Tuesday was National Day in China, which marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Like all authoritarian regimes the ruling Chinese Communist Party loves a good giant celebration of state power to remind everyone who is in charge, and the parade featured plenty of new weapons and technology. Here’s your Foxtrot Alpha guide to the most interesting new equipment spotted during Beijing’s parade.
First off, here’s a link to the entirety of the parade, which CGTN broadcast live to the world via YouTube.
If you watch the segments before and after the parade keep in mind CGTN is official Chinese state media, so whatever you hear from commentators, news anchors, and guests will all pretty much parrot the Chinese Communist Party line. The most basic facts are help; the rest is not.
According to Chinese state television, approximately 40 percent of the hardware on display had never been seen in public before. Much of the equipment observed during the parade had been guessed at, observed from a distance during testing, or seen in satellite photographs.
The first thing that happened was President Xi Jinping jumped in his armored limousine and reviewed the troops. Xi stood in the sunroof, rolling past the rows of thousands of People’s Liberation Army troops and their varied equipment. Xi drove the length of the military portion of the parade, reached the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles at the end, and then circled back to take his place in the reviewing stand. The rest of the parade, including extravagant floats that celebrated Chairman Mao and the various provinces of China, were ignored.
The weather was hazy in Beijing, which still suffers from bad air pollution despite government attempts to fix it.
According to CGTN commentary four generals, two lieutenant generals, over one hundred major generals, and nearly 15,000 officers and enlisted participated in the parade, which drew on all elements of the People’s Liberation Army: the PLA Ground Forces (Army), People’s Liberation Army Navy, People’s Liberation Army Air Force, People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (missiles and cruise missiles), and the People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps.
The People’s Armed Police, China’s paramilitary law enforcement, also took part. The PAP Is not an insignificant force: China spends more on internal security than externally-focused national defense.
First up were the tanks. The PLA Ground Forces brought 22 Type 99A main battle tanks to the parade, all decked out in tan digital camouflage. The Type 99A features a 125-millimeter gun, a 1,500 horsepower engine, advanced composite armor and modular reactive armor tiles, which appears to be belly armor for protection from improvised explosive devices, and a commander’s independent thermal viewer. No real surprises here.
Next was about a dozen Type 15 light tanks. A new tank, the Type 15 is designed to operate in mountainous and rugged regions, where larger main battle tanks might be too heavy to cross bridges or wide to travel narrow mountain roads. The U.S. Army is also looking into fielding a new light tank with its new Mobile Protected Firepower program.
From there the action shifted to the Chinese Marine Corps. The PLANMC showed off rows of ZBD-05 amphibious infantry fighting vehicles. The boat-like bow allows it to swim in the water, and once ashore it can disgorge eight marine riflemen riding in the rear. Fire support is provided by the 105-millimeter gun in the turret. The ZBD-05 is just the sort of vehicle that would lead an invasion of Taiwan.
PLA airborne troops showed off their ZBD-03 airborne infantry fighting vehicles. Small, lightly armored and designed to be airdropped, the ZBD-03 is at least inspired by the Russian BMD airborne fighting vehicle. The Chinese vehicle is armed with a 30-millimeter autocannon and an anti-tank missile apparently based on the Soviet 1960s-era AT-3 Sagger. Airborne vehicles like this allow troops to move quickly off the drop zone and seize their objectives.
Wrapping up ground forces are China’s oddball vehicles. The first, a 6x6 all-terrain vehicle appears to carry four PLA soldiers. It is equipped with an armored windshield and a 12.7-millimeter heavy machine gun. It may also have propellers or waterjets to navigate swampy areas.
Another unusual vehicle is the “Hunting Eagle” autogyro. Like something of a James Bond film, the autogyro is used for patrolling remote areas with poor roads. Hunting Eagle can carry two soldiers and is quite likely a ripoff of German autogyro maker MTO’s aircraft.
China does have odd military vehicles, but it does have a lot of difficult terrain without a lot of road infrastructure. The result is a lot of mountains, deserts, swamps and other hostile terrain to patrol. Eventually these sorts of vehicles will be replaced by unmanned vehicles, but for now, the PLA does have some strange stuff.
Finally, the People’s Armed Police appeared with stretched 4x4 wheeled armored personnel carriers... armed 12.7-millimeter heavy machine guns. Why would police need heavy machine guns? Great question.
Naval forces were under-represented In the parade, despite China’s emphasis on naval power. It’s not like you can haul a guided-missile destroyer across Beijing. If you could, the Chinese Navy probably would have done it.
Instead of ships, China showed off a variety of naval weapons. Above are YJ-18A anti-ship cruise missiles. The YJ-18 series are launched from ships and submarines. The missiles have a range of 290 nautical miles and fly at about 600 miles an hour. Once within 20 miles of the target, the missiles kick into overdrive, accelerating to Mach 3, to give enemy defenses minimal time to intercept. That’s a capability U.S. missiles do not have.
Most of the ship-based weapons, unless they carry nuclear weapons, are not all that interesting. This, however, was: a shipboard close-in weapon system similar to the American Phalanx or European Goalkeeper. Unlike the six or seven-barred western weapons this weapon has an amazing eleven barrels.
If a six-barrel Phalanx has a rate of fire of 3,000 rounds per minute and a seven-barrel Goalkeeper can shoot 4,000 rounds a minute, this Chinese weapon... well, it can shoot a lot. It’s not clear why the Chinese gun needs nearly twice as many barrels as its Western counterparts.
This Is the DR-8 supersonic drone. The DR-8 is thought to serve with the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Forces, providing targeting data and post-strike followup for ballistic missiles. It’s thought to be particularly aimed at helping target U.S. aircraft carriers with anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), as well as assessing the damage done by ASBM strikes.
Next is the Gongji-11, or GJ-11 “Sharp Sword” unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). Unlike the Predator and Reaper drones, the GJ-11 Is designed for high-intensity warfare, with a stealthy design to mask it from enemy air defense radars. The GJ-11 likely has an internal bay to carry weapons, fuel, and additional sensors.
According to Chinese officials, “All weapons on display in the parade are in active service.” If that’s true, China beat the United States in fielding a UCAV.
This is something you don’t see every day: a sea of hypersonic missiles. The DF-17 hypersonic missile appeared for the first time in the parade and is the first hypersonic weapon system in service with any country. In other words, if all of these weapons really are operational, China beat America again.
The DF-17 is a “boost-glide” weapon: A rocket booster accelerates the missile upward to gain altitude, then separates and the hypersonic glide vehicle separates. The HGV (the front half of the weapon with the fins) then glides to target at speeds in excess of Mach 5. The benefit of hypersonic weapons is that they reach their targets much faster, flummoxing enemy defenses.
Another sea weapon that made it to the parade is the Ju Lang-2, or JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile. Twelve JL-12s were featured in the parade, each in a transportation canister.
Each missile, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, carries a one-megaton thermonuclear warhead or 3-8 smaller warheads. The missile has a range of 4,970 miles to 5,592 miles. That’s not quite far enough to reach the continental United States, but it could hit Hawaii and Alaska. It also won’t be the last Chinese submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Last but not least is the most powerful weapon in the parade: the DF-41 mobile intercontinental ballistic missile. The DF-41 can carry a single one-megaton thermonuclear warhead or up to ten smaller warheads. The DF-41 is designed to travel by road or rail, eluding enemy missile hunting forces. The missile has an estimated range of around 7,456 miles to 9,320 miles. The former number can strike nearly the entire United States while the latter can strike anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
One thing readers might have noticed: all of the missile names are not only on the side of missiles they’re in English, not Chinese. That’s because the real audience for this parade doesn’t understand Chinese.
It is hard to look at this parade and not think that China is advancing on the U.S. in fielding key weapon systems, if not beating America outright in some ways. The U.S. was flying UCAV combat drones as early as 2013, but then stopped flying them entirely. The U.S. was also an early researcher into hypersonic weapons, flying them un the mid-2000s, but again stopped testing. The first American high-intensity combat drone to fly will be an aerial refueling tanker, and won’t enter service until 2024. The U.S. is now playing catch up to Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons research, with no less than five weapons in development. It could have easily beaten the DF-17 to the field.
Don’t expect China to slow down with this kind of thing anytime soon.