PLA prowess on rise
After several years of modernization, fighting force among best-equipped in the world
In the past five years, the People’s Liberation Army has made huge strides in its modernization drive, and now boasts an array of world-class weaponry and equipment.
The PLA Ground Force has a powerful land-strike spearhead, comprising the Type-99A main battle tank, the ZBD-04A infantry fighting vehicle, the HJ-10 anti-tank missile carrier and the PLZ-05A self-propelled howitzer.
China North Industries Corp, the country’s biggest manufacturer of land armaments, said the Type-99A is a third-generation tank with strong firepower, advanced active protection systems, cutting-edge composite armor and supreme mobility.
Weapons experts said it has a high-technology data link that pro- vides access to battlefield intelligence obtained by other combat vehicles.
Liu Qingshan, editor-in-chief of Tank and Armored Vehicle, said the Type-99A has one of the most powerful engines in the world, along with high automation and information capabilities.
Germany’s Focus magazine reported that the Type-99A is mainly armed with a 125-mm smoothbore gun capable of firing anti-tank guided missiles, and is propelled by a 1,500-horsepower diesel engine.
Other unique elements include an active laser self-defense weapon and a laser warning receiver, both leading, but rarely used, countermeasure technologies, according to Russian media.
The ZBD-04A infantry fighting vehicle has several weapons — a 100mm rifled gun, a 30-mm auto-cannon and a 7.62-mm coaxial machine gun — strong enough to destroy any target, observers said.
Compared with its predecessor, the ZBD-04, the new model has improved fire-control instruments and additional armor. It also has an advanced information system capable of being integrated with the system used on the Type-99A.
As the PLA’s latest multipurpose anti-tank missile, the HJ-10 can also be used to attack armored vehicles, small fortifications and even helicopters flying at low altitude, according to Chinese defense publications. Earlier reports said the PLZ-05A self-propelled howitzer has good mobility and can destroy targets from a long distance, thus clearing the way for armored forces.
The Ground Force has equipped its air assault units with WZ-10 and WZ-19 combat helicopters. The WZ-10 is regarded as one of the best attack helicopters in the world due to its superior maneuverability and combat capabilities. It was designed primarily for anti-tank missions, but was later given a secondary air-toair fighting capability, aviation industry sources said.
The PLA Navy has a carrier battle group, led by the aircraft carrier CNS
Liaoning, and the unit continues to move toward gaining full operational capability, according to the Navy. The
Liaoning carrier battle group completed a cross-sea, live-fire exercise at the end of last year and recently undertook a long-distance training exercise. Dozens of pilots and landing signal officers are now qualified to operate the J-15 fighter jets deployed on the carrier, the Navy said.
China’s second aircraft carrier, as yet unnamed, was launched in April. Once completed, it will have a displacement of around 50,000 metric tons, a conventional propulsion system, and it will carry J-15 fighter jets and other aircraft. The ship will employ a ski jump mode to launch fixed-wing aircraft.
It is currently being fitted out, and engineers and workers will soon complete installation of interior equipment and weapons. Engineers will test and fine-tune equipment already mounted on the ship. At the same time, mooring trials will be conducted to assess the carrier’s overall design, the Navy said.
At a media briefing in March, Major General Chen Zhou, a senior strategy researcher at the PLA Academy of Military Science, said the second carrier will definitely not be the end of China’s aircraft carrier program.
“The number of carrier battle groups will depend on our national plans and military strategies, but we will not have as many as 12 groups like the United States plans to do because our military strategy is defensive in nature,” he said.
The Navy will continue commissioning Type-052D guided-missile destroyers, and has also launched a larger destroyer, which observers
The number of carrier battle groups will depend on our national plans and military strategies ... our military strategy is defensive in nature.” Major General Chen Zhou, senior strategy researcher at the PLA Academy of Military Science
regard as the first in the Type-055 class.
Military experts said the Type052D class is the most powerful destroyer and the most capable fleet escort in service with the PLA. Some Western observers have called it a “carrier killer” because of the large number of anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles it carries.
According to military sources, Type-052D destroyers have a full displacement of nearly 7,000 tons, and a wide range of weapons including a single-barrel 130-mm naval gun, a close-in weapon system and dozens of long-range anti-aircraft missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles. The vessel features a low radar signature, a high information level and stateof-the-art phased array radar.
The Type-055 class is a 10,000-ton destroyer. It will be equipped with new types of air defense, missile defense, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons, the Navy said.
Yin Zhuo, director of the PLA Navy’s Expert Consultation Com- mittee, previously said each Type055 destroyer will be able to carry more than 100 vertical launch cells capable of firing a range of missiles.
Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said compared with other Navy destroyers, the Type-055 features stronger firepower, higher information capacity and improved capabilities in terms of reconnaissance and early warning.
He added that the vessel will improve the Navy’s long-range operational capability and such ships will play a major role in the country’s carrier battle groups.
Cao Weidong, also a researcher at the institute, said Type-055 destroyers will make effective missile-defense platforms because they can carry and launch Chinese-made advanced missile interceptors, effectively expanding the country’s missile defense network.
The Navy also has some of the world’s most advanced armaments, such as the YJ-12 heavy-duty, supersonic anti-ship missile. With its ultrafast speed and long strike range, the weapon is capable of penetrating the outer defense systems of a carrier battle group, and can use sea-skimming maneuvers to avoid interception when approaching a target, according to observers.
If a 100,000-ton aircraft carrier is hit by two YJ-12s, it will basically lose all its functions, they said.
The PLA Air Force is believed to have started taking delivery of the J-20 stealth fighter jet, a third-type, fifth-generation combat aircraft.
Its maiden flight was made in January 2011, and the aircraft was declassified in November last year when it performed at a defense exhibition in China. The Air Force said the J-20 is designed for future aerial combat.
Military analysts said the cuttingedge aircraft will enable the Air Force to engage all leading fighter jets, substantially improving operational capabilities.
Wang Ya’nan, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge, said the J-20 is not only a superior fighter jet, but can also conduct air-to-ground strikes and anti-ship operations.
The Air Force has also improved its transportation capacity via the deployment of the Y-20 strategic transport plane.
With a maximum takeoff weight of about 200 tons, the Y-20 can ferry cargo and personnel over long distances in all types of weather, strengthening the Air Force’s strategic power projection capability.
According to Wang, compared with transport planes made overseas, it is easier for the PLA to use and maintain the Y-20 because its design was based on the experience and requirements of the PLA Air Force.
He explained that the jumbo jet can fly more than 5,000 kilometers in eight hours, meaning it can ful- fill most of the PLA’s transportation needs.
The Air Force has also deployed several early-warning and aerial control planes, including the KJ-500, the latest model. The aircraft has one fixed phased-array radar and two passive electronic intelligence arrays, according to IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly in London, which reported that it can track up to 100 targets simultaneously to a range of 470 km.
The Air Force also uses a wide range of unmanned aircraft such as the GJ-1 reconnaissance/strike drone and the BZK-005 high-altitude, longrange reconnaissance drone. They are expected to extend operational scope and give the PLA more options to conduct reconnaissance and land attack tasks at lower cost, experts said.
The PLA Rocket Force, the pillar of the nation’s strategic deterrent, is probably the best in the world in terms of the variety of missiles it uses — it has at least nine different ground-to-ground missiles, including the DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missile, the DF-15B short-range ballistic missile and the CJ-10A ground-launched cruise missile, according to PLA Daily.
The latest additions are the DF-16 short-range ballistic missile, the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile and the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile.
The Rocket Force said the DF-21D is its “trump card” in asymmetric naval warfare, while the DF-26 can destroy fixed targets and moving targets on the ocean. They are probably the only ballistic missiles in the world capable of destroying vessels as large as aircraft carriers, Chinese media reported.
Military experts said the DF-16 has a strike range of more than 1,000 km, boasts a similar level of accuracy as a cruise missile and can undertake terminal maneuvers to penetrate defensive firepower.
2015 China North Industries Corp 2015 2015 2014 125-millimeter smoothbore gun China North Industries Corp 2012 Anti-tank missiles Aviation Industry Corporation of China 2012 Air-to-air missiles and anti-ship missiles Aviation Industry Corporation of China 2015 China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp PLZ-05A self-propelled howitzer Public debut: Manufacturer: Public debut: Main weapon: DF-21D medium-range ballistic missile Public debut: Public debut: Type 99A main battle tank
Manufacturer: DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile WZ-10 attack helicopter Public debut: Main weapon: Manufacturer: J-15 carrier-borne fighter jet Public debut: Weapons: Producer: CJ-10A land-attack cruise missile Public debut: Manufacturer:
2015 Air-to-surface missiles Aviation Industry Corporation of China 2014 Anti-ship and air-defense missiles China State Shipbuilding Corp and China Shipbuilding Industry Corp 2013 200 metric tons Aviation Industry Corporation of China 2015 Detect and monitor incoming enemy aircraft and missiles, coordinate and command aircraft Aviation Industry Corporation of China GJ-1 reconnaissance/ unmanned combat aerial vehicle Public debut: Main weapon: Manufacturer: Public debut: Main weapon: Producer: Type 052D destroyer Y-20 strategic transport plane Public debut: Maximum takeoff weight: Producer: A new class of submarine will patrol the oceans J-20 stealth fighter jet Public debut: Main weapon: Manufacturer: 2016 Air-to-air missiles Aviation Industry Corporation of China KJ-500 early-warning and control aircraft Public debut: Functions: Producer: CNS aircraft carrier Liaoning Public debut: Main weapon: 2012 J-15 carrierborne fighter jets China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (Refit of vessel purchased from Ukraine)