While this looks like it could have been taken from an American Reaper drone in Afghanistan, this is actually a Chinese CH-4 drone launching an HJ-10 anti-tank missile at a simulated terrorist bunker during Peace Mission 2014. This marks the first Chinese display of an armed UAV capability in an open international arena, perhaps showing a high Chinese willingness to use armed unmanned platforms in conventional warfare. http://kj.81.cn
This year’s Peace Mission 2014 is the largest of the annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) “anti-terrorist” military exercise to date. It is held in Zhurihe, China, with 7,000 troops in total. The Russians brought 1,000 personnel, along with 13 T-72 tanks, 40 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, 4 Su-25 attack fighters and 2 Il-76 cargo aircraft. Kyrgyzstan brought 500 troops and 8 AFVs. Kazakhstan brought 300 paratroopers along with 10 howitzer artillery, 20 armored vehicles, An-72 transport planes and Su-27 fighters. Tajikistan also provided company level infantry units. The only missing SCO member is Uzbekistan. The various phases of Peace Mission 2014 include urban and mountain operations to root out terrorist forces.
The exercise was notable along a number of lines. At a time of growing tension between Russia and the West, it affirmed the value of the SCO and the China-Russia partnership.
Along these lines, the scenario chosen for the exercise was timely. While described as “anti-terrorist,” the opposing force (OPFOR) was described by Xinhua News Agency as “externally back separatists using terrorist incidents to launch a coup and divide the nation” (IE, how Russia has described events like EuroMaiden in Ukraine). In keeping with this theme, the OPFOR (provided from the PLA’s 6th Mechanized Division), didn’t feature typical terrorist tactics and technologies, such as IEDs, but instead utilized heavy equipment like ZTZ-88 main battle tanks and PLZ-83 self propelled howitzers.
Finally, the exercise demonstrated a series of new Chinese military weapons. The majority of the 5,500 strong Chinese ground forces came from the elite 112th Regiment of 38th Group Army, which is based in the Beijing Military District. The 112th is one of China’s most modern mechanized formations, equipped with highly capable systems like the 60 ton ZTZ-99A main battle tank, long ranged PLZ-04 self propelled howitzer and the ZDB-04A IFV. The wargame featured the debut of the ATF-10 LR anti-tank vehicle, which uses the chassis of the ZBD-04A IFV to carry eight ATF-10 anti-tank missiles, with a 10km range. The long range of the ATF-10 would be a valuable tool for supporting infantry in urban and reconnaissance missions, by providing offsite fire support against heavy targets like buildings and tanks.
As with previous Peace Mission exercises, China displayed a plethora of combat aircraft such as Z-19 scout helicopters, J-10 fighters and J-11B heavy fighters. The new Z-10A attack helicopter was spotted, showing it to be equipped with larger and more advanced thermal imaging sensors compared to older Z-10 models. A picture of a Z-8 transport helicopter indicated that SCO forces were practicing air-mobile operations in simulated urban environment.
Perhaps the most high profile Chinese weapon was the use of a Pterodactyl UCAV, considered the equivalent of the US MQ-9 Reaper, which bombed an enemy “terrorist” target with an ATF-10 ATGM. The usage of a UCAV in what was actually a fairly conventional mechanized operation is something not yet well integrated in American operations of the equivalent aircraft. It also suggests that Chinese doctrine may be more risk-friendly in employing unmanned platforms against well-armed opponents than American drone use has been so far.