chinese Military Power.

Every other official US document lists the range of the CSS-4 as around 12,000 km including all four editions of Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat (NASIC, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006), two editions of Proliferation: Threat and Response (DOD, 1997, 2001) and the Cox Report (1999).

Bob Walpole, NIO for Strategic Programs, testified that “China’s current force of about 20 CSS–4 ICBMs can reach targets in all of the United States.” [Emphasis added]

If I had to guess, somebody at DOD just forgot to convert from miles to kilometers.


  1. Stephen Young (History)

    Ah, but you are off by 1,000.

    12,000 kms is 7,456 miles, not 8,460.

    At least, that’s what Google tells me.

  2. Jeffrey Lewis

    Er, yeah, I meant 13,000 km or 8,000 miles —with the Cox Report being a little shorter than NASIC or DOD.

  3. davesgonechina (History)

    Any possibility it’s not a conversion error, but instead a false number that won’t fade away. Yknow, like the 2,000 Chinese front companies number you’ve previously debunked?

  4. Scott Morrissey (History)

    I also saw something along these lines at Defense News:

    The guy not only cuts the DF-5’s range short at 5,200 miles (8,368 kilometers) that ”…can hit most of Europe and Australia, and the western United States,” but he’s pulling fire alarms saying that the DF-31A ”…will have a range of 7,000 miles, making it the first Chinese ICBM that could hit Washington, D.C., Paris or Madrid.”

    Given that the intercontinental DF-5 has been around since 1981, I’m thinking the China Threateners could benefit from a little preliminary research before they start shouting fire.