In my forthcoming book, one of the little nagging questions I couldn’t answer was why the DF-31 solid-fueled ICBM (IRBM, harumph) was taking so damn long. I said: “In 1996, NAIC predicted CSS‐X‐10 (DF‐31) deployment ‘about the turn of the century.’ Since the missile remains to be deployed, the program may be under‐funded or experiencing technical problems.”

The Robot Economist, observing that the failed ASAT tests used a DF-31 derived launcher unlike the successful test, comes down pretty convincingly in favor of the latter:

There were apparently three failed tests prior to this one using the unproven Kaitouzhe-1 space launch vehicle as the kill vehicle. The many of the key components for the Kaitouzhe are based on the new road-mobile DF-31 ICBM, which has had its share of problems, including some failed test launches back in 2002.

The Chinese decision to abandon newer Kaitouzhe design in favor of the twenty year-old DF-21 looks like a significant vote of no confidence in the DF-31 to me.

I wasn’t aware that the booster for the previous tests had been unsuccessful, but if Robot Economist is right … that explains why the DF-31 remains to be deployed.

In Minimum Means of Reprisal, I mentioned in passing some of the potential problems observed by the U.S. intelligence community in China’s pursuit of a mobile ICBM:

The CSS‐X‐10 (DF‐31) reportedly incorporates many advanced technologies similar to current generation Russian missiles: upgraded mobility for the transporter‐erector‐launcher, advanced materials for the booster and payload, use of penetration aids such as decoys or chaff, and an improved solid propellant. These technologies were “presenting Chinese designers with substantial challenges.”

[Citing: Chinese ICBM Capability Steadily Increasing, NAIC-1030-098B-96 (Washington, DC: National Air Intelligence Center, November 1996) republished in Bill Gertz, Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security (Washington, DC: Regenry Publishing, 1999), p. 253]