China is developing a new long-range version of the DF-31 intercontinental ballistic missile, known as the DF-31A.


US sources say the DF-31A will have enough range to cover the continental USA from bases in China, whereas the 8,000km (4,300nm)-range DF-31 can only reach the western seaboard and some north-western states.

A picture of the new transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) shows that the new missile is longer and wider than the three-stage DF-31, first revealed in China's October 1999 military parade.

The DF-31A probably uses the same cold-launch technique as the DF-31. A cold launch ejects the missile from its canister before the rocket motor is fired.

Unlike the DF-31, which uses a truck-based TEL, the DF-31Auses a Chinese copy of the Minsk Automotive Factory MAZ 547V 12-wheel all-terrain truck used for the Russian SS-16 and SS-20 intermediate range missiles. US spy satellites first observed a MAZ547V near a Chinese missile factory in 1996.

Its delivery gives China access to the Soviet-developed missile transporter suspension technology, required because even a hairline crack in a solid-fuel motor would result in a launch failure.

China is believed to be pushing ahead with the DF-31A for three main reasons. Firstly, the Chinese leadership is seeking a weapon system more survivable than the liquid-fuelled DF-5 ICBM, which is vulnerable because it is fired from fixed bases.

Secondly, it is thought the DF-41, which is intended to replace the DF-5 towards the end of this decade, is suffering development problems. Thirdly, the move will allow a more rapid build-up ofthe ICBM force as the USA promotes its National Missile Defense programme.

Source: Flight International