DN - Defence Notes

PLA celebrates anniversary with new kit

31st July 2017 - 08:07 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Hong Kong

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China celebrated the 90th anniversary of the formation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with a massive military parade at the Zhurihe Combined Tactics Training Centre in Inner Mongolia on 30 July.

The parade at the remote 1,066km² training area, located 400km northwest of Beijing, featured 12,000 personnel, 129 aircraft and 571 vehicles. It was held here rather than the streets of Beijing to show the PLA’s ‘combat capacity’, according to official commentary.

Chinese authorities claimed 40% of the equipment on display was being shown to the public for the first time – despite the fact that no members of the public were invited to watch the parade. After watching footage of the full parade, Shephards analysis concurs with this claim, finding nearly 30 pieces of equipment that have not been shown before in PLA markings.

Perhaps the greatest surprise to most pundits was the DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). 

Sixteen units participated in the parade, following eight of the DF-31A ICBM. The DF-31AG is mounted on an eight-axle transport-erector-launcher (TEL), giving it far greater cross-country mobility than its road-bound truck/trailer predecessor. This added mobility will make the DF-31AG harder to track and target by an enemy.

A scale model of the DF-31AG was displayed at a Beijing Military Museum exhibition earlier this month. The DF-31AG could have a longer range, about 11,000km, but it is unclear what other modifications it may feature. Analysts are arguing over whether it could a single or multiple nuclear warheads.

Other missiles present in the parade were the DF-26 (x16 examples), DF-21D (x16) and DF-16G (x16). The latter, carried by a 10x10 TEL, is a medium-range ballistic missile boasting a conventional warhead capable of high accuracy and which requires only a short time for preparations. How it has been improved from the DF-16, which has an 800-1,000km range, is as yet unclear, but commentators said it was designed to target infrastructure such as airfields and ports.

Another new item shown was the ASN-301 unmanned aerial vehicle, a direct copy of the Israeli-designed Harpyanti-radiation UAV. 

The flying munition's top speed is listed as 220km/h. The ASN-301 can loiter in the air for up to four hours and target enemy radars up to 280km away. Six such weapons can be carried on a 6x6 truck chassis.

Mounted on an 8x8 truck, the HQ-22 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system actually debuted at the Zhuhai Air Show 2016. Able to intercept aircraft and cruise missiles at ranges of up to 170km and a maximum altitude of 27km, the HQ-22 will help replace obsolete SAMs like the HQ-2. 

The HQ-9B SAM, an upgrade of China’s copy of the Russian S-300 platform and able to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, also debuted at last year’s air show in Zhuhai. Its estimated range is 250km.

Exhibited also was the YJ-83K air-launched long-range anti-ship missile designed to sink medium and large enemy ships. Newer were the YJ-12A anti-ship missiles that paraded past on the back of a truck, plus the updated YJ-62A coastal anti-ship missile on an 8x8 TEL was shown. The latter is predicted to have a range of 400km.

Other new ground equipment shown in Zhurihe included various Dongfeng EQ2050- and truck-based electronic warfare vehicles, as well as a plethora of new variants of the Type 09 8x8 armoured vehicle. The latter included a repair/fitters vehicle, bridge-layer, armoured engineer vehicle and what appeared to be a nuclear, biological and chemical variant.

Special forces rode past in 30 Lynx 8x8 all-terrain vehicles mounting a heavy machine gun. A couple of types of as-yet unidentified 4x4 armoured light reconnaissance vehicles also appeared in the formation.

Overhead, three J-20 stealth fighters led the aerial formation, followed by H-6K bombers and Y-20 transport aircraft. However, these have been seen in public before, although the J-20 only entered PLA Air Force service in March. 

New in terms of aircraft were the J-16 fighter and J-10C fighter. The J-16, an improvement over the earlier J-11B, is based on the Su-30MK2. Meanwhile, the J-10C multirole fighter features an AESA radar and is capable of firing PL-10 and PL-15 air-to-air missiles. 

A pair of Y-8-based electronic warfare aircraft also participated in the flypast.

President Xi Jinping, dressed in combat fatigues, reviewed the parade. In a concluding speech he declared: ‘The world under heaven is not at peace and peace needs safeguarding…Today we are closer than any other period in history to the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and we need more than any period in history to build a strong people’s military.’

He stated: ‘I firmly believe that our heroic army has the confidence and capability to defeat all enemies who dare to offend [China].’

He also demanded loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party from the military. ‘You shall be unswervingly loyal to the absolute leadership that the party has over the army, heed the call of the party, follow the party…You shall extend the battleground to wherever the party points towards.’

Xi has spent the past five years prosecuting a ‘no holds barred’ campaign against corruption within the PLA, netting hundreds of senior military personnel. Furthermore, he has slashed 300,000 personnel, restructured theatre commands and abolished the four general departments.

The PLA’s last combat was a campaign against Vietnam in 1979, meaning its combat capability remains a largely unknown quantity.

This latest spectacle in Inner Mongolia was clearly designed to enhance Xi’s image as a strong leader, especially as the country heads towards the 19th Party Congress later this year, a five-yearly reshuffle of senior leaders.

Tensions are rife along the Indian border, in the South and East China seas and on the Korean Peninsula. However, the parade had no direct bearings on these since planning and rehearsals date back a matter of weeks.

The PLA’s last major parade occurred in Beijing on 1 September 2015 to mark the defeat of Japanese forces at the end of World War Two.

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