DF-17 Chinese Hypersonic Threat

For understanding our Enemy we need to know its strengths, and when the world is rushing towards Hypersonic weapons, let’s see how much “DF-17” Chinese Hypersonic missile poses the Threat to India.

Starting with basics, DF means actually Dongfeng which means East Wind. The missiles were shown off by China on October 1, 2019, in PLA’s parade in Beijing. They showed 18 of these truck-mounted missiles. This actually sent a message that actually China is ready for Hypersonic Warfare.

Starting with the point that, most of the time when PLA shows something in its parade it means that the particular weapon is already in the arsenal. Here, we will discuss this weapon in much possible detail and try to analyze its impact. For those who don’t know, China is actually 2nd for making Successful Hypersonic weapons after Russia.

Understanding the DF-17

DF-17 is mounted on a mobile launcher so that it can be carried to a particular destination and can be launched easily. Regarding the Range, it is said to have a range of 1800 km to 2500 km. It has a solid-fuel rocket booster which will make read the head to hypersonic speed. The mass is said to be around 15T and the diameter is said to be around 11 meters.

According to the US, it has a thermonuclear weapon but many believe that is a conventional weapon. But one who knows missiles knows that a conventional warhead can be changed to a nuclear one with some tweaks. It is something like the Pinaka Rocket system of India. Everyone knows its conventional, but everyone fears as when push comes to shove, it can be equipped with a nuclear warhead and be converted to Tactical Nuke. One of the major advantages of this DF-17 is that it’s actually ballistic, so it can reach much greater speeds during re-entry.

Going on basic, it is actually a modified version of DF-16B missile, and the head is of DF-ZF. DF-ZF is the Hypersonic Glide vehicle, similar to something of Indian HSTDV. Let’s understand both of these as well.


It’s an extended version of DF-15, which is a Medium-range Ballistic Missile. The accuracy of DF-16 is told 5-10 meters. Since its extended version of DF-15, it can go to higher altitudes and do the re-entry process, gaining more kinetic energy.


For easy understanding, here I would say that it is similar to HSTDV. The prime difference of DF-ZF is that it’s Highly Maneuverable. Which means it can take really sharp turns at hypersonic speed.


Understand this here, first of all, glide vehicle is small, so they are hard to detect. Second is they are at hypersonic speeds, so it is really hard to get a location on normal radars. And last but not least, this one is maneuverable, which means that one will hardly detect it in the last stage. And it would seconds before it hits, so it is almost un-interceptable. The main reason is the unpredictability of the path.

The DF-ZF is tested 7 times actually, all of them were successful. Then it was made operational. It is said that the Vehicle can reach speeds from 5 Mach to 10 Mach. Chinese have also claimed a speed of 20 Mach at times. Since it is a glide vehicle, it will no have direct reentry like conventional missiles, it will glide over the path, reducing detectability and increasing the range of attack.

Together they formed DF-17

The DF-ZF was mounted on DF-16B version and Resultant was Voila, The DF-17 missile. Sources confirm about 9 test of this missile is already done. In the last test of 2017, the missile covered the Range of 1400 km, and then the vehicle glided at an altitude of 60kms. So, DF-17 will work with a solid booster of DF-16B and reach the outer atmosphere. From there, DF-ZF will be released and will glide maneuvering at high altitudes, thus avoiding detection. In the end, Striking the target.

The threat arises when the range can be also extended. The same DF-ZF can also be mounted of DF-21 which has a range of 2000-3000 km and is MRBM. And also can be fitted on DF-31 which has a range of 8000-12000 km and is an ICBM.

Latest News

According to South China Morning Post, it was said by an anonymous military source as saying that China’s most advanced hypersonic missile, the DF-17, is being deployed to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) bases in the provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, which sit right across from Taiwan.

The thing here to note is, if it can be deployed in Taiwan, then what would stop China from Deploying them in India.

Possible Impact on India

The speed is hypersonic and at the same time has the ability to maneuver in an unpredictable way. This can help them to easily enter enemy defensive targets. The glide vehicle can fly in the upper atmosphere and stay much out of enemy defense to avoid detection. And also can come at a much lower level, and keep maneuvering whenever the missile is fired and going out of the escape zone. It also has a capability that, If the initial attack fails it can even re-engage the target. Glide vehicles can descend to a very low altitude just before reaching its target. Making it hard to detect and intercept and further improves resistance to air defense systems.

For normal conventional interceptor missiles have difficulty against maneuvering targets traveling faster than Mach 5. Again harder to intercept as well. USA and India are also developing hypersonic glide vehicles that can overcome advanced air defense systems. The first US production systems could appear only in 2023. 

As said it is already aimed at Taiwan. With the current stand-off on LAC, Since it is on Mobile Launcher it can be even deployed in the span of a day. Given the capabilities of manufacturing, China is much forward in that. It is said it can even sink an aircraft carrier with 8 such Missiles and a group of missiles can even destroy the airfields.

Consider a scenario where DF-ZF is fired from DF-21. Well, our ships and our carrier can be destroyed. Along with the worst thing is there is no defense measure for this. Railgun and Directed Energy weapons and could be used. Any military does not actually work a prototype of either of these technologies.


Conclusion comes to a famous saying

First bullet was invented and then the vest was invented.

This shows that there might a way to destroy them in the future. But this is definitely a threat to India at the current date. This technology is currently with Russia and China. Such is the technology that even if the same missile is fired on them, then they could not even destroy it. This means they themselves don’t have a defensive measure of it.

India has 2 ways here, either it has to make its own glide vehicle as soon as possible or set up a Directed-energy weapon. DRDO is working on both India HSTDV and one of the secret project KALI laser or any other laser weapons. Let’s see which one of these will be operational soon to counter this.

KALI – 5000

Nirav Kotak

A Mechanical Engineer and a Defense Enthusiast wanting to share knowledge and learn more from others as well.

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