03 September 2015

Missile March: China Parade Projects Patriotism at Home, Aims for Awe Abroad

Andrew S. Erickson, “Missile March: China Parade Projects Patriotism at Home, Aims for Awe Abroad,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 3 September 2015.

The greatest military parade in Chinese history sent strong messages to multiple audiences Thursday. Chinese viewers were informed that under the Chinese Communist Party’s irreplaceable leadership, their nation repelled Japanese invasion, has reunified—largely, and is now rightfully reclaiming “great power” status. But amid political pomp and circumstance and patriotic pride as citizens rallied round the red flag was a core external military function: deterring potential foreign adversaries who might otherwise interfere with Beijing’s completion of the latter two missions.

That’s one reason why so much advanced hardware was on display, and why so much of it was missiles—some of China’s most potent weapons, which could pose some of the greatest threats to the U.S. and its allies in the unfortunate event of conflict. Comfortable as he is with wielding political power and military might, Xi doesn’t want a war. Rather, he seeks to awe his potential adversaries into submission—or at least grudging acquiescence—regarding Beijing’s “core” interests and territorial claims. And you can’t deter much without revealing armaments that an opponent would take seriously.

Hence the need to show a big stick—many big sticks, in fact; several newly revealed to the world. Don’t be distracted by the striking marching formations. What matters most: No fewer than seven missiles on parade were from China’s foremost set of major missiles, the Dongfeng (DF) series: the DF-10 anti-ship missile; the DF-15B short-range ballistic missile; DF-16 and DF-21D medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs); the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile missile (IRBM); and the DF-5B and DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). …

Perhaps most dramatically, as part of an “Antiship Ballistic Missile Formation,” China displayed its DF-21D ASBM for the first time ever. Announced as an “assassin’s mace” at the parade, if properly targeted, this missile has the potential to disable ships including U.S. carrier strike groups, the centerpiece of American seapower. …

Also paraded for the first time: the DF-26, China’s first missile capable of striking Guam with a conventional warhead from a homeland-based launcher. … The DF-26 as was described at the parade as a new with nuclear, conventional, and anti-ship variants. …

Finally, as China’s commander-in-chief, Xi understands clearly that shiny hardware alone cannot confer military might. A set of well-coordinated military organizations and their effective command and control is likewise essential. That’s likely why Xi appears poised to announce a sweeping set of reforms to restructure the PLA. A recent PLA Daily issue contains a particularly pointed article suggesting that the Party’s Army is on the cusp of major change.Xi’s announcement in his pre-parade speech that 300,000 PLA troops would be cut provides reason to believe that these reforms are now officially under way.

China Military Parade—3 September 2015—Your Complete Hardware & Logistics Guide (Updated Version)