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The Stories Behind The Chinese V-Day Weapons

September 10, 2015
Chinese 4x4 Tiananmen 2015

Via Xinhua/Ministry of National Defense.

On September 3 China marked 70 years since Japan’s defeat in World War Two, a conflict it refers to as the “World Anti-Fascist War.” To mark the occasion a military parade was held in Tiananmen Square attended by President Xi Jinping and various foreign heads of state.

The military parade was broadcast by Chinese media and drew attention for its scale, being reminiscent of the People’s Republic’s annual parades to mark its founding. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) even published a webpage to cover its activities and related news. What ensued for nearly two hours in that sweltering September morn was an impressive display of China’s cutting edge armaments.

There were revelations as well. During his obligatory speech President Xi announced the PLA will reduce its numbers by 300,000 men in the coming years.

Here are accounts that explain the origins and development of the PLA’s latest weapons. Images were sourced from official Chinese media as well as online.

The carefully orchestrated military parade involved a total of 12,000 soldiers with contingents from 17 countries that enjoy strong bilateral ties with China, including Russia and Pakistan. It began with open top buses carrying Chinese veterans from the “World Anti-Fascist War” followed by PLA infantry units, with each led by a general.

It was interesting to note that the 5.8mm QBZ-03, rather than the bullpup QBZ-95, was now the preferred battle rifle for some PLA units.

Chinese Norinco QBZ-03 rifle 02

They were carrying this QBZ-03.

There were 50 PLA formations in total. First were the infantry, followed by armored vehicles, artillery, ballistic missiles, and then flyovers from a reported 200 PLAAF aircraft.

The event climaxed with a massive formation of PLA helicopters.

PART 1: THE VEHICLES

Chinese Dong Feng Humvee

Via Xinhua/MND.

Dongfeng Humvee

Leading each of the vehicular formations during the parade were Dongfeng EQ2050’s. These copies of the AM general HMMWV entered service with the PLA in 2007 and are used much the same way as their US counterparts. Depending on its layout, the EQ2050’s armor protection is very basic. The best way to tell the EQ2050 apart from the Humvee is by the shape of its bumper.

Chinese Gaz Tigr 4x4

Via Xinhua/MND.

A new type of Dongfeng 4×4 was also on parade called the Warrior. Apparently a hybrid of the EQ2050 and the Russian Tigr (which is manufactured under license by another Chinese company), the Warrior features an elongated chassis and a 12.7mm main armament mounted on a roof turret. This vehicle also had a 6×6 variant with an even larger passenger compartment.

China Type 89 12.7mm machine gun 2015

Via Xinhua/MND.

The September 3 parade inadvertently showcased the Type 89 or QJZ-89, a 12.7mm machine gun that’s been in use with the PLA for the past 25 years. As its name indicates, production of the Type 89 began in the late 1980s and it’s now the preferred secondary armament for many PLA combat vehicles.

Unlike the cumbersome DShK that dates back to World War Two, the Type 89 is lighter and more accurate. It uses a pistol grip and the inclusion of a skeleton stock allows the gunner to mitigate the recoil when firing. The Type 89 is comparable to the Russian 12.7mm Kord and is an improvement over the Type 77, a Chinese machine gun widely exported to the Middle East and Africa.

Chinese Type 96 06 MBT 2015

Via Xinhua/MND.

Type 99A/ZTZ-99A

The PLA apparently have an even newer main battle tank with the ZTZ-99A, also known as the Type 99A. This adds to an already confusing selection of tanks deployed by its armored units. Its missile-firing 125mm main gun uses a digital fire control system that removes any manual calibration when aiming. Furthermore, the MND claims the ZTZ-99A has an unspecified “laser dazzler” active protection system.

No details were published about the engine used by the “King of Land Battle.” Rather than dwell on similarities to existing tanks, the MND preferred to emphasize its robust armor protection instead. Its turret’s angular shape comes from the blocks of ERA surrounding it.

The ZTZ-99A shouldn’t be confused with the original Type 99 and the older Type 96, which the PLA sends to those yearly tank biathlons in Russia.

Chinese ZBD-04 02 IFV

Not from the September 3 parade. This is a stock image of the ZBD-04.

ZBD-04

It’s unknown when the PLA created a requirement for a third-generation APC. But as early as 2005, Norinco was already manufacturing the ZBD-04 with help from Russia. For decades the PLA’s mechanized units relied on lightly armored and armed APCs that soon fell behind their Western counterparts in performance.

The ZBD-04 marked a departure from these characteristics, being a Sinicized BMP-3. Both are armed with a tandem 100m main gun and 30mm cannon, a combination unmatched by any other NATO tracked APC. With room enough for seven infantrymen, the ZBD-04/BMP-3 is a unique hybrid of light tank and battle taxi.

For the September 3 parade, a new variant called the ZBD-04A was rolled out. Its exact specifications haven’t been revealed but it did feature extensive bolt-on armor on its front and sides. Apparently confident with its choice for universal APC, the ZBD-04’s chassis served as the basis for the AFT-10, a missile-armed tank hunter.

Using the chassis of a ZBD-04, eight box launchers containing HJ-12 NCLOS missiles are mounted on the turret. It appears the AFT-10 is the PLA’s tank destroyer of choice at a time when battlefield missile carriers are scarce.

ZLT05 amphibious assault vehicle

Via Xinhua/MND. ZLT-05 amphibious assault vehicle.

Another variant of the ZBD-04 chassis is an amphibious assault vehicle called the ZLT-05, also known as the ZTD-05. Armed with a 105mm gun, this assault vehicle functions like the older Type 63 amphibious light tank that’s based on the Russian PT-76.

The ZLT/ZTD-05 is exclusive to the PLAN and no other navy or marine force deploys comparable vehicles.

Chinese PLA mobile radar 2015

Via Xinhua/MND.

Battery Command Vehicle

The ZBD-04 is used for air defense as well. When armed with twin 35mm cannons it becomes the Type 07 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG). The Type 07 resembles the German Gepard SPAAG and is meant for targeting low-flying aircraft. The Type 07 operates alongside the Type 95, an earlier SPAAG based on the Italian Sidam 25 and the Russian ZSU-23-4.

The Type 95 entered service in 1999 and the Type 07 followed several years later.

One of the more exotic vehicles spotted in Tiananmen was the command vehicle for the Type 07 SPAAG formation. Using the same chassis as the Type 07, the command vehicle feeds targeting data to its battery, who then carve up the sky with high velocity rounds. Its CLC-2 PD radar covers a radius of 45 kilometers.

Chinese ZBD-09 8x8 105mm

Via Xinhua/MND.

ZBL-09

At least three variants of China’s formidable 8×8 APC participated in the Tiananmen parade.  Most impressive was the type mounting a turret armed with a 105mm gun. Its exact designation is confusing since it looks nothing like the Norinco ST1 tank destroyer, although it probably performs the same role.

Wheeled vehicles with main guns are the next best option for dismounted infantry who aren’t accompanied by tanks. Since they’re amphibious and air-transportable, these vehicles become attractive investments for ground forces. As the ZBL-09’s name indicates, it entered service in 2009.

A ZBL-09 equipped for satellite communications and another configured as a recovery vehicle were in Tiananmen too.

Chinese PLZ-05 self-propelled artillery 2015

Via Xinhua/MND.

PLZ-05

Beginning in the 1980s, China began moving away from its reliance on towed artillery. Progress was slow and it wasn’t until 2005 that a credible self-propelled system that matched NATO standards emerged.

Borrowing from Russia’s successful 2s19 Msta-S but retaining the chassis of the older Type 83, a 155mm gun was housed in a spacious turret whose appearance is reminiscent of the German PzH-2000. Norinco, the PLZ-05’s manufacturer, prefers being selfish with its most advanced self-propelled gun. Foreign customers have to be content with its previous incarnation, the PLZ-45.

The fact that China introduced the PLZ-05 in 2005 and other self-propelled systems in the ensuing years meant its artillery is brand new compared to the US and NATO.

PART 2: The AIRCRAFT

Chinese Male UAV 2015

Via Xinhua/MND.

MALE UAV

Drones have an uneasy place in military parades. Long used for target practice by anti-aircraft crews, the emergence of surveillance UAVs have made them the pride of militaries. In lieu of allowing them to fly across public spaces, UAVs are often just displayed inert on truck beds.

The photo above is apparently the Wing Loong, the PLA’s answer to the MQ-9 Reaper. China actually leads the world in UAV manufacturing but few of these aircraft meet the performance characteristics the PLA require.

The Wing Loong is different. As a MALE UAV it’s designed to fly missions beyond 20 hours, scan terrain, and attack targets. Each model driven past President Xi, who is rumored to have coveted an armed UAV fleet since taking office, carried a pair of inert air-to-ground missiles.

Other UAV’s featured in Tiananmen were a Chinese copy of the Israeli Super Heron, a twin boom ISR drone, and a smaller low altitude model resembling the US Shadow.

Chinese J10

This is a stock image.

J-10

No longer stuck with thousands of obsolete J-7 fighters, the PLAAF doesn’t lag behind its neighbors when it comes to fighter aircraft. A huge segment of China’s air force flew past Tiananmen on September 3 and the resulting air show included the J-10.

The J-10 is a third-generation single engine multirole fighter. Its combination of a delta wing configuration and canards makes it resemble European fighters like the Swedish Gripen. To this day it’s assumed the J-10 is a Chinese copy of the Israeli Lavi fighter.

China is eager to export the J-10 as the J-10B and Pakistan is the likeliest customer so far. The PLAAF are reported to have between 130 and 150 of these fighters.

Chinese Su-27 J-11

This is a stock image.

J-11B

China is the only country to manufacture its own version of the Su-27. Re-designated the J-11, its development process was murky and it’s not clear if Russia was a willing partner in its production. What is known is between 1992 and 1996 China spent $5 billion importing Su-27’s and their avionics.

By the late 1990s aerospace firm Shenyang began manufacturing the J-11 and the first models entered service by 2006. The PLAAF reportedly fly more than 200 J-11’s and its most advanced variant to date, the J-11B, uses the locally made WS-10 Taihang turbofan engine.

Russian Su-33 01

This is a stock image.

With the advent of the PLAN’s aircraft carrier capability in 2011, a new fighter was needed for the naval air arm that can match the US Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet. The J-15, dubbed the “Flying Shark,” is the anointed model and it made its public debut alongside the J-11B’s in formation over Beijing last week.

Should the PLAN launch additional aircraft carriers in the coming years these flat tops wille ach have at least two J-15 squadrons.

Chinese KJ2000 AEWC 01

This is a stock image.

KJ-2000

The concept and practice of airborne early warning and control is a domain the PLAAF have little experience with. But the KJ-2000 represents a serious effort to bridge this capability gap. Although a mere handful are in service with the PLAAF, the KJ-2000 is its most effective AEW&C platform in their inventory.

The KJ-2000’s origins dates to the 1990s when China’s aerospace industry dedicated itself to building a genuine AEW&C platform. It wasn’t until 2004, with help from Russia and Israel, that the KJ-2000 became operational.

The PLAAF have since learned smaller aircraft are just as effective as the KJ-2000, whose radar and avionics occupies an entire IL-76 transport. But the KJ-2000’s range is excellent and when the PLAAF needs to impose its hard power abroad, their surest bet for air superiority is the KJ-2000.

Chinese H6K with J10s 2015

Via Xinhua/MND.

H-6K bomber

China used to have the largest long-range bomber fleet in Asia. This hasn’t changed. But for the past 35 years the PLAAF have trimmed their inventory of aging Soviet Tu-16’s and IL-28’s. Today, only the license-built Tu-16, which is designated the H-6K, remains as the PLAAF’s sole long-range bomber.

A total of 80 H-6K’s are believed to be operational. Never used in combat, the PLAAF envisions the H-6K as a multirole platform that can deliver ordnance–from missiles to dumb bombs–beyond China’s airspace. It’s also capable of mid-air refueling missions for fighter jets.

PART 3: THE MISSILES

China has few peers when it comes to the scale of its air defenses. Since the 1990s, when the US and NATO used their collective air power as foreign policy tools, the PLA have adopted a layered approach to their missile technology.

For defense, new systems like the HQ-6 and the HQ-12 provide medium-range ground cover. To defeat low flying aircraft, the PLA have the LD-2000, a close-in weapon system on an 8×8 trailer. For an impregnable defensive umbrella over cities and sensitive locations the PLA deploys the HQ-9, a Sinicized variant of the Russian S-300.

Each of these were driven past President Xi and his guests. But…

Chinese YJ-62A anti-ship missile

Via Xinhua/MND.

YJ-62A

The PLA’s anti-ship missiles are just as fearsome. From the 19th century until the 1990s countries with powerful naval forces–the British Empire, Imperial Japan, the US–have posed a grave threat to China’s coast line and threatened invasion.

To counter the possibility of the same happening again, the PLA and the PLAN have deployed anti-ship systems that China’s rivals would be hard-pressed to counter. One of the deadliest is the ground-based YJ-62A pictured above.

Its origins dates to the 1990s, when the PLAN wanted its own equivalent of the subsonic Tomahawk cruise missile. Rather than use it exclusively for ships and submarines as a land attack munition, the YJ-62A is an anti-ship variant that can either be launched from an 8×8 trailer or by attack aircraft.

But the YJ-62A is just one among approximately a dozen land and sea-based cruise missiles in the PLAN’s arsenal. Surpassing it in performance and lethality is the supersonic ramjet-driven YJ-12, a potential carrier-killer if not for the PLA’s multiple alternatives for knocking out enemy warships.

Chinese DF15B ballistic missiles

Via Xinhua/MND.

DF-15B

Ballistic missiles have always been a Soviet fetish. Today, however, it’s China and not Russia who’s carrying the torch forward. During the September 3 parade six different formations showcased the DF-10A, the DF-15B (pictured), the DF-16, the DF-21D, the DF-26, and the DF-31A ICBM

The DF-15B is an improved variant of the original DF-15 that entered service in 1990. The DF-15 is best described as a Sinicized Scud C. It’s a surface-to-surface guided munition with a 600 km range. Can it launch nukes? Possibly, but the PLA have other missiles better suited for unleashing mushroom clouds.

The DF-15B, by the way, is available for export.

Chinese DF21D ballistic missiles 2015

Via Xinhua/MND.

DF-21D

The DF-21 is China’s most notorious missile. It’s a 35-year-old system that grabbed headlines when the PLA unveiled a new “D” variant in 2012. Unlike its predecessors, the DF-21D is a “carrier-killer,” able to deliver a conventional warhead more than 2,000 km away and eliminate a US Navy flat top with terrifying accuracy.

The original  DF-21’s date to the 1980s. Once tested and improved, they entered service in 1991 as medium-range ballistic missiles for the PLA. The DF-21’s were re-purposed in the mid-2000s when the PLA envisioned the threat posed by US Navy carrier strike groups in the Yellow Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the South China Sea.

To defeat this likelihood, the DF-21D was created, robbing the US Navy of its advantage and inspiring the anti-access/area-denial doctrine.

Chinese DF5B ICBM

Via Xinhua/MND.

DF-5B ICBM

A truly menacing addition to the September 3 parade was the DF-5B, the latest variant of the PLA’s oldest silo-based ICBM. China’s ICBM program dates back to 1965 but the chaos of the late Mao-era checked its progress. It wasn’t until 1981 that the first DF-5’s were deployed. The DF-5’s were solid propellant single warhead ICBMs capable of targeting North America. Owing to their range the DF-5’s missile forms the basis for the Long March rocket used by China’s space agency.

During the 2000s the PLA’s nuclear strike force, the Second Artillery Corps, deployed the DF-5A. Its improvements were alarming, with a range beyond 13,000 km and better accuracy. The DF-5A could also be armed with multiple warheads for saturating its target.

Last week, however, came proof the PLA isn’t done with their most dependable ICBM. There are few sources that share details about the DF-5B. But it’s certainly another upgrade for the PLA’s own nuclear triad.

The September 3 parade wasn’t only about weapons. Formations of rear echelon and support vehicles drove past the attending leadership with gravitas, be they ambulances or mobile generators. As the bedrock of the Communist Party, the PLA is serious about its continuous modernization. The current stage of its development offers enough proof that it has no regional peer.

Taking stock of the offensive weapons in its arsenal, we have no choice but to recognize China for what it is today: A world power.

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