Four of the Biggest Revelations from China’s Massive 70th Anniversary Military Parade
The military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China was always going to be a grand spectacle. As photos from the preparations emerged online, it was clear that the Chinese government would put a large amount of previously unseen weapons and other hardware on display, including new mockups of stealthy unmanned combat air vehicles, examples of high-speed rocket-powered reconnaissance drones, new bombers capable of carrying outsized payloads, and much more.
As it turned out, the celebrations in Tiananmen Square were especially grandiose, with Xi Jinping making pointed appeals to Chinese nationalism and the country’s growing influence globally, themes also present in a recently released national defense policy white paper, throughout. “It was today, 70 years ago, that Chairman Mao stood at this very place and announced solemnly to the world the founding of the People’s Republic of China, which marks the end of more than 100 years of humiliation and misery the country had suffered since modern times,” Xi declared in his speech.
So, it’s perhaps not surprising that the parade was particularly jam-packed with very clearly Chinese weapons and other equipment and had a heavy focus on strategic deterrence, including the country’s latest nuclear delivery systems, and advanced weapons, like hypersonic missiles and unmanned platforms. It would take too long to go through everything that was on display, but here are four systems The War Zone thinks are especially significant in addition to our analysis of two advanced aerial systems we have already posted.
The DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile
China’s anniversary parade included 16 DF-41 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), marking the first time the country had publicly displayed these weapons. With an estimated range of around 9,300 miles, they are China’s longest-range strategic nuclear weapons.
The missile has a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) configuration, though how many warheads it can actually carry is unclear. There have been unconfirmed reports in the past that it may be able to accommodate between 6 and 10 nuclear weapons, though experts believe the number is much smaller, possibly around 3. The missile also reportedly carries decoys and has other unspecified penetration aids to help it get past hostile missile defenses. The road-mobile 16-wheeled transporter-erector-launcher and the missile’s solid-fuel rocket motor make for a highly flexible weapon that is more difficult for opponents to track and is, therefore, more survivable.
Reportedly in development since before 2000, the DF-41 project appeared to have been deferred multiple times in the past. The first of these missiles were reportedly deployed operationally in 2017, with two brigades of them in service by the end of that year. This would align with the official Chinese statement that personnel from two People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force DF-41 brigades took part in the Oct. 1 parade.
The DF-17 hypersonic missile
It is something of an open secret that China has been developing hypersonic boost-glide vehicles for some time now. The appearance of 16 mockups of the DF-17, the first time this weapon has been shown in any format, at the parade only drove home Chinese ambitions in this regard.
The DF-17, which has reportedly been in testing since at least 2017, uses the rocket booster from the already operational DF-16B short-range ballistic missile. On top, instead of a traditional warhead, however, is an unpowered hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, which reports have previously referred to as the DF-ZF or WU-14.
The shape of the vehicle on the mockup DF-17 missiles in the parade was, not surprisingly, similar, if not identical to a wind tunnel model, footage of which appeared on Chinese state television in 2017. It also looks very much like vehicles involved in an apparent high-altitude drop test in northwestern China in 2018. Chinese testing of earlier hypersonic boost-glide vehicles dates back to at least 2014.
Hypersonic boost-glide vehicles use a rocket booster to get up to an appropriate altitude and a speed over Mach 5, after which they fly a maneuvering flight path through the atmosphere to their target. Between their sheer speed and their ability to maneuver in unpredictable ways, they are ideally suited to penetrating through defense enemy defenses to strike strategic or time-critical targets. The differences between their flight trajectory and signature and those of traditional ballistic missiles, also make it hard for defenders to spot, track, let alone attempt to shoot down these weapons. This reduces how much time an opponent has to try to relocate important assets to another location, as well.
With an estimated range of around 1,240 miles, the DF-17 is more of a regional weapon, but one that would still pose a very serious threat to potential Chinese opponents, especially Taiwan. It would also present new challenges for the United States and its Asian allies, such as South Korea and Japan, as well as India.
The JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile
China’s 70th anniversary parade interestingly included 12 JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) carried on trucks. Though these have reportedly been in active service on board the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s nuclear-powered Type 094 Jin class ballistic missile submarines, the Chinese government had not displayed any examples publicly.
Sharing a common rocket motor and other features with the land-based DF-31 ICBM, the JL-2s at the parade confirm that the submarine-launched weapon has a much blunter shroud for unexplained reasons. This configuration is often associated with MIRV designs, but all existing reporting indicates that each JL-2 carries only a single warhead. It is possible that this could point to the missile have additional space devoted to penetration aids or the shape may simply be a product of the design constraints of the launch tubes on the Type 094.
Whatever the case, the PLAN’s six Type 094s, each of which can carry 12 JL-2s, form the backbone of China’s naval nuclear deterrent. The Chinese have been working to expand the capabilities of their ballistic missile submarine force, including the development of a future JL-3 SLBM. The PLAN’s Jin class boats are already, by their nature, are difficult for opponents to track.
HSU-001 unmanned undersea vehicle
Unmanned systems were a big feature of the 70th anniversary parade, but the systems on display weren’t limited just to flying drones. China also revealed a large unmanned undersea vehicle, possibly known as the HSU-001, given the markings on the two examples in the procession.
Based on the truck carrying them, the HSU-001 appears to be similar in size to Boeing’s Echo Seeker design. Boeing’s Echo series also includes the much larger Echo Voyager, which served as a stepping stone to its winning bid for the U.S. Navy’s Orca Large Displacement UUV (LDUUV) program.
Unlike Boeing’s designs, which have a single screw propulsion arrangement, the HSU-001 has a twin-screw configuration. The exact capabilities of China’s large UUV are unknown, but it does have two collapsible sensor masts.
If the Chinese plans for the HSU-001 are at all similar to the U.S. Navy’s with regards to Orca, then the drone submarine could find itself tasked to perform a variety of wide-area intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, as well as hunt for mines and conduct underwater mapping, especially in littoral areas. Given its size, China UUV could eventually evolve to carry new sensor payloads or even compact weapons.
With all these systems, and many more, now having made their official public debut, we may begin to learn more about their specific capabilities and intended roles. What is already clear is that China’s military modernization is continuing at a brisk pace and the country is pushing ahead more and more toward closing capability gaps with its largest competitors, namely the United States.
It certainly appears that America’s military dominance in the Asia-Pacific region is continuing to erode.
By Joseph Trevithick
Source: The Drive