China Hits The Road
April 11, 2008: Highway construction in China's west (Qinghai province) indicates preparations are being made for the deployment of the DF31A ICBM. This is China's first solid fuel ICBM (with a range of about 8,000 kilometers) and roughly equivalent to the U.S. Minuteman I of the 1960s. The DF-31 weighs about 46 tons and is 60 feet long and 7 feet in diameter. It was designed for use on submarines, land silos and mobile launchers (which would halt at those "parking lots in the middle of nowhere" visible in satellite pictures of Qinghai province). The DF31 has been shown stored in a TEL (transporter, erector, launcher) vehicle. Driving these vehicles along all those new highways in Qinghai province would provide more protection from counterattacks, than using a reinforced silo.
The DF-31 has been in development for nearly twenty years, and only had its first successful launch nine years ago. It's now believed to have a reliable and accurate guidance system, as well as a third stage that carries three 50 kiloton warheads. Only about a dozen DF31s are in service.
When the Chinese get a SSBN (ballistic missile carrying nuclear sub) operational, the submarine version of the DF31 would be able to cover the entire United States. But the basic land based models can only hit North American targets west of the Rocky mountains. A new version of the DF31, uses the first two stages of the DF31, and a larger third stage. This missile, referred to as the DF31A, has a range of 10,000 kilometers, and can thus cover most of the United States. The DF31A is still in development.