Photos and videos posted on Chinese social media over the weekend revealed an array of supersonic and stealth weapons and equipment rolling into central Beijing for a rehearsal ahead of a parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the nation’s founding.
The 24-hour rehearsal ended on Monday morning, and observers on social media said the “biggest surprise so far” was what looked like a new drone — the latest example of flashy military equipment being developed and showcased by Beijing.
A well-known civilian commentator who goes by the name of Xi Yazhou wrote on Chinese news portal Guancha.cn that he believed the aircraft pictured on the back of a truck at the rehearsal was an unassembled supersonic DR-8 — or Wuzhen-8 in Chinese — which has never been seen in public before.
He said a description of the drone by state media China Aviation News when it was first tested in 2015 matched the photo from the rehearsal, adding the performance and shape of the aircraft was similar to the US Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird surveillance plane.
The South China Morning Post also cited commentators confirming the aircraft as the DR-8, which it said is expected to play a key role should there be a conflict with US aircraft carrier strike groups in the South China Sea or West Pacific.
Rick Joe, a Chinese military analyst and author at The Diplomat, tweeted that in some ways the drone resembled a Lockheed D-21 — a supersonic reconnaissance drone retired by the US almost half a century ago.
The US used the D-21 for spying missions over China, but several of the aircraft crashed during the operations, according to the Post.
Maximum speed topping 4,100 kph, with the ability to reach Guam
Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military commentator, was cited by the Post as saying the DR-8 could travel faster than the D-21, which had a maximum speed of Mach 3.35 — or about 4,100 kilometres per hour.
Another Shanghai-based commentator, Shi Lao, said the DR-8 was capable of travelling as far as the Western Pacific, including Guam.
An observer on Twitter with the username Dafeng Cao said the drone was “the biggest surprise so far”.
And while it’s unclear just how efficient the drone is, the fact that China is about to parade it around indicates that it’s at least approaching an operational state, according to defence publication The War Zone.
Other drones spotted during the parade rehearsal included what China’s state-owned Global Times said was “probably” the Sharp Sword stealth attack drone seen on a test flight back in 2013.
It also reported other military equipment seen at the rehearsal, including the Type 99A and Type 15 tanks and Dongfeng-41 (DF-41) intercontinental ballistic missiles.
About 280,000 people were reportedly involved in the capital city’s second rehearsal, which was held under extremely tight security.
Several hotels in the vicinity of Tiananmen Square are enforcing strict curfews during the rehearsals, forbidding entry and exit for 12-hour stretches at a time, while China has also banned flying kites, drones and captive pigeons over central Beijing in the lead-up to National Day.
Some venues, including the Forbidden Palace, will also be closed ahead of the important date.
Zhijun Cai, deputy director of the military parade leading group office, told local media all items being displayed on the national day were active weapons and equipment used by the People’s Liberation Army.
He told reporters they were designed and made in China and said a number of them would be making their public debut on October 1.
Celebrations on the day are also expected to include a mass pageant and a fireworks show, Reuters reported, citing the press centre for the celebrations of the 70th founding anniversary.
More than 100,000 people are expected to take part, and 60,000 are expected to attend a grand evening gala in Tiananmen Square on October 1, according to Wang Xiaohui, executive deputy head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee.