New Drones, Weapons Get Spotlight in China’s Military Parade

By Patrick Tucker

October 1, 2019

China’s newest weapons were on display Tuesday at the massive military parade staged in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of Communist rule. China watchers noticed a new emphasis on airborne and naval drones and the public unveiling of a new hypersonic missile and a new ICBM

The parade offered the first clear look at the supersonic DR-8 spy drone, which  “would be expected to play a key role should there be a conflict with US aircraft carrier strike groups in the South China Sea or Western Pacific,” wrote the South China Morning Post.

The biggest surprise so far, hypersonic UAV.

— dafeng cao (@dafengcao) September 14, 2019

Some Western observers believe that the drone, which is reportedly able to travel Mach 3.3, is meant to spot targets for the D-21 anti-ship ballistic missile.

Also on display was the GJ-11 “Sharp Sword” stealth attack drone, which rather closely resembles the U.S. Navy’s X-47B attack drone that performed well in tests but was not put into service. Reuters’ Gary Doyle spotted protrusions that could make it less than invisible to radar. 

one detail: for a supposedly stealthy platform, it has gigantic control surface actuator protrusions

— Gerry Doyle (@mgerrydoyle) October 1, 2019

A pellet-like underwater drone was a “notable manifestation of the PLA's embrace of unmanned systems for naval warfare,” wrote Elsa Kania of the Center for a New American Security. 

And last but not least, this UUV is a notable manifestation of the PLA's embrace of unmanned systems for naval warfare.

— Elsa B. Kania (@EBKania) October 1, 2019

Xi Jinping has concentrated on leveraging science and technology to strengthen the military, and the parade highlights the emerging capabilities that may augur a new era of Chinese military power,” Kania wrote. “The several unmanned operations formations in the parade highlighted the PLA's enthusiastic development of a range of unmanned systems.”

She says. “The PLA has displayed a range of unmanned systems that are variously stealthy, supersonic, and capable of precision strike, which will be employed for missions that range from reconnaissance and electronic countermeasures to enabling targeting and battle damage assessments for ‘carrier killer’ missiles.”

Other notable weapons were a new DF-17 hypersonic glide missile and a new ICBM, the Dongfeng-41.

China unveils most advanced Dongfeng-41 intercontinental strategic nuclear missiles - China Military

two brigades in service, each with 8 missiles

— M. Taylor Fravel (@fravel) October 1, 2019

The DF-17 was first flown in November 2017, Ankit Panda wrote in The Diplomat. “Parts of the U.S. intelligence community assess that the DF-17 is a medium-range system, with a range capability between 1,800 and 2,500 kilometers. The missile is expected to be capable of delivering both nuclear and conventional payloads and may be capable of being configured to deliver a maneuverable reentry vehicle instead of an HGV,” he wrote. 

How terrified should you be of any of these things? At this point, says Kania, not very. “The PLA can march well, but can it fight well? This parade is flashy but hardly revealing of the PLA's progress in reforms and training, let alone its actual combat capabilities.”

By Patrick Tucker // Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He’s also the author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for nine years. Tucker has written about emerging technology in Slate, The Sun, MIT Technology Review, Wilson Quarterly, The American Legion Magazine, BBC News Magazine, Utne Reader, and elsewhere.

October 1, 2019