Malcolm Davis – Telegraph.co.uk Oct 1, 2019
China has marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with a display of its military might, highlighting a number of key advanced military capabilities.
The message was clear to the US, and to China’s neighbours in Asia. China is a fully developed state, with an advanced military capability designed to allow Beijing to challenge US strategic primacy.
The PLA modernisation process, which began in the early 1990s, but accelerated and broadened under President Xi Jinping, is seeing China move determinedly towards its goal of being a world-class military by 2035.
For China’s neighbors in Asia, today’s parade should be an eye-opener for defence planners as some of these systems imply a game-changing impact on future warfare. Speed, range, precision and offensive strike are appearing in China’s PLA. They are not just paper capabilities.
This event had been anticipated for some time, and discussion among China analysts focused on likely new types of military systems to be shown for the first time by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The most significant capability shown was the DF-17 missile with its DZ-ZF Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (or ‘HGV’ for short). China, along with Russia, currently has a lead over the United States in hypersonic weapons – that is missile systems which deliver a warhead at speeds greater than five times the speed of sound (faster than 3,800 mph).
The US is currently lagging behind China and is yet to deploy such a weapon. The DF-17 HGV may carry either a nuclear or conventional warhead, and its speed is such that no defence against this weapon exists, making US aircraft carrier battle groups in the Asia-Pacific highly vulnerable.
The Chinese also displayed the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which has entered operational service. It is the most powerful ICBM in the world, is road-mobile, and able to carry up to ten nuclear warheads. It has overtaken the Russian SS-18 Satan ICBM in capability. The US has nothing comparable, at least in terms of ground-launched ICBMs.
The Chinese also showed the Sharp Sword unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). This is an unmanned strike aircraft, and once again, China seems to have stolen a lead on the US. The US efforts to develop such a capability rested on an aircraft called the Northrop Grumman X-47B, which is now gathering dust in a hangar in Palmdale, California. In the meantime, the Chinese have moved to deploy an operational equivalent with the Sharp Sword.
China also showed a supersonic reconnaissance drone, called the DR-8, designed to work with PLA rocket force, navy and air force to dash in at high supersonic speed, locate a US carrier battlegroup, and pass information on to strike forces, such as the DF-17, the Sharp Sword, and other systems.
Other military hardware on display included large numbers of tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, China’s J-20 stealth fighter and the new H-6N bomber, and an array of YJ-18 supersonic antiship cruise missiles. Ballistic missile systems were on display, notably the DF-26 antiship capable intermediate range ballistic missile, which can strike out as far as Guam from the Chinese coast. Advanced information and electronic warfare capabilities featured as well.
The systems on show today highlight that China is developing anti-access and area denial (‘A2AD’) capabilities to deny the US and its allies the ability to project military power and intervene in a regional crisis, such as that which might occur if China were to seek to invade Taiwan.
Advanced supersonic drones, hypersonic glide vehicles, sophisticated air combat capability and missile systems are designed with this role in mind. The goal is to deter and deny the US and its allies ‘access’ and freedom of manoeuvre, by striking them as far away from China as possible.
For the US, that means it has to find a way to defeat Chinese ‘A2AD’ capabilities if it is to be able to support key allies, preserve critical alliance structures, and prevent China using military power aggressively. It needs to do this quickly. Today’s parade was a warning western states ignore at their peril.