(CNN)On Thursday, 12,000 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops, between 100 – 200 aircraft and about 500 pieces of military equipment will participate in a military parade in the Chinese capital commemorating the 70th anniversary of the surrender of regional rival Japan to end World War II.
The parade is designed to send various messages to domestic and foreign audiences — including the United States and to regional rivals like Japan and Taiwan, both of which are engaged in territorial or sovereignty disputes with China.
The claim by government spokesman Qu Rui that 84% of the equipment on display will have “never been viewed by the public” has amplified the ‘buzz’ around the event, though many of the capabilities involved in the parade will likely be familiar to some degree to defense and intelligence communities monitoring China’s military..
Still, the lifting of the curtain — even for a few hours — on China’s frequently opaque military modernization program will keep PLA watchers busy for weeks to come assessing the incremental evolutions and stark leaps forward in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), amphibious assault, military space and counter-space, unmanned systems and land systems capabilities.
All of which are critical to China’s modernization program and to pursuing territorial claims in the East and South China Seas.
China’s development of more, better and a wider variety of ballistic and cruise missiles is of particular concern for the U.S., Japan and, especially, Taiwan, at which IHS Jane’s estimates approximately 1,100 Chinese short-range ballistic missiles are targeted.
Indeed, the 2014 U.S. Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review asserted that “growing numbers of accurate conventional ballistic and cruise missile threats represent an additional cost-imposing challenge to U.S. and partner naval forces and land installations” across the Western Pacific.
This missile threat complicates U.S. power projection efforts while also raising the possibility that current missile defense systems of regional allies and partners could be overwhelmed by clusters of Chinese cruise and ballistic missiles fired from land, air and sea.
Given their strategic and operational importance, missiles are certain to play a prominent role in the parade. State news agency Xinhua, has already noted that “the scale and number of missiles (on display) will surpass any previous outing.”
Speculation about specific systems that may appear in the parade has concentrated on the DF-16, a newly developed short-range ballistic missile and the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), known as the ‘carrier killer’, among others.
The operational status of the DF-21D is uncertain outside the PLA, but the ASBM capability, especially when targeted against aircraft carriers, is novel and potentially game-changing…