As part of the People’s Liberation Army’s 90th anniversary celebration—it was founded on August 1, 1927— President Xi Jinping (in military fatigues) hosted a giant parade at the Zhurihe Training Center. Here, PLA’s most elite forces demonstrated how far China has come in modern warfare. CCTV broadcast the session, which means a domestic and global audience of millions saw the army’s showcase of tanks, stealth fighters, artillery, and ICBMs.
Tanks and Tanks Again
A group of ZTZ-99A heavy main battle tanks marched among the first parade units, followed by a variety of tracked ZDB-04A and wheeled ZBL-09 infantry fighting vehicles. The military procession then followed with PLZ-07 and heavy PLZ-04 self-propelled howitzers, PHL-03 heavy rocket launchers, and ZBD-003 airborne IFVs.
Combat support vehicles were not forgotten. Combat engineering vehicles, BZK-006 UAV launch vehicles, communications vehicles, and even fuel tankers followed.
There was plenty of air power, too. A trio of J-20 stealth fighters flew over the parade, followed by Y-20 heavy transport aircraft, KJ-2000 AEW&C aircraft, J-16 strike fighters, J-15 carrier fighters, and J-10B fighters. The latest H-6K bombers, along with H-6U aerial tankers and Y-9 transports, also made an appearance.
Z-10 attack and Z-18 transport helicopters showed up, flying in formations shaped like “90,” as well as the Chinese characters for 8-1 (a reference to August 1), with the Z-18 transports landing to disgorge airmobile infantry.
The highlight was likely the public debut of not just one, but 16 DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The DF-31AG is an improvement over the 7,146-mile-range DF-31A ICBM. It carries a larger, reinforced missile canister likely carrying a more powerful missile with increased range or payload. The DF-31AG also uses an all-terrain 8X8 launch vehicle, enabling it to go off-road, which will make it much harder to find compared to its truck-launched predecessor.
The presence of 16 new ICBMs (there are likely other DF-31AGs not present at the parade), along with several dozen other ICBMs, shows that China’s nuclear global strike capacity is growing in size and capability.
Guns and Rockets
Other missiles present: the DF-31A ICBM, the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile, and the DF-16 short-range ballistic missile. Surface-to-air missiles were well represented by HQ-9B and HQ-16 SAMs, as well as LD-2000 and PGZ-07 anti-air cannons. The surface-attack options were represented by CJ-10 cruise missiles, YJ-62 and YJ-83 anti-ship missiles, and YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship missile.
The fact that the parade took place not in Beijing, but in Inner Mongolia, was symbolic. Zhurihe hosts the PLA’s annual Stride exercises. These wargames pit the resident “Blue Team” (a mechanized infantry brigade that uses NATO tactics) against visiting PLA units. These wargames are played in a variety of urban, hill, and open-area locations, often under intensive conditions, including simulated nuclear battlefields.