With the PLA marking 90 years since its founding in 1927 a rare event took place at Zhurihe last weekend. The barren expanse whose land area stretches 1,000 kilometers is often used as a training ground for elaborate combined arms exercises. But on July 30 a parade was held for the benefit of President Xi Jinping, who showed up in battle dress and delivered a speech to the assembled troops.
Chinese media reported extensively on the occasion and Xi’s words to his soldiers suggest how Beijing sees the world now that the national GDP per capita is almost on par with the United States.
“Today, we are closer to the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation than any other time in history,” Xi said from his podium, which was on a giant stage covered in camouflage netting. “We need to build a strong people’s military more than any other time in history,” he added.
Though the PLA conducts military parades each year to commemorate the Communist victory over the Kuomintang in 1949, the Zhurihe event was different from the usual pageantry in Tiananmen Square. Not only was it carried out in a remote location but it featured an assortment of vehicles and weapons that haven’t been seen by the public. Some are pictured below with an accompanying description.
The parade did have another understated aim. This was to cement Xi’s absolute control of the PLA, an institution he has reorganized and cleaned up since assuming office in 2012. The PLA is believed to have languished for decades from rampant corruption and obsolete equipment. No wonder Xi made it a point to remind the assembly of troops with their weapons why they exist in the first place.
“Officers and soldiers, you must unswervingly stick to the fundamental principle and system of the Party’s absolute leadership over the army,” he said. “Always listen to and follow the Party’s orders, and march to wherever the Party points to.”
Events in Zhurihe also involved theatrical demonstrations of a mock helicopter assault and awesome flyovers by different aircraft, including three J-20 stealth fighters–their second high profile appearance since the Zhuhai air show last year. Before the parade commenced in earnest the PLA’s helicopter gunships flew by in a unique formation; the Chinese characters for the armed forces and the number “90.”
These can all be viewed on the official video clip broadcast by Chinese media.
The Z-8 is the largest helicopter flown by the PLA. It’s a copy of the French Super Frelon. China is currently unable to build anything bigger–the new Z-18, for example, is just an upgrade of the original. A joint venture with Russia’s Rostec and AVIC is currently underway to co-develop a new heavy-lift transport.
The PLA is believed to maintain a rotor aircraft fleet numbering a thousand helicopters of all types. This is still inadequate for its needs. But the Zhurihe parade on July 30 did showcase one of the largest simulated helicopter air assault exercises in recent memory.
The Type 99A is the most advanced main battle tank in the PLA. It’s armed with a missile firing 125mm gun and its glacis and turret are covered in reactive panels. Since the PLA uses so many different armored vehicles, the expensive Type 99 is in limited service. Its older sibling the Type 96A and the classic Type 69 comprise the bulk of the tank fleet. The export version of the Type 99A is the MBT 3000.
The PLZ-07 or SH3 is the PLA’s “lightest” self-propelled howitzer. It’s comparable to the Russian 2S1 Gvozdika. But it’s worth pointing out the SH3 is newer!
The PLZ-05 is a 155mm self-propelled howitzer. It’s been exported to Algeria and Saudi Arabia. Behind it are two rows of PHL03 multi-rocket launchers, very similar to the Russian Smerch, whose 300mm projectiles can saturate targets 150 km away.
The AFT-10 carries eight NLOS anti-tank missiles that can engage targets at ranges beyond those of conventional tank guns. Though atypical in appearance for a tank destroyer, few vehicles in the West–i.e. NATO and the US–can match its lethality. The AFT-10’s first public outing was in 2015.
The Type 07 is the PLA’s newest SPAAG. Its turret is armed with two 35mm cannons. It can engage most types of low flying aircraft and even be used as direct fire support in urban combat.
The ZBD-04A is one of the best armed IFVs in the world. Like the Russian BMP-3 it combines a 100mm gun with a 30mm cannon and a coaxial machine gun. The PLA is its only known operator and its chassis is used for several other vehicle types.
The ZBL-09 is the PLA’s favorite wheeled IFV. It’s armed with a 30mm cannon matched with a Sagger missile. The ZBL is a versatile model that can be rebuilt to different roles, several of which were in the parade. There’s a good chance the ZBL is the best military 8×8 in East Asia, if not the whole of Asia.
The ZBL as a bridgelayer.
The ZBL as a recovery vehicle with a retractable crane. Other variants included an electronic warfare vehicle and an engineering vehicle equipped with a bulldozer blade and a backhoe.
The notorious Humvee clone from Dongfeng configured as a mobile command post.
Dongfeng Humvees enjoyed a strong presence at Zhurihe. These variants appear to be equipped for signal jamming.
One of the few genuine surprises during the parade were these Iveco light trucks modified for either radar or electronic warfare. For the PLA to field imported vehicles and display them is uncommon and almost extraordinary.
These trucks could be the carriers for the mysterious YLC-2V self-propelled long-range surveillance radar. Behind them are a different class of mobile radar arrays.
This cute all terrain vehicle is the smallest example of a wheeled troop carrier in PLA service. Its likeliest role is for inserting special forces into high risk areas.
This is probably a medium range radar system.
Another debutante at Zhurihe was a new type of 4×4 with an interesting armament–a remote weapon station that combined a 12.7mm machine gun and two miniguns.
These trucks belong to the PLAN’s marines. They’re equipped with HHQ short-range SAMs. It’s also possible for them to carry land attack cruise missiles.
The HQ-64 is the newest mobile SAM of the PLA. It utilizes a 6×6 truck mounting a launcher with four cells holding a quartet of LY-60 missiles. Its maximum range extends to 18 kilometers. The HQ-64’s in Zhurihe were followed by the LD-2000 radar-guided close-in weapon system armed with a single 30mm chain gun on a pivoting turret.
The HQ-9 is China’s most advanced theater air defense system. When deployed it can track targets within a 150 km radius.
The DF-21D is a versatile Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) that’s recognized as an anti-access weapon. This means its deployment can successfully track and neutralize incoming enemy forces at vast distances. Exactly how many are used by the PLA Rocket Forces is unknown.
There’s ongoing speculation whether the missile pictured above is a DF-26A, which made its public debut in 2015, or a DF-31AG. The latter is China’s newest road mobile intercontinental ballistic missile. Its range is estimated at 11,000km. It can be armed with nuclear and conventional payloads.
The DF-5B is China’s most powerful weapon of mass destruction. It’s the counterpart of the original silo-based DF-5 ICBM. It can strike any target in North America and, possibly, Western Europe.
Dozens of aircraft flew in formation above Zhurihe, including an H-6 bomber configured as a midair tanker. It was trailed by two J-10B’s.
A trio of J-20 stealth fighter jets participated in Zhurihe. There’s no footage of them flying past the parade below so it might be possible they were filmed in a different location.