China has stepped up intensive rehearsals for the upcoming National Day parade, which military insiders say is designed to showcase the achievements of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s modernisation drive.
The parade on October 1 will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic and will focus on weapons developed since Xi came to power in late 2012, despite long-standing problems in aircraft engine development.
Video clips circulating on mainland social media in recent days have shown at least seven types of aircraft – including the KJ-2000 airborne early warning and control aircraft and J-10 and J-11B fighter jets – taking part in rehearsals over the countryside around Beijing.
A military insider said the country’s first stealth fighter jet, the J-20, had been rehearsing over the western suburbs of the capital since April.
“There will be up to seven J-20 displayed in the military parade, which is the largest formation since its formal deployment to the Chinese air force in 2017,” the military insider said.
“The J-20 has entered mass production. So far at least 70 J-20s have been made, even though all of them are still equipped with Russian AL-31 engines.”
Earlier this month, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force released a video of a flight of seven J-20s, the largest formation seen so far, suggesting that the fifth-generation warplane has gone into mass production as an arms race with the United States mounts in the region.
The second-largest J-20 formation was shown in an air force video for PLA Day on August 1, when five of the jets were shown.
China has been forced to deploy the J-20 ahead of its schedule since the US has increased the deployment of its fifth-generation stealth fighter jets like the F-22 and F-35s in the Asia-Pacific region.
The US and its allies, including Japan and South Korea, will have more than 200 F-35s by 2025, which means China also needs a similar number of stealth fighters.
To meet demand, China has been working on the development of a purpose-built thrust engine for its stealth fighter since the early 2000s, but has yet to achieve international quality control standards due to problems that include single-crystal turbine blade technology.
Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said aircraft engine development had been a long-standing shortcoming but it would not affect the practical fighting capacity of the J-20, which currently uses Russian engines.
“The J-20 hasn’t used the domestic engines so far because it wants a better one, and it still has time,” Song said.
“Other [Chinese-developed] warplanes like the J-10, J-11 and multipurpose attack helicopters are all modified and advanced types, indicating comprehensive achievements amid China’s military modernisation over the past years.”
Besides the domestically developed aircraft, Beijing is going to display its strategic nuclear missiles, such as the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile and the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile, as centrepieces of its National Day military parade, according to a Beijing-based military source.
Xi, who also chairs the powerful Central Military Commission, inspected the country’s biggest military parade at the Zhurihe Combined Tactics Training Base in Inner Mongolia in 2017 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the PLA, but the source said the weapons displayed in Zhurihe had been developed under the leadership of Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.
“Xi needs to highlight his personal achievements in his era, that’s why this year’s parade has political aims more than military significance,” the source said.
The source also highlighted the significance of the People’s Republic marking its 70th anniversary because the Soviet Union did not survive for that length of time.
“Xi is attempting to tell the outside world that Chinese communist regime has been consolidated under his leadership.”
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