The drone has six weapon bays under its wings, capable of carrying more ordinance than its predecessors, including up to 12 air-to-surface missiles.
In May 2015, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a strategic plan for China, known as “Made in China 2025”; the Middle Kingdom wants to move away from being the world’s factory and shift to higher value products and services; the idea is to upgrade the manufacturing capabilities of Chinese industries.
The China Briefing of Dezan Shira & Associates wrote: “This has required transitioning the country’s existing manufacturing infrastructure and labour market towards producing more specialised output — with targeted investments in research and development (R&D) and an emphasis on technological innovation.”
One of the tools to reach this objective is the programme called “civil-military fusion” (CMF), which would bring together the civil and defence R&D and developments; something unthinkable in India.
On March 2, 2018, during the third meeting of the Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development (CCIMCD), President Xi Jinping emphasised the strategic importance of reducing barriers between the commercial economy and the defence industrial base. A few days later, Mr Xi spoke of CMF as a “prerequisite” for realising the goal of building a strong military. The objective is to become the number one power of the planet (in 2049, for the 100 years of the Communist Party?).
In its China Brief, the Jamestown Foundation explained: “China’s efforts to become a dominant ‘science and tech superpower’ in technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum communications, robotics and smart manufacturing are well documented. Less is known about how China plans to use CMF to convert its technological push into a long-term military advantage, in ways that, to a significant degree, are partly modelled on the US.”
For the US Council on Foreign Relations, China is “on its way to becoming a science and technology power. Three of the five most valuable tech startups are Chinese. Companies like Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei are increasingly narrowing the spending gap with American tech giants on research and development.”
All this translates directly into the military domain.
Recent developments in terms of new weaponry, some of them facing India, have to be seen in this background. For example, information has recently emerged that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) had deployed a new Shenyang J-16 strike fighter in strategic locations in Tibet (probably in prevision of the arrival of the game-changer Rafales on the Himalayan scene).
The deployment of the J-16 could provide the PLAAF with an modern complement to the J-11B — the derivative of the Russian Su-27 Flanker.
Beijing today claims that the advanced fighter now possesses “near stealth” capabilities; the paint covering the plane “is a kind of cloaking coating that gives the warplane a certain stealth capability, making it nearly invisible to the naked eye and electromagnetic devices,” reported the Chinese media.
On January 8, China’s state-owned Global Times announced that some units of the PLA Ground Force (PLAGF) stationed in Tibet have been equipped with a new vehicle-mounted howitzer to boost their combat capability and improve border security.
The mouthpiece of the Communist Party referred to the new system as “PLC-181”, claiming that it had already been deployed by an artillery brigade in Tibet during a 72-day-long stand-off in 2017 between the PLAGF and the Indian Army at the Doklam tri-junction between Sikkim, Tibet, and Bhutan.
The Global Times posted a PLA photograph with units of the new howitzer system in a mountainous area. According to Jane’s Intelligence Review, “the platforms are similar in appearance to the Norinco SH-15 155 mm self-propelled artillery system.”
It has to be seen in the larger context of the PLA’s preparedness for war. On January 4, President Xi Jinping ordered the Chinese armed forces to enhance their combat readiness. He instructed the armed forces to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, China’s security and development interests and be ready to withstand complex situations and severe struggles: “The world is facing a period of major changes never seen in a century”, he asserted, while speaking of the various risks and challenges facing China.
The Chinese armed forces are expected to speed up their preparation in view of a series of landmark anniversaries in 2019, particularly the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.
Last month, Xinhua reported some two million personnel had been involved in over 18,000 mostly small-scale exercises in 2018. Apart from that, China has been active in boosting its border defence with India; for example, the rapid development of infrastructure on the Tibetan plateau (in particular three new airports in Lhuntse, Purang and Tingri) or new drones for better border control.
In November, the Global Times quoted a professor at the National Defence University who revealed details of China’s new armed reconnaissance drone, which had been seen at the Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai: “The GJ-2 is believed to enhance China’s border patrol and counter-terrorism efforts,” said the professor. The military-industrial conglomerate Aviation Industry Corporation of China had unveiled a new reconnaissance drone series. Reportedly, the GJ-2 prototype flew over the 8,848-m Mount Everest during one trial flight. The drone has six weapon bays under its wings, capable of carrying more ordinance than its predecessors, including up to 12 air-to-surface missiles.
The new-generation Type 15 lightweight battle tank, which is much swifter and has better mobility than other armoured vehicles, could easily be deployed in Tibet in the event of a conflict with India. It was also recently handed over to the PLA.
Many more such examples could be cited. All this shows that China is working hard to be ready for any contingency.
India needs to wake up, closely follow the developments on the plateau and take necessary counter-measures to boost the preparedness of the Indian Army and Air Force on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
However, there are small mercies as the real situation might not be as rosy as depicted by the Communist propaganda. Dennis Blasko, a former US Army attaché in China, wrote in War on the Rocks that the PLA is today facing serious issues: “A large body of evidence in China’s official military and party media indicates the nation’s senior civilian and uniformed leaders recognise significant shortcomings in the war-fighting and command capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army.”
He further elaborated: “The increasing scope and frequency of these self-critiques during the tenure of Xi Jinping as chairman of the Central Military Commission casts doubt over the senior party and military leadership’s confidence in the PLA’s ability to prevail in battle against a modern enemy.”
Let us not forget that some 200 officers of the rank of major-general and above have been “investigated”. What a huge gap in the hierarchy! A decade may be necessary to replace the “corrupt” officers.
The PLA also suffers from the “peace disease”; the PLA hasn’t faced actual combat since the war with Vietnam in 1979. It is a huge issue for China.
Despite the advances in technologies, the PLA might not be ready to face the United States — or even India — at least for a few more years.