Jeffrey LewisSix DF-31s?

The Economist (sorry, no bylines) states that China “is deploying six road-mobile, solid-fueled (which means quick to launch) intercontinental DF-31s …”

The Economist does not provide a citation, but six is an interesting number. (I don’t think it is from IISS, which has recently said eight—although perhaps the most recent edition has revised the estimate.)

Given the 3-3 system that that the Second Artillery uses from some launch units—“a missile brigade has three subordinate launch battalions, each of which has three subordinate launch companies …”—we would expect China to add missiles in sets of nine. For more on the structure of the PLA, I recommend the source of my description of the Second Artillery 3-3 system. Kenneth Allen and Maryanne Kivlehan-Wise, Implementing PLA Second Artillery Doctrinal Reforms.

I wonder if the DF-31 deployment process will look like the DF-21 process, where the first units went into the field in the early 1990s, but testing continued and deployments did not pick up speed until several years later.


  1. Allen Thomson (History)

    Not to get all Hegelian or Engelian or Leninist, but when does the quantity of DF-31s deployed start making a qualitative difference in what things China’s ICBM force can do?

    I’d think that even six DF-31, if deployed, mobile and with warheads mated would be a qualitatively different thing than the ~24 not-ready-to-go older missiles we seem to think they now have.

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    The deployment is qualitatively different—if the The Economist is correct, of course.

    I just note that six is not a full brigade.

  3. Allen Thomson (History)

    Is there any information, even indirect, as to what the DF-31 garrisoning and deployment arrangements are going to be?

  4. ABC (History)

    Dr. Lewis,

    Since China is “legally” within NPT and doesn’t proliferate, what difference does it make how many DF-31s they may aim at the US?

    Westinghouse is ready to provide 4 large scale reactors to China which will then in turn help them to make larger reactors and of course they won’t proliferate technology to rogue regimes.

    But heavens forbid any such deal with India that is “outside” of the NPT and wants to be a friend of the US.

  5. Dylan

    Just FYI, the 2007 edition of IISS Military Balance on my bookshelf does say ‘circa six DF-31’.

  6. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Ah, that’s interesting.

    So, IISS dropped its estimate from 8.

    Wonder if that is the source.

  7. None (History)

    Why do I get this feeling that counting DF-31s is reminiscent of counting the number of Battleships everyone is building in the 1920s?

    Yes, nuclear weapons are still important, but aren’t unregulated, little understood weapons technologies, e.g. bio weapons made possible by the manipulation of genetic materials, technologies that can selectively alter / damage / poison ecosystems, psycoactive compounds and other means that can affect the psyche of the enemy, etc. far more dangerous than a few DF-31s that will probably never be used in our lifetime?

    Would it be an idea to start some postings on new and emerging technologies, its implications for war if it is not controlled, and how an early effort to control such technologies might prevent their emergence and widespread use during a future conflict?