This article is published with kind permission of “Chinese Defence Today — sinodefence.com”.
First-Generation Nuclear Warheads:
1,000~3,000kT yield warhead for DF‑3 MRBM and DF‑4 IRBM (bottom, back),
and 3,000~5,000kT yield warhead for the DF‑5 ICBM (bottom, front)
(Source: Chinese Internet)
First-Generation Nuclear Warheads
China began its preliminary studies on the nuclear warhead technology even before its first atomic bomb test. Three years after China’s first nuclear test, the first missile-delivered atomic warhead was successfully tested in October 1966. Chinese leadership also decided that the missile-delivered nuclear warheads should be the primary weapon for China’s future nuclear strike capability, with the air-dropped nuclear bomb being secondary.
In 1964, China began to develop an operational nuclear warhead based on the design of China’s first atomic bomb for the DF‑2 (CSS‑1) medium-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile. The primary development targets were to reduce the weight and size of the bomb and enhance its structure for missile launch and flight.
Beijing Nuclear Weapon Research Institute began to develop a nuclear warhead safety, arming, fusing and firing (SAFF) system in the mid-1960s. The system would make sure the warhead is not detonated by accident during the its lifetime and explodes when delivered to target. The system received extensive non-nuclear explosion tests and flight tests on the missile during its development. The institute also conducted various tests on the nuclear SAFF system including simulated fire and falling from height. The test results ensured that the warhead could not be detonated by accident before it is armed.
China launched a DF‑2 missile from the Shuang Cheng Tzu missile test base on 7 October 1966 to examine the reliability of the missile’s self-destruction mechanism. The missile was successfully destructed under the ground command. Between 13 and 16 October, another two ‘cold tests’ (missile carrying simulated warheads) were carried out as the final tests before the “hot test” with a live nuclear warhead.
On 27 October 1966, a DF‑2 missile carrying a single atomic warhead was launched from the Shuang Cheng Tzu base at 09:00 local time. At 09:09 the missile reached the Lop Nor nuclear test site in Xinjiang and successfully detonated at 569 metres above the ground surface. The successful test of the first missile delivered nuclear warhead marked the Chinese nuclear weapon programme had reached operational weapon deployment phase. Batch production of the nuclear warhead for the DF‑2 missile began in 1968.
Development of the first-generation hydrogen (thermal nuclear) warheads began in 1967, with the motto, “small size, quick maneuverability, great penetrability, improved safety, and high reliability.” After a slow start due to the impact of the ‘Culture Revolution’, the warheads entered full-scale development in 1973. By the later 1970s, China had successfully developed two types of hydrogen warheads for its strategic missiles.
The DF‑3 MRBM and the DF‑4 IRBM are capable of carrying a single 2,200kg mass, 1,000~3,000kT-yield warhead. The DF‑5 ICBM is capable of carrying a single 3,200kg mass, 3,000~5,000kT-yield warhead.