The National Day parade held on October 1, 2019 celebrated the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China’s founding. National Day parades are usually held once every decade in Beijing, and such parades are always watched by Chinese military (PLA) enthusiasts to observe for debuts of new weapons systems that had previously not received public exposure.
Furthermore, the National Day parade serves as a useful barometer for gauging the maturity of certain weapons systems that have been known to be in development, as traditionally, only systems in service with the PLA in some form are displayed at the National Day parade. Weapons, aircraft, missiles, artillery and tanks which are under development do not tend to appear at parades.
Usually, there are two or three high profile systems that make their debut, however on this occasion multiple systems or products made their debut across virtually every domain of warfare. A number of weeks after the parade, the dust has settled somewhat to allow a more robust summary of the major debuts.
Soldiers and troops
One of the most anticipated pieces of equipment that was expected to be revealed in the parade was the new PLA service rifle. It has been known for a few years that a new conventional configuration service rifle with modular features has been in the works for the PLA. Pictures of designs on trial and various export oriented modern rifle designs attest to this. However the exact design of the new service rifle was kept under quite tight guard, with clear pictures released on social media only within 24 hours of the parade itself.
As of writing, the designation of the rifle is not yet known, but it is likely to be called QBZ-17/18/19. A veritable deluge of pictures released within 24 hours of the parade hint to a number of key features:
- Conventional rifle arrangement, forgoing bullpup arrangement of QBZ-95/-1.
- Likely gas piston short stroke system.
- Full length top rail, with flip-up front and rear back up iron sights that appear to be fixed. At least two types of scopes identified during the parade, one of which may be a fixed magnification scope with fiber optic and tritium illumination, and one of which is thought to be a night scope.
- Grip pod type system with integrated networking and communications controls identified as well.
- Single piece handguard with ribbing, and attachment points for optional rail pieces at 3, 9 and 6 o’clock.
- Ambidextrous fire selector switch.
- Bolt release button on left side.
- Non-folding, telescoping stock.
- Short barrel/carbine variant and longer barrel/assault rifle variant.
- Designated marksman rifle variant under development.
This new service rifle is expected to replace the QBZ-95 and likely the QBZ-03 in PLA-wide use. As a much more ergonomic and modular rifle, it will offer the ability to mount new scopes and accessories to the rifle as they are developed – an ability present on fielded foreign rifles for a number of years now.
Other significant debuts for soldiers and troops include:
- A new 9mm submachine gun that appears to be a domestic variant of the CS/LS7, equipped with a likely red dot sight.
- A new camouflaged combat uniform for troops, that appears to come in five different patterns (woodland, universal, desert, tundra, and urban). A new vest appears to accompany this new uniform.
- A new helmet design has also been observed, with a monocular goggle that appears to be a new night vision device.
Land and Army
New debuts for land warfare and the PLA Army/Ground Forces were mostly systems that had already received some degree of exposure, either as export systems or as some degree of limited state exposure.
- The PLC-181 is a truck mounted 155mm self propelled howitzer. Grainy pictures of this system in service have been released online over the last year, however this is the first public debut of the new system.
- A new long range multi launch rocket system (MLRS) featuring eight 370mm rockets made its first appearance as well. This new long range MLRS appears to be a domestic derivative of the AR3 MLRS that has been offered on the export market for a number of years. The domestic in service weapon has been said to boast a 280km range, which would correspond with the FD280 rocket option for the AR3.
- The new light tank, designated ZTZ-15 (or ZTQ-15), makes its long awaited high profile debut at the parade. Many respectable quality pictures of this light tank has found its way onto the internet over the years, therefore this system is more of an honorable mention than a true debut. The ZTZ-15 is a 30 ton class light tank with a 105mm main gun. Its main claim to fame is a bustle mounted autoloader it is thought to be equipped with, deviating from Russian style carousel autoloaders used in previous Chinese tank designs.
New naval systems do not tend to be debuted at parades given most big ticket systems like ships are identified and tracked openly in construction for years before they enter service.
However, one new naval system that did emerge was a modestly large unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) designated as HSU001. Increasingly large and complex UUVs are being pursued by a variety of navies such as the US Navy and Russian Navy, therefore it is only natural to have expected China to pursue such a course as well.
There were no hints that a system like HSU001 was in development prior to its appearance at the parade, however the relatively small nature of a UUV means it is much easier to conceal its development compared to a large surface ship. There are no indications as to what sort of specifications and performance parameters it may have. Photos do show it features two rear propellers, two maneuvering propellers, and two fold down masts as well as a bow/nose aperture of some sort.
Mockups of the YJ-18 anti ship missile were also shown aboard display trucks, including the surface launched and submarine launched variants of the missile. The existence and service status of this weapon has been known for some time, and its presence at the parade could best be called an honorary debut.
The air component of Chinese parades consist of a flying portion involving actual aircraft, as well as a ground parade portion where certain aircraft are presented in static display or mock up form. The most significant highlight of the 2019 parade this year was arguably the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) components showcased as static displays and mock ups.
The Sharp Sword unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) first flew in 2013 as a prototype, however in the intervening years afterwards there were very limited rumors and virtually no pictures of the aircraft. Some rumors did suggest that successive new and improved prototypes were being flown, and that the project was still being pursued. The appearance of the Sharp Sword UCAV at the parade in mockup form – with a PLA designation of GJ-11 – is therefore somewhat of a surprise, given how low profile and secretive the project has been. A summary of new and existing details for GJ-11 includes:
- The mock up shown was at 1:1 scale, and is estimated to have a wingspan of below 14 meters and a length of below 10 meters. These dimensions would place it slightly above the Dassault Neuron in terms of overall dimensions and slightly below that of the Boeing Phantom Ray.
- A low visibility exhaust replaces the exposed, round, afterburner exhaust that was present on the Sharp Sword prototype. It is thought that the new engine may be a WS-13 or RD-93/33 without afterburner, which would be appropriate for its likely weight class.
- The details on the mock up do not reveal sensor fits, antennae or weapons bay, however that is likely a result of deliberate security measures.
- Parade commentary and PLA affiliated media described a strike role for deep within enemy territory for the GJ-11, which would be consistent with its overall design.
A more detailed overview of the potential effect of an in-service GJ-11 will follow in November, however in this author’s opinion the appearance of GJ-11 is one of the most significant of this parade
The WZ-8 is a supersonic reconnaissance UAV that also debuted at the parade. With an aggressive delta planform with winglets, it is clearly designed for high speed. A high speed supersonic UAV has been rumored to be in development for multiple years, with a satellite picture capturing an image of the then-mysterious UAV back in 2018. For a long time, it was thought that the supersonic UAV would feature ramjet propulsion of some fashion, but the WZ-8 at the parade clearly lacks an air intake and is equipped with two nozzles in the rear instead.
The WZ-8 features dorsal mounting lugs which are consistent with previous rumors that it is launched from an H-6 family carrier aircraft, but also includes retractable landing gear, suggesting it is meant to be recoverable and reusable. The role of WZ-8 has long been suggested to be prompt regional reconnaissance which is consistent with the design of the aircraft, however the suspected rocket propulsion system introduces some uncertainty as to the exact flight profile and mission radius it may have.
Finally, a number of other honorary debuts include:
- A number of other small drones launched from vehicles, with varying roles including surveillance, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare. The newest of these displayed was a jet powered UAV that appeared to be a domestic variant of the Sky Saker UAV offered in the past for export.
- The H-6N, a long spoken of variant of the H-6K featuring a refueling probe and a belly recess thought to accommodate an air launched ballistic missile or possibly the WZ-8 drone.
- The Z-20 helicopter made its first public debut as well. A significantly modified derivative from the Blackhawk family, major obvious external differences include a five blade rotor, a slightly more bulbous fuselage and a different nose that is thought to accommodate a radar.
- A number of special mission electronic warfare Y-9 variants also made their debut, specifically the Y-9G which features up to three sets of major conformal side mounted arrays likely for jamming purposes.
Finally, this parade probably debuted the highest number of strategic missile systems in recent memory, many of which the existence had been hinted at or even photographed in recent years but whose public existence had yet to be cleared by the PLA.
The DF-41 is a new generation, road mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) thought to be capable of carrying multiple independent reentry vehicles (MiRVs). The exact range and number of MiRVs that it is capable of carrying has been subject to some conjecture, with estimates ranging from 12,000-14,000km and as many as 10 MiRVs respectively. The number of active DF-41s at present is also unknown, however official PLA affiliated media stated that the DF-41 display at the parade was drawn from two brigades, suggesting at least two DF-41 brigades exist. The development of this weapon has been well known over the last few years, and confirmation of service status is a major milestone for the project.
The DF-17 is another major missile system whose development has been oft-reported. DF-17 is equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle, which was showcased (likely in mockup form) at the parade aboard its transporter launch vehicle. The weapon was described as a short to medium range weapon (corresponding to a range of 1,000 to 3,000km, though the exact range is not fully confirmed), and the weapons on display were similarly drawn from two brigades as well. As a hypersonic glide vehicle, DF-17 will boast greater maneuverability and a fly a more evasive profile than traditional ballistic missiles.
The DF-100 was a slight surprise at the parade, and not much is fully known of this weapon. It has been spoken of as a supersonic long range, high altitude cruise missile. Each launch vehicle carries two DF-100 canisters, and each DF-100 is thought to have a range in excess of 1,000km. A promotional video released before the parade included a clip showing a DF-100 launch, however the exact geometry of the missile was not clearly identifiable.
Canisters of JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missiles (again, almost certainly mockups) were also carried aboard display trucks. This weapon has been known to be in development and possibly service for quite a number of years, however this is its first public appearance at a parade, sealing its status as an in service weapon and a display of confidence for the weapon itself.
Overall, the 2019 National Day Parade brought together the debuts of quite a range of new combat systems, some of which were long awaited, some of which were surprises, and some of which were highly suspected or confirmed.