“The naval parade will give the PLA Navy an opportunity to polish its image as a friendly and peace-loving modern military, and President Xi Jinping, who is the chairman of the Central Military Commission, is expected to preside over the parade,” a Chinese source told the South China Morning Post.
“It is very likely that the French navy will send the flagship Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier next month, and Russia is also considering sending the Admiral Kuznetsov to join the celebrations,” the source said.
The presence of Kuznetsov – Russia’s only aircraft carrier – will be of particular interest to military observers as the mammoth warship was heavily damaged last October when a 70-tonne dry dock crane toppled over, punching a hole in its hull.
China’s two aircraft carriers owe much to a Russian progenitor. China’s first commissioned carrier, the Liaoning, was refitted from a half-built Kuznetsov-class carrier purchased from Ukraine in 1998. The PLA’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, was built using the Liaoning as a template.
Beijing-based naval analyst Li Jie said both the Liaoning and the Type 001A, which was back at a Dalian shipyard last Monday after a week-long sea trial, and other new warships were expected to join the review.
“This year’s parade will be the largest in the PLA’s history, to demonstrate the navy’s modernisation achievements over the past few decades. The country’s new generation destroyer, the Type 055, and the new generation of amphibious vessels are set to make their debut,” Li said, adding that the Type 055 was designed to escort the Type 001A carrier when it becomes operational.
Another source said that the amphibious vessel could be the Type 075. With a displacement of 40,000 tonnes, it is so far the largest ship of its kind in service with the PLA Navy. It can carry 30 helicopters capable of attacking ships, ground forces and submarines.
“It’s possible that China will show the Type 094 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) in the parade. The Type 094 is known for being noisy and is easy to detect, but Beijing is now developing a more advanced SSBN, the Type 096,” the source said.
Rear Admiral He Lin, a delegate of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and a naval expert who specialises in submarine technology, confirmed to the Post on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress last Sunday that development of the Type 096 was under way but he declined to elaborate.
The Type 096 SSBN is designed to carry JL-3 missiles, which are based on the PLA Rocket Force’s land-based DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles. They have a range up to 12,000km and could potentially hit targets on the US mainland.
The parade will take place on April 23 in the Yellow Sea off the coast of Qingdao in Shandong province, according to the Ministry of National Defence. The ministry said China had invited more than a dozen overseas navies to take part.
Another source close to the navy said Japan and South Korea would send warships to join the review.
As China is still locked in thorny trade negotiations with the US over tariffs, all weaponry and warships on parade would send a message to Washington that the PLA was holding to its defensive strategy, according to Beijing-based military observer Zhou Chenming.
“The naval parade in April aims at sending a message to the international community that the PLA Navy is capable of defending the country’s overseas interests, especially its oil lifeline on the high seas,” Zhou said.
Last April, Xi inspected a naval review in the South China Sea that featured 48 vessels and 76 planes, including the Liaoning, the Type 094A and 095 nuclear-powered submarines, 052D guided missile destroyers and J-15 fighter jets.
In 2009, China held a review to mark the navy’s 60th anniversary, with the participation of 14 overseas navies, including the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald from America and the guided-missile cruiser Varyag from Russia, as well as vessels from France, Australia, South Korea, India and Pakistan.