China's naval parade in South China Sea showcases growing prowess of navy: State media

The CNS Liaoning aircraft carrier participating in a sea parade.
The CNS Liaoning aircraft carrier participating in a sea parade.PHOTO: CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, BLOOMBERG)- The largest-ever military display by the Chinese navy last week has offered military observers a glimpse of China's newest nuclear submarines, destroyers and other vessels.

President Xi Jinping, clad in camouflage military fatigues, presided over the country's biggest-ever fleet review last Thursday (April 12). The event, which involved more than 10,000 Navy personnel, was the fifth sea parade by the Chinese navy and the first in the South China Sea. The last sea parade was in 2009.

He observed 48 vessels, 76 aircraft and more than 10,000 service personnel at the South China Sea naval hub of Sanya, including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, the official Xinhua news agency said.

More than half of the vessels were commissioned in the five years since Xi came to power, Xinhua said.

Six nuclear-powered submarines, including two that carry nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, appeared during the parade.

Seventy-six naval aircraft flew overhead, including helicopters, fighter jets, bombers and electronic warfare aircraft.

China has spent the past two decades building a "blue-water'' navy able to project force into the Indian and Pacific oceans, which surround the country's growing economic interests in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. China launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier last year, the second of as many as six such vessels.

President Xi told the assembled troops that China's need for a world-leading naval force "has never been more pressing than today" and urged them to devote their unswerving loyalty to the party, before watching through binoculars four J-15 fighter jets take off from the Liaoning, China's sole operational aircraft carrier.

Liaoning is a refitted Soviet-era vessel.

The naval hardware seen in Thursday's sea parade represented the achievements made by the People's Liberation Army Navy in its modernisation drive, military observers told China Daily.

Senior Captain Cao Weidong, a researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said that the Navy received a large number of new weapons with advanced capabilities over the past five years.

The new hardware features "a higher information capability and optimised joint operation system and thus can better carry out sophisticated joint operations", he added.

The grouping of ships, submarines and aircraft in different strike groups symbolised the Chinese navy's enhanced capability of coordinating and integrating multiple elements in combat missions, he said.

He added that the Navy has become able to perform long-range operations with the new-generation nuclear-powered submarines and a carrier battle group led by Liaoning.

Cui Yiliang, editor-in-chief of Modern Ships magazine, said the Chinese navy showed almost all of its new hardware delivered during the past 10 years.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is now capable of conducting naval operations from strategic strike to amphibious assault, he said.

"The nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines involved in the parade are of the latest generation and have many improvements compared with their predecessors. You can see from their hull design that China has made big strides in nuclear-powered submarines," Cui said.

"The new nuclear-powered attack submarines are reportedly capable of launching cruise missiles. Meanwhile, some conventionally powered attack submarines in the parade have been equipped with the advanced air-independent propulsion system that makes these boats stealthier."

Wu Peixin, a defence industry analyst in Beijing, said the PLA Navy has been steadily and rapidly catching up with the US navy in terms of its hardware's technological and operational capabilities.

"Ten years ago, it would have seemed a little unimaginable that we would have a full carrier battle group and could make it basically deployable in the decade to come. It would also appear fantastic if someone told you that we would soon begin commissioning a domestically built carrier and several of the world's mightiest destroyers," he said.

Wu gave the CNS Changsha, a Type 052D guided missile destroyer that carried President Xi Jinping during the parade, as an example of the Navy's improved arsenal.

The Type 052D class is the most capable fleet escort deployed by the Navy, he said.

It has a full displacement of nearly 7,000 metric tons and a wide range of weapons, including a single-barrel 130-mm naval gun and a close-in weapon system, as well as 64 vertical launching cells containing HHQ-9 long-range anti-aircraft missiles and YJ-18 or YJ-83 anti-ship cruise missiles. The fighting power of a single Type 052D ship is the combat force equal of several previous models put together, Wu said.