DF-1 / Project 1059

The Dong Feng 1 (DF-1), or “1059” in its military code name, was a Chinese copy of the Soviet R-2 (NATO designation: SS-2 ‘Sibling’). It was a single-stage, liquid-propellant, short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) developed from the German V-2 technology. The DF-1/”1059” was China’s first indigenously-built ballistic missile, but it did not enter operational service.

Development History

The development of the first Chinese ballistic missile began at the Fifth Academy in August 1958. Initially two projects were being run in parallel: a reverse-engineered version of the R-2 known as “1059”, and a more advanced medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) designated Dong Feng-1. However, it soon became clear that the MRBM was well beyond the technical capability of the inexperienced Chinese engineers. The Dong Feng-1 project was eventually abandoned and its designation was later given to the “1059” missile.

Under the 1957 agreement, the Soviet Union agreed to transfer its R-2 short-range ballistic missile technology to China. First flying in 1949, the R-2 had considerable technical advantage over its predecessor R-1, including a greater range and a larger payload. However, the missile was not nuclear-armed and its 590 km range was not enough to reach U.S. military bases in Japan when launched from China mainland.

By then, the Soviet Union had already successfully tested the 8,000 km range R-7 (SS-6 ‘Sapwood’) ICBM and used it to launch the world’s first artificial Earth satellite Sputnik-1 into orbit. However, as a rule Moscow only allowed the transfer of weapon technologies that had been retired from active services.

The Soviet Union delivered two R-2 missiles and their associated ground equipment by railway to China in December 1957. Transfer of the R-2 technology took place throughout 1958, including six more missiles and 10,151 volumes of blueprints and design documents. Soviet advisers arrived in China in August 1958 to direct the missile development and the construction of missile R&D and test facilities. Construction of a rocket test range also began under Soviet supervision in the Gobi Desert in northwest China.

The Chinese missile and rocketry programme saw some significant expansion between 1958 and 1959. The Fifth Academy received over 3,000 active-duty military officers and technical staff, and thousands of college graduates from across the country. Thousands of more decommissioned servicemen were assigned to work for programme. In addition, over 15,000 military and civilian labours were involved in the construction of missile R&D facilities.

The engineering development of the “1059” missile was carried out in a small aircraft maintenance factory (211 Plant) in the south suburb of Beijing. The development encountered numerous technical hurdles, including a lack of necessary materials and machinery. These problems, coupled with an inexperienced workforce, resulted in poor quality in the fabrication of the missile in the early phase of the project.

The situation was made worse by the rapidly cooling relations between Beijing and Moscow, which led to delays in receiving special alloys, rubbers, electronic components, and liquid oxygen propellant from the Soviet Union. As a result, Chinese engineers had to source locally produced alternatives.

The missile development was also impacted by China’s internal political turmoil. The Great Leap Forward, a failed campaign launched in 1958 by the Chinese leader Mao Zedong for a rapid industrialisation and social transformation, led to catastrophic hardship and widespread famine across the countryside. Even the engineers of the Fifth Academy suffered from malnutrition and Marshall Nie Rongzhen who headed the programme had to intervene personally to ensure that the staff on the missile programme was allocated with enough military rations.

By early 1959, the “1059” development was already significant behind schedule for the first test launch in October 1959. As a result, adjustments were made to the development, including the appointment of a Chief Designer to coordinate the development between different participants, and the postpone of the first missile test date by 12 months to late 1960. 

By the Summer of 1960, the ideological disputes between Moscow and Beijing had escalated into heated public debates and exchange of accusations. The Soviet leadership decided in August 1960 to suspend all transfer of nuclear and missile technologies to China, and recalled the Soviet advisers working on the Chinese strategic weapon programme. Despite the disruptions caused by the withdrawn of Soviet support, China continued with its missile development independently.

The last technological hurdle was conquered in late August, when a Chinese factory produced liquid oxygen that met the purity requirement for being used as rocket propellant. On 10 September 1960, a Soviet-made R-2 missile fuelled with Chinese-made propellant was successfully tested from the Northwest Missile Range (Base 20). On 17 October 1960, the Chinese-made liquid engine successfully passed the 90-second burn test.

Three Chinese-made “1059” missiles (two operational missiles and a telemetry missile) were delivered to the missile range on 19 October 1960. At 09:00 local time on 5 November, a “1059” missile was fired from Base 20 and the missile’s warhead hit the targeted impact zone 550 km away. This was followed by two more successful tests on 6 and 16 December 1960, marking the successful conclusion of the “1059” missile development.

Chinese crew preparing the “1059” missile
DF-1 / “1059” short-range ballistic missile


The DF-1 was a single-stage rocket powered by a 5D62 liquid rocket engine burning a bi-propellant with alcohol fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) as oxidiser. The engine had a sea-level thrust of 38,000 kgf, an Isp of 214 seconds, and a burn time of 90 seconds. The engine was developed by the Liquid Rocket Engine Institute of the Fifth Academy, 211 Factory (Missile Assembly Plant), and the 5th Subsidiary Factory of Shenyang Liming Aero-Engine Factory.

The missile was 17.7 m in length and 1.65 m in diameter, with four trapezoidal-shape stabilising fins attached to the bottom. The rocket had a launch weight of 20,500 kgf, and a take-off thrust of 37,000 kgf. The maximum flight range was 590 km. The missile was transported on a truck-towed wheeled trailer, which also served as the launch platform during the missile launch.

The missile was designed to carry a single high-explosive (HE) warhead, though no combat warhead had ever been developed. The missile used an inertial guidance coupled with remote radio mid-course lateral correction. The later required a large antenna array to be deployed on both sides of the launch site, making the missile system highly vulnerable in the battlefield.


Overall length (m):........17.7
Wingspan (m):..............N/A
Core stage diameter (m):...1.65
Take-off mass (kg):........20,500
Take-off thrust (t):.......37
Thrust-weight ratio:.......1.80
Maximum range (km):........590
Payload:...................Single HE
Propellant:................Liquid (LOX/Alcohol)
Guidance:..................Inertial + radio

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Freelance reporter and writer. Chinese military and space programme observer. Editor and publisher of SinoDefence.com and ChinaSpaceReport.com

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