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Chinese Military Exercises During 2010- An Update

( The exercises have been listed by me in the order of their significance for India’s security as seen by me and not in a chronological order )

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China conducted 10 important military exercises of a strategic significance during 2010. In five of them, the PLA Air Force played an important role. This indicates the increasing importance attached by the PLA to the role of its Air force in protecting China’s national security and core interests. The use of the Navy for off-shore defence and overseas power projection has now been supplemented by a similar use of the Air Force for forward defence.

2.In a dispatch of August 4,2010, the Agence France Presse (AFP) quoted Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, as stating in a comment made by him in July that China’s military had made “a fairly significant investment in high-end equipment” including satellites, aircraft and anti-ship missiles. He called the move a “strategic shift, where they are moving from a focus on their ground forces to a focus on their navy, and their maritime forces and their air force,” adding he was “concerned.”


3. This strategic shift of the focus to the Air Force during 2010 was reflected in some of the exercises. One such exercise involved the movement of unidentified equipment by the railway line to Lhasa. This exercise came to notice from a discussion in the “People’s Forum” section of the “People’s Daily” on August 5,2010. It was stated as follows in the “People’s Forum” section: “PLA ( People’s Liberation Army) Daily reported August 3 a train loaded with important combat readiness materials of the Air Force of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) got to the destination safely via the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. According to a leader of the Military Transportation Department of the Logistics Department of the PLA Air Force, this is the first time for his Military Transportation Department to organize combat readiness materials to be transported to Tibet by railway since the Qinghai-Tibet Railway opened to traffic, symbolizing a new improvement of the military transportation capacity of the PLA Air Force in combat support. As the average altitude of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is above 4,000 meters, the transport guards are apt to get altitude reaction sickness. To ensure the safety of the transportation, the Military Transportation Department of the PLA Air Force dispatched personnel to command in the forefront and follow the whole transportation process as well as participate in reinforcing, binding and inspecting materials on the way. To ensure transportation safety of important combat readiness materials, the officers and men of the Military Transportation Department of the PLA Air Force immediately examine the safety state of the train each time when the train stops at the stations along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. They also persist in summing up experience after traveling for some distance, so as to adjust and improve the preplans for the following actions. During the stop process of the train, the security sentinels always keep a close watch, so as to ensure the important combat readiness materials are transported to the destination safely. For a long time, Indian troops have taken the form of “war of attrition” in the South Tibet (Arunachal Pradesh) area to counteract the PLA army stationed there, solely relying on their geographic edge and advantages in transportation. However, with the rapid rise of China’s national strength as well as its transporting capacities of important combat readiness materials, could India still afford the “War of Attrition” with China?” asked the Forum, making it clear this exercise was Arunachal Pradesh related. This came in the wake of earlier reports that the Chinese had embarked on a project for the construction of more airports in Tibet capable of being used by civil and military planes and for strengthening the freight-carrying capacity of the railway line to Tibet. According to an unconfirmed report, they intended doubling the line so that one line could be dedicated to freight traffic.

4. The “PLA Daily” did not identify the “important combat readiness materials” which were transported by the Air Force by the railway line to Lhasa. However, an observer, who is well-informed on China and who had lived for some years in China, commented as follows “The strategic logistic equipment was (probably) the ballistic missiles that were for the first time (probably) transported by the rail net work into Tibet for the use of the Air Force and missile units stationed inside Tibet. These missiles are based in the Qinghai province. For the first time they were transported out from Qinghai in 1985 (to Beijing) for display in the national day parade presided over by Deng Xiao-ping. The live ballistic missiles were paraded by the PLA for the first time. The PLA was shocked to notice that these missiles had bottled up due to the pressure difference between Beijing and the rarified atmospheric pressure in Qinghai. The missiles were repaired in Beijing .Now the PLA has (probably) repeated the same exercise and tested whether these missiles can withstand the pressure difference during rail transportation through rarified atmospheric pressure.”


5. A second India-related exercise held in Tibet in October 2010 was described by the Chinese media as the PLA’s first-ever live military exercise involving the Air Force, the armour, the artillery and the electronic warfare division near the foot of the snow-capped mountains on the Tibetan plateau. The objective of the exercise was described as testing the endurance of the soldiers at an altitude of over 4,700 meters. According to the “China Tibet Online”, the exercise was completed successfully with the troops overcoming the effects of physical and mental health problems caused by coldness and oxygen deficit. This was the first time that the Tibet Military Command of the PLA had conducted an air-ground live ammunition drill, it said, without mentioning the date. The “China Tibet Online” said that the exercises will have a significant role in testing training patterns in mountainous and cold areas as well as in improving combat capabilities.


6. Four Divisions of the PLA with a total strength of about 50,000 troops and drawn from the Shenyang, Lanzhou, Jinan and Guangzhou military regions had participated in a military exercise code-named Stride— 2009 in August 2009. The exercise lasted two months. It was projected by the “Global Times” (August 12,2009) as China’s largest ever, long-range military exercise.

7. Under this exercise, a Division of the Shenyang Military Region in the North-East moved to the Lanzhou Military Region in the North-West and a Division from the Lanzhou Region moved to the Shenyang Region. Similarly, two Divisions from the Jinan and the Guangzhou military Regions exchanged places. The objective of the exercise was described as to test the ability of the Divisions to move rapidly from an area where they were raised and trained to an area to which they were not used. The objective was also to train the troops to fight anywhere, anytime and under any conditions. The exercise also tested the ability of the troops to deal with natural disasters in any part of the country. Another important aim was to test the new road, rail and air infrastructure raised by China in recent years and examine their capacity to support such large-scale movements without causing much inconvenience to the civilian population

8. The Lanzhou Military Region, one of the seven military regions of China, has under its jurisdiction Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, and Shaanxi and the Ali area of northwest Tibet. The Shenyang Military region covers the Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongiang provinces. It plays an important role in the security of Beijing as well as of the areas bordering on the Russian Far East and North Korea. The Jinan Military region covers the Shandong and Henan provinces. It is responsible for security in one of the most heavily populated and industrialised areas of China. The Guangzhou Military region covers the Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Hebei and Hainan provinces. Inter alia, it is responsible for the security of Hong Kong and its Divisions are specially trained for possible military operations against Taiwan.

9. The three Regions, which did not participate in the 2009 exercise, were the Beijing, the Nanjing and the Chengdu Military Regions. The Beijing Military Region covers Beijing city, Tianjin city, the Hebei province, the Shanxi province, and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It is mainly responsible for defending China from Mongolia and Russia, and also provides security to Beijing. The Nanjing Military Region covers the Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, and Jiangxi provinces. It is the principal Military Region responsible for operations against Taiwan in the event of a military conflict. Most of the missile units facing Taiwan are believed to be under its control. The Chengdu Military Region covers the Chongqing, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou provinces and the Xizang/Tibet Autonomous Region. It is responsible for security in Tibet and for protecting the border regions with India, Nepal and Myanmar.

10. Thus while the Military Regions responsible for security in the Tibet area adjoining Arunachal Pradesh and Beijing and for military operations in Taiwan were not included in the 2009 exercise, the Military Region responsible for security in the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang province participated. One would have thought that the Chinese would have been interested in testing the capacity of the newly-laid railway line to Lhasa and the road infrastructure in Tibet to support large-scale and rapid military movements. While the non-participation of the Nanjing Military Region was seen by Chinese commentators as a confidence-building measure at a time when Beijing’s relations with Taiwan were improving, no explanation was forthcoming for the non-participation of the Chengdu Military Region.

11.A total of 30,000 troops from the Beijing and Chengdu Military regions, along with the Lanzhou Military region, participated in a successor exercise to the 2009 one code-named Mission Action 2010, which was held from October 10 to November 3, 2010. The significance of this exercise from India’s point of view is that the Chengdu and the Lanzhou Military regions, which share the responsibility for security in the Chinese controlled Xinjiang Autonomous Region and the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, along with the Beijing Military Region, participated in the exercise in 2010. The over-all theme of the exercise is not clear. However, one could see that as in 2009, one of the objectives of Mission Action 2010 was to test the capability of the participating units to operate in their usual area of deployment as well as in other areas with which they are not normally very familiar. The exercise was held without any previous rehearsals and tested the ability of the participating units to mobilize at short notice and get into the combat-readiness mode within the shortest possible time and wage a co-ordinated operation against an invading army seeking to advance into Chinese territory. It appears to have been a defensive and not an offensive exercise, but the troops were trained to move quickly from the defensive to the offensive mode after having stopped the offensive of the enemy. The exercise tested the ability of the units for remote projection of their capability and strength. The exercise had a conventional component in an electro-magnetic environment and a counter-terrorism component in the Lanzhou area. It is not known whether any of the exercising troops moved into the Tibet area during the exercise. The exercise involved the forced crossing of the Yellow river under “enemy” attack through a make-shift bridge after the “enemy” had destroyd a regular bridge. It is not known where was this crossing made. Thus, there were three exercises of relevance to Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh during 2010—two by the Air Force and one jointly by the Army and the Air Force, with the Army exercising the leadership.The reconstruction of Mission Action 2010 given in the following paras has been made from some details carried by the “PLA Daily”.

12.The Xinhua news agency disseminated the following curtain-raiser report on October 9,2010: “China’s PLA will begin a military exercise to test and improve the force’s combat capability in high-tech warfare, sources from China’s Central Military Commission said. The exercise will involve 30,000 soldiers from three divisions across three of China’s seven military area commands and include military transport planes, fighter jets and attack helicopters, sources said. The drill, which will include infantry forces, paratroopers and air forces, will center around battle scenarios in a “complex information environment” as well as across different terrains and weather conditions, according to sources. The exercise will also include long-distance mobilization of ground and air forces, and test their coordination in defense and striking military targets. During the drill, the PLA will mobilize civilian passenger aircraft and cargo planes to transport soldiers and military equipment, sources said.”

13.According to the “PLA Daily”, from October 12, a group army of the Beijing Military Area Command (MAC) adopted such transport means as aviation, railway and highway to rapidly transport its troops to the exercise assembly area. On October 12, under the order of Wan Feng, deputy director of the Military Transportation Department of the Beijing MAC, the officers and men of the group army immediately kicked off their loading operation at a railway station in north China. It took five hours to load an echelon of troops and equipment onto a train in the past, but it took only three hours under the conditions of mixed-equipment, real-equipment and live-shell this time. The integrated military-civilian support including the requisition of civil passenger airliner and employment of dedicated railway line of local enterprises accelerated this three-dimensional transportation. It’s the first time for an airport in north China to participate in the support for mobile exercise and perform the military transportation support task. All the participating officers and men were equipped with real equipment and live shell, a green passage was set up for the troops to rapidly board the aircraft, so as to ensure a safe and high-efficient remote projection of the troops.

14.After four days and three nights of consecutive maneuver, troops of the Beijing Military Area Command came to the exercise assembly area on the morning of October 16, 2010. According to Duan Duanwu, deputy chief director of the exercise and deputy commander of the Beijing MAC, the participating troops experienced complicated battlefield environment in maneuver and practiced several actual combat subjects including temporarily changing march route, changing camping area, resisting against “enemy’s” comprehensive attack, guarding against “enemy’s” reconnaissance and surveillance, passing through land sections contaminated by chemical toxin and rapidly setting up bridges.

15.On October 20, Zhang Dongfa, commander of a mechanized infantry brigade of a group army under the Beijing Military Area Command, issued orders to various arms and services including the Air Force, the Army aviation, the artillery and the tank in succession to unfold the actual-troop and live-shell drill of the exercise at a training base in Northeast China. On the same exercise ground, the Air Force aviation, the Army aviation and armored groups of the PLA all showed up and three-dimensional attack from multiple angles was effectively conducted through the joint endeavor of different arms and services.   Such joint operation is conducive to the improvement of the overall combat effectiveness. The simulated “Blue Army” composed of the Air Force aviation, the electronic confrontation force, the special operation force, the armored force and so on executed fierce attack by adopting diversified reconnaissance means including the satellite, the aviation, unmanned aircraft and remote sensing, and the two sides plunged themselves into the tough battle on the invisible battleground. In the joint fire strike, the air combat force closely cooperated with the ground artillery force and launched focused attack upon the targets like the in-depth artillery position, the communication hub and armored groups of the “Blue Army”. As indicated by Gao Jianguo, executive director of the exercise and deputy chief of staff of the Beijing MAC of the PLA, it was the first time for the troops in the Beijing MAC of the PLA to participate in the large-scale organic trans-MAC long-range maneuver and a multiple of records on the distance covered by the troops and the number of modes for force projection were created. Everything from the set-up of the commanding organs through the concrete composition of the troops to the overall organization and planning as well as comprehensive support for the overall operation highlighted the characteristics of the all-round and multi-tiered joint operation.

16.On the morning of October 21, troops of the Beijing MAC participating in “Mission Action 2010” held a summing-up meeting at a training base of the Shenyang MAC. During the exercise, the participating troops consisting of such arms as aviation, communication, reconnaissance, artillery, armored force and special force maneuvered for nearly 1,600 km and conducted exercises on a number of subjects in unfamiliar areas. Gao Jianguo, executive director of the exercise and deputy chief of staff of the Beijing MAC, said that it was the first time for the Beijing MAC to organize a group army to carry out long-distance trans-MAC maneuvers in unfamiliar areas and conduct a test-oriented exercise with actual troops and live ammunition under complicated battlefield conditions by using the integrated command platform. The exercise had three highlights ,namely, the obvious characteristics of information-based combat, obvious features of joint operation and adoption of the mindset of actual-combat and field-combat throughout the whole process. In this exercise, all the equipment were carried along according to the requirement. All weapons and ammunition were distributed to the individual soldiers. The campaign levels changed frequently, swiftly and uninterruptedly in the exercise. The Directing Department and the participating troops conducted the exercise by using facilities such as command and operation shelter, rest shelter, field command posts and field tents and didn’t make use of any civilian house, hotel and barracks in the whole process.

17.Units of the Chengdu Military Area Command participating in the exercise went through the combat readiness level transition on October 12. According to Li Shiming, chief director of the exercise and commander of the Chengdu MAC, the highlight of this exercise was that the command means of the commanders at various levels of the participating troop units “experienced historical change by relying on the integrated command platform to direct the exercise in the whole process”. At about 9:00, the command organs at corps, division and regiment levels of a participating group army received several directing documents from the Exercise Directing Department of the Chengdu MAC through the integrated command platform at the same time. Then, the participating troop units in different regions and directions and at different levels switched to the state of alert at the same time and more than 10,000 officers and men entered into combat readiness immediately. In less than 10 minutes after the exercise started, the Exercise Directing Department issued five directing documents on combat readiness level transition and all documents were sent to the troop units directly through the integrated command information system. On the big screen of the combat command center of the group army, scenes of all troop units in organizing the transition of the combat readiness level were shown in real time. Upon receiving orders of combat readiness level transition, a participating motorized infantry division immediately collected and transferred the information on meteorology, hydrology and air situation through the integrated command platform and then sent the data to all participating troop units under the division. At the same time, an intelligence assessment was made on various combat schemes by using the computer-aided decision-making system of the command platform, realizing accurate command and decision-making. Li Fu, commander of a participating regiment, said: “In the previous exercises, meetings were held at various levels and the situation and orders were notified and issued level by level. But now, with the help of the integrated command platform, troop units at all levels can share the combat information at the same time, the combat action is unified, commanders at all levels can give orders “face to face” through videos in the commanding process, significantly improving the combat command efficiency and rapid reaction ability.”  This was the first time the Chengdu MAC applied the integrated command platform in campaign-level actual-force combat exercise. It not only greatly shortened the time for combat readiness level transition of the participating troop units and realized full-process visualization and real-time dynamic monitoring, but also enhanced the organizing and commanding capability of command organs and commanders by using the information system under close-to-actual-war conditions.

18.A division of the Chengdu MAC successfully made a forced crossing of the Yellow River within two hours with all its elements under the joint support of various combat forces on the afternoon of October 19. “It took four days and four nights for the division to cross the Yellow River 63 years ago as part of Liu Bocheng and Deng Xiaoping’s Army. But it took only two hours today for the same division to cross this natural moat!” a leader of the directing group of the exercise from the general headquarters/departments of the PLA said with emotion. At 15:00 of October 19, a division which was heading towards the preset area of the exercise in motorized way received a circular on “enemy” situation that “the Yellow River bridge, a must passing bridge the troops have to pass during their maneuver, was destroyed by the ‘enemy’. The superior already ordered the engineer regiment to rapidly set up a 60-ton float-bridge crossing site at a section of the Yellow River, please get ready for crossing the river at once!” Upon receiving the bridge-erection order, an engineer regiment immediately initiated action. To cooperate with the action of the pontoon-bridge troops, the reconnaissance element of the division carried out search and vigilance for the ferry and fired smoke shells to prevent the “enemy” from air reconnaissance. The air defense group hiding on the bank of the Yellow River rapidly established an air defense system. At 15:50, with the smooth connection of the last raft of the pontoon, a steel float bridge with a length of nearly 300 meters was finally thrown across the Yellow River. Then, under the three-dimensional and alternate cover of the fighters of the Air Force, army aviation helicopters and air defense force, the heavy equipment convoy consisting of tanks, infantry combat vehicles and engineering machines drove onto the float bridge. It took only two hours for all the personnel and equipment of the division to cross the Yellow River. Li Shiming, chief director of the exercise and commander of the Chengdu MAC, said that this was the first time for the troops of the Chengdu MAC to make a forced crossing of the Yellow River, symbolizing the realization of a leap forward of the remote maneuver capability of the organic troops of the Chengdu MAC with all-elements and high-intensity.

19.The command group from the air force of the Beijing MAC participating in the joint command directed the actions of the participating aviation troops. A command post of the air force of the Beijing MAC commanded the troops to enter the frontline airports through remote maneuvers to form an operational posture at once, organized and commanded the fighter aviation troops to provide air cover for the ground troops to seize and maintain the air supremacy, ordered the transport aviation troops to support the ground troops to maneuver to the predetermined operational area and commanded the reconnaissance aviation troops acting as the “Blue Army” to implement air reconnaissance, surveillance and simulated air strikes on the mobile echelon of the joint large formation of campaign in the direction of the Beijing MAC. The PLA Air Force participated in the whole exercise. It not only called out its fighters, reconnaissance airplanes and transport aircraft, but also participated in the joint command and joint action together with the ground troops. Practice has proved that the PLA Air Force can take part in the joint campaign exercise of group army size in multiple directions, showing clearly the systematic combat capability of the PLA Air Force in full-domain and multi-directions to a certain degree.

20.The “PLA Daily” reported as follows on the conclusion of the exercise: “The reporters learned from relevant department of the General Staff Headquarters (GSH) of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that the “Mission Action 2010” actual-troop test-oriented exercise featured with trans-MAC maneuver of group armies was concluded on November 3. With joint operation of the Army and the Air Force as the basic form, the test-oriented exercise which began in the Beijing Military Area Command (MAC) and then extended to the Chengdu MAC and Lanzhou MAC mainly tested and tempered in more than 20 days the information system-based systematic combat ability of the participating troops.   “Mission Action 2010” trans-MAC exercise is the first exercise to practise strategic projection of army corps in joint campaigns organized by the PLA. It is also a campaign exercise uniformly designed by the PLA general headquarters/department and organized and conducted by three military area commands at the same time. The exercise progressing in complicated electromagnetic environment gave prominence to such characteristics as the Army and Air Force joint action, actual-troop test, and operation under information and field-based conditions. By adopting such means as air and railway transportation and motorized maneuver, the participating troop units conducted long-distance maneuver to the outside of their own theatres in succession and maneuvered a distance of more than 10,000 km in total. After arriving at the designated areas, the participating troops carried out actual-troop drills, including joint campaign command, joint firepower strike, comprehensive protection and accurate support, in the large combined tactics training bases of other theatres. The troops of the PLA Air Force participating in the “Mission Action 2010” trans-MAC mobile exercise successfully accomplished their phased tasks of the exercise.   During this exercise stage, the participating troops of the PLA Air Force used 13 airplanes of various types to fly 26 sorties to accomplish such tasks as air transportation, air reconnaissance, electronic interference and air-to-ground attack, greatly enhancing the information-based systematic combat capability of the participating troops. The Command Group of the PLA Air Force, which was composed of elite strength and led by Jiang Lisheng, chief of staff of a command post of the air force of the Chengdu Military Area Command (MAC) of the PLA, collaborated with the Basic Command Post of the Combat Group of the Army to maneuver nearly 2,000 km and participated in the command of the whole exercise. The Command Group of the PLA Air Force and the Basic Command Post of the Combat Group of the Army broke the barriers of system to authorize establishment and use of the integrated command platform to implement real-time command and guide for the transportation, reconnaissance and fighter aviation troops from different organic troop units of the air force of the Guangzhou MAC and the air force of the Lanzhou MAC of the PLA according to the task requirements of the exercise at different stages, reflecting high commanding level in joint operation. “


21. The Chinese Air Force tested its strategic air power capability for air strikes and bombing against long-distance targets in the counter-terrorism exercise (Peace Mission 2010) under the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), which was held at Matybulak in Kazakhstan between September 9 and 25, 2010. About 5,000 troops from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan took part in the exercise. Uzbekistan did not participate.

22.The contingent of about 1000 Chinese troops that participated in the exercise was commanded by Gen. Ma Xiaotian, the PLA’s Deputy Chief of the General Staff. Since its birth, the SCO had held seven joint counter-terrorism exercises code-named “Peace Mission”. In the previous exercises, the focus was on the use of ground troops, tanks, missiles and helicopters in counter-terrorism operations. In Peace Mission 2009 , the theme was counter-terrorism operations to rescue hostages taken by an armed terrorist group in an urban setting which threatened to blow up a chemical plant. The terrorists were projected in the 2009 exercise as armed with man-portable surface-to-air missiles and having an unspecified capability for an attack mounted from air. For the first time since these exercises started, PLA and Russian forces were required during 2009 to integrate air and air defense operations, including the use of their own surface-to-air missiles.

23. During the 2010 exercise, the Chinese tested their capability for mounting long-distance air operations involving the use of bombers and fighter planes. A Xinhua report of September 21, 2010, on this part of the exercise stated as follows: “Six warplanes took off from within China and launched long-distance “sudden attacks” in neighboring Kazakhstan in the on-going anti-terror drill of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, said a Chinese General. The simulated cross-border strikes were the first by the Chinese Air Force, according to Major General Meng Guoping, deputy commander of the Chinese military participating in the drill. The six warplanes — four H-6H bombers and two J-10 fighter jets — were split into two missions. They were supported by an air early warning aircraft and were refueled by a flying tanker before they crossed the border into Kazakhstan, said the General. Although the drill venue is within the range of both warplanes, they were refueled in the air to ensure a complete success of their missions, said General Meng. Meng said by carrying out such a move in the war games, the Chinese Air Force is trying to build an integrated air battle group encompassing early warning, command, long-distance bombing, escort and air refueling. “

24. Gen. Ma Xiaotian described the exercise as purely a strategic action against terrorism not directed against any country. The Chinese media quoted him as saying: “The ongoing exericse never targets or constitutes a threat to any country.” The capability for long-distance air operations of the kind tested by the Chinese would have little use against urban terrorist groups such as the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan (IMET) operating in Chinese-controlled Xinjiang. They would be more relevant for possible use against India in Arunachal Pradesh in the event of a military conflict.

25. Simultaneously with strengthening its strategic air power projection capability demonstrated during the SCO counter-terrorism exercise, China has expanded its civil aviation infrastructure in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region. It already has five modern airports in Lhasa, Qamdo, Nyingchi, Ngari and Xigaze. A new one was under construction in Nagqu. Lhasa is being developed as western China’s air hub.

26. The “China Daily” reported as follows on August 26,2010: ” The Tibet Airlines is planning to launch routes to Europe within five years and expand its fleet to 50 by 2020. Liu Yanping, general manager of the State-owned airline, told China Daily that the carrier plans to build Lhasa Gonggar Airport, where it is based, “into an aviation center that not only links various parts of the autonomous region but also Tibet and other areas”. He said that the carrier plans to make Lhasa, capital of the Tibet autonomous region, western China’s “air hub”. The carrier is a 280-million-yuan ($41 million) joint venture between Tibet Autonomous Region Investment Co Ltd, holding a 51 percent stake, and Tibet Sanli Investment and Tibet Ruiyi Investment, owning 39 and 10 percent stakes. It will make its maiden flight next August, when three Airbus A319s ordered this month arrive. “We plan to have 20 aircraft by 2015,” Liu said. As the first Tibet-based carrier, the airline plans to have routes serving the autonomous region and key cities across the nation by 2012. Flights to South Asia and Southeast Asia are expected by 2013. “We hope to have direct routes to European nations in 2015 or 2016,” said Liu, who has worked in the civil aviation industry for 25 years and used to be employed by Air China’s southwestern branch. “We will help relieve long-existing transport capacity pressures in Tibet, said Liu. He added that the problems presented by slack off-season demand “will be resolved with the development of Tibet’s tourism industry”. So far, six airlines operate 16 routes in Tibet, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Air China has a more than 50 percent market share, followed by Sichuan Airlines with 30 percent. The balance is shared between China Southern, China Eastern, Shenzhen Airlines and Hainan Airlines.”

27. The development of the civil aviation infrastructure in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region has been projected as meant to promote domestic and foreign tourism in the area. The newly-built infrastructure would also place at the disposal of the Chinese Air Force a capability for tactical and logistic air operations against Indian positions in the event of a military conflict.

`28. A commentary on the SCO exercise hosted by the World Security Network at made the following interesting observations:

The various vignettes that formed the overall scenario centered upon neutralizing terrorist formations, while the extent of equipment, firepower and weapons systems used appeared contradictory. As the exercise entered its second phase on September 13, it became clear that the joint command concentrated on improving the coordination of forces and enhancing the effectiveness of its command and control capabilities. In its final active phase, combat readiness, urban warfare, deploying reservists, combat conducted at night involving raids on “enemy bases” featured among the efforts to demonstrate a higher level of antiterrorist cooperation at strategic and tactical levels (Xinhua, September 25). On September 24, Russian defense ministry controlled Zvezda TV, showed footage of the exercise which exemplified the dichotomy between the forces used and the unfolding “counter-terrorist” scenario: Su-25 fighter jets, soldiers in trenches, use of an antiaircraft missile system (Strela), commanders at an observation post, tank maneuvers, all apparently aimed at encircling a town to block the escape route of the “terrorists.” It appears that the exercise scenario in this instance envisaged the arrival of several massive groups of militants supported by “combat aviation,” gradually penetrating the territory of an SCO member state. Moreover, on September 22, Zvezda TV broadcast footage of a combined “massive strike” against “terrorists” using airpower and missiles launched from the Russian Tochka U complex (Zvezda TV, September 22, 24). The two most powerful SCO members, China and Russia, emphasized different aspects of the exercise which revealed nuances between Beijing and Moscow in terms of their use of military power. Russian Defense Minister, Anatoliy Serdyukov, while noting that the scenario followed the most probable events that might result from a SCO intervention in Central Asia, singled out the teamwork of the “group of forces” and said the results of the exercise would be thoroughly assessed. Serdyukov stressed that the threat of terrorism in Central Asia meant that SCO members needed to act jointly, “Terrorism has become a transnational crime, so we must pool our efforts,” the Defense Minister said (ITAR-TASS, September 24; Interfax, September 25). Senior Chinese officials stressed the importance of the exercise, sending a clear signal to potential enemies designed to intimidate and show the unity of action that would ensue from the SCO during a real crisis. However, Chinese defense officials said that the Peace Mission provided an opportunity to conduct joint training, suggesting a stratified approach to the strategic nature of the exercises allowing all players to pursue extra-organizational interests (ITAR-TASS, September 24). Indeed, Chinese defense officials highlighted the invaluable experience gained by the PLA in carrying out long-haul rail transportation of troops, involving changing trains, loading and unloading equipment, as well as successfully switching between the rail track gauges on either side of the Sino-Kazakh border (2.98 meters in China, 2.87 meters in Kazakhstan). The PLA, for instance, built two 80 ton top-fixed platforms at the Alashankou checkpoint on the Chinese border with Kazakhstan to facilitate the movement of tanks and other armored vehicles. All train carriages were air-conditioned, and each contingent of troop carriages had an attached dining carriage (Xinhua, September 22). Equally, across a range of indicators, Peace Mission 2010 exposed the widening gap between the conventional armed forces of China and Russia, and especially the former’s capability to conduct expeditionary operations. Comparing PLA and Russian strategic military exercises over the past three years, it is clear that the PLA can move troops over large distances much faster, outperforming their Russian counterparts in the areas of logistics, planning, coordinated action, use of airpower and possessing network centric options currently lacking in the “new look” Russian military. Peace Mission 2010 underscored these growing disparities providing a subtext for allowing China to showcase its ability to intervene in Central Asia at a level unmatched by Russia. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the high profile and unparalleled demonstration of Chinese strategic airpower during the exercise. Xinhua boasted that the non-stop flight of Chinese fighters and bombers, during Peace Mission 2010, taking off from airbases in Urumqi, in western China and returning after conducting air operations in Kazakhstan, was the first of its kind (Xinhua, September 20). At 9:00 a.m. on September 20, six aircraft, four H-6H bombers and two J-10 fighters, supported by an early warning aircraft and refueled in mid-air, crossed into Kazakh airspace to simulate cross border precision airstrikes. They were tasked with conducting long-distance “sudden strikes” during the SCO exercise. Major-General Meng Guoping, the Deputy Commander of the PLA forces participating in the exercise, explained that the Chinese air force (PLAAF) is developing an integrated air battle group encompassing early warning, command, long-distance bombing, escort and air refueling. Therefore, the SCO exercise was utilized as an opportunity to test this capability. Later on the same day, a second batch from the PLAAF carried out joint maneuvers with the Russian and Kazakh air forces. However, the simulated cross border air strikes were a milestone in the demonstration of Chinese airpower and highlighted China’s growing capability to rapidly intervene during a future crisis in Central Asia (Jiefangjun Bao, September 23). 29. Another commentary on the same exercise by Martin Sieff of the Central Asia Newswire ( ) said:

Though the annual maneuvers are usually dubbed “anti-terror” exercises, the maneuvers that took place this year far exceeded what are usually regarded as “anti-terrorist operations.” Such operations, for example, might practice scenarios in which Special Forces battle small groups of extremists who might be holding hostages. This year’s ( 2010’s) exercises appeared to be practice in tactical cooperation for air force ground support operations in full-scale land wars. According to a Xinhua in one phase of the maneuvers, six combat aircraft based in China carried out long-distance surprise strikes on designated targets in Kazakhstan. These maneuvers were the first of their kind ever carried out by the PLA Air Force, Major General Meng Guoping, deputy commander of the Chinese forces taking part in the exercises, told Xinhua. The exercises, therefore, marked a major advance in China’s capacity to project its air power and tactical ground-support beyond its own borders and against potential targets in Central Asia. Xinhua identified the participating combat aircraft as four H-6H bombers and two J-10 fighter jets. It said they conducted two simultaneous missions and that they enjoyed the support of air early warning aircraft, or AWACs. Their operational range was also effectively doubled because as part of the exercise, they were refueled by an aerial tanker in Chinese air space before flying into Kazakh air space. Gen. Meng told Xinhua that the express purpose of the exercise was to help the Chinese Air Force create its first integrated air battle group that could carry out and coordinate early warning, command, long-distance bombing, escort and air-refueling functions. This will not be welcome news to Russian Defense Ministry planners. Over the past six years and more, Russia has angered China by repeatedly refusing to sell Beijing weapons systems that would allow China to create and operate such forces. Russia wants to remain unchallenged with its own advanced technology artillery and tactical air support systems across the Asian steppe. Meng also acknowledged that the SCO “Peace Mission 2010” exercises were intended to develop many other capabilities far in excess of any limited “anti-terrorist” roles. He told Xinhua the exercises were also designed to advance the PLA’s expertise in carrying out information, or IT-based operations, field training exercises, coordinated command and control, combined actions and diversified external support. “Through many years of joint exercises, we have clearly understood that these [SCO] exercises could not only showcase power and deter the ‘three evil forces [of terrorism, separatism and extremism]’, but also serve as an important way to train our armed forces,” Meng told the Chinese news agency. The commentary added: “Western military analysts have tended to systematically discount and underestimate the military significance of the SCO and its annual exercises. This is in part because the forces involved are so small, and also because the scale of cooperation and integration of its member states is miniscule compared with those of the nations of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. However, most military alliances in modern history have involved far less peacetime preparation and military cooperation than the SCO nations have already practiced. And though NATO certainly has more cooperation and coordination, NATO’s overall military forces, even including those of the United States, are far smaller in scale than the combined strength of the Russian and Chinese military in manpower and combat units. The SCO member states, especially Russia and China, have certainly developed their interoperability and tactical coordination capabilities very slowly and cautiously since the organization was founded on June 15, 2001. But as the Xinhua report documents, and General Meng’s frank and shrewd comments confirm, the alliance and its leading states have been making highly significant and impressive progress, especially in its current maneuvers in the Matybulak mountains. This year’s SCO military exercises were consistent with the patterns of training, mutual cooperation and interoperability that have been their priority now for six years since the first of the series was held in 2004. No other military alliance based in Asia can match the potential military resources of the SCO nations, especially Russia and China. Russian analysts claim that NATO, the world’s oldest military cooperation organization and the one with the most active members, has so far shunned SCO feelers to carry out joint or cooperative endeavors, especially in the field of combating drug trafficking. The SCO cannot yet begin to match the technological superiority, weapons systems or vast depth in interoperability of NATO member nations. But as the “Peace Mission 2010” exercises confirmed, its capabilities are impressive and growing. The SCO is here to stay.”


30. Chinese Air Force planes had re-fueled in Pakistan and Iran in September,2010, while on their way to Turkey to participate in a joint air exercise with Turkish Air Force planes. On the way back, they refuelled in Iran. Turkish press reports said the exercises took place from Sept. 20 at the Konya air base in the Anatolia region. The air exercise preceded the visit of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Turkey.

31.Turkey’s agreement to hold a joint exercise with the PLA (Air Force) was significant for two reasons. Firstly, Turkey agreed to participate in the exercise and to host Wen despite the considerable unhappiness and anger caused among the religious elements of Turkey over the suppression of the Uighurs of Xinjiang by the PLA. The Munich-based World Uighur Congress, which Beijing blamed for the Uighur uprising in Xinjiang,, enjoys considerable support in Turkey. Secondly, the Obama Administration did not appear to have opposed the joint exercise despite the fact that the planes of the Turkish Air Force that participated in the joint exercise had been given by the US.

32. Some details of the exercise were carried by the “People’s Daily” of China on the basis of Western and Turkish media reports. The salient points were:

Turkish press reports confirmed the unprecedented involvement of PLA ( Air Force) jets in Turkey’s annual joint exercises, known as Anatolian Eagle, held over the centre of the country. Army Lt. Col. Tamara Parker, a Pentagon spokeswoman, confirmed European press reports of the unusual aerial military exercises involving U.S.-made Turkish jets and Chinese Su-27 fighters that engaged in simulated aerial combat. She said: “The Government of Turkey is committed to the NATO Alliance and the continuation of strong ties to the United States, and Turkey assured us they would take the utmost care related to their possession of U.S. and NATO technologies.” However, she did not address the issue of whether the Chinese military might have learned sensitive NATO aerial combat information. Jane’s Defense Weekly, quoting Turkish diplomatic sources, stated that the exercises involved less-capable U.S.-made F-4s and Chinese Su-27s, but not the more advanced U.S.-made F-16s. Ed Timperlake, a former Marine Corps fighter pilot and former Pentagon technology security official, said allowing the Chinese Air Force to exercise with a NATO ally posed security risks. He said: ‘The Turkish Air Force helping the PLAAF to see NATO combat tactics and training is a very bad idea. It is deadly serious stuff.” He said the exercises and Turkey’s warming relations with neighboring Iran should lead the Pentagon to rethink its decision to sell the new F-35 jet to Turkey. Richard Fisher, a specialist on China’s military at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, also criticized Turkey’s military for conducting aerial exercises with a communist power that posed a threat to U.S. and allied security interests in Asia. “It’s not a good thing,” he said.Mr. Fisher said Turkey in the late 1990s used Chinese technology to jointly develop short-range B611 missiles. The Tehran Press TV Online reported that Iran opened its airspace to the Turkish and Chinese jets. The daily “Hurriyat” ( of Turkey?) reported that Iran indirectly supported a secret military drill between the Turkish and Chinese Air Forces. Four drill-bound Chinese SU-27 warplanes that took off from bases in China refueled in Iran – the first time the Islamic Republic has ever allowed foreign warplanes to refuel at its airbases, the daily said. The Russian-made SU-27s used by the Chinese Air Force had to refuel in both Pakistan and Iran because of their limited 3,500-kilometer range. Official letters were sent to the two countries prior to the exercise requesting the use of airspace and passage and refueling privileges. The warplanes refueled a second time in Iran on their return to China. The exercise was conducted after two years of deliberations, the report said, adding that its sole purpose was to improve mutual cooperation between the two friendly countries. Washington contacted Ankara ahead of the drill to express concerns over the planned use of F-16 warplanes in a military drill involving China – which the U.S. considers a possible threat. “We expect you to honor the agreement article that requires the exercise of caution regarding the transfer of technology to third countries,” the memorandum read. American concerns were taken into consideration and F-16 fighters were replaced by older F-4 models in the exercise. 33. The “China Daily” of December 14,2010, reported as follows: “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Turkey’s armed forces kicked off a weeklong joint military training in Turkey on Nov 8, aimed at enhancing mutual understanding and trust, deepening communication and cooperation between the two armies.” No further details are available


34. An exercise code-named VANGUARD –2010 was held in August,2010 in Chinese territory for five days. A feature of the exercise was the relocation of air defense positions and command posts in pouring rain and while under “attack” by enemy forces. More than 12,000 Chinese military personnel, along with seven types of military aircraft, divided into Red and Blue teams, took part in the exercise, which was held in seven cities across the Henan and the Shandong Provinces. The exercise was held in two parts. In the first part, the Red Team was asked to relocate its positions within seven hours in pouring rain and while under “attack” by the blue team, which tried to prevent the re-location. In the second phase, the new positions of the Red team were attacked by the Blue team. The first phase involved emergency evacuations, war planning, reconnaissance, early warning activities, ground-to-air attacks and evacuations of command posts. In the second phase, Chinese air defense troops’ ability to fight air units in a “complicated electromagnetic environment” was tested. A 2,200-strong armored brigade from the PLA’s Jinan Military Area Command participated in Vanguard-2008. Some foreign military officers attending courses in Chinese military institutions were invited as observers. A “Vanguard-2009A” exercise was held in 2009 involving 5,000 soldiers and officers from the PLA army and air force and more than 50 types of military equipment.

35.In a commentary on this exercise disseminated on August 4,2010, the Agence France Presse said: “China launched large-scale air defence exercises on Tuesday — the latest in a series of drills carried out amid US concerns about Beijing’s increasing military assertiveness. More than 10,000 defence personnel and seven different types of military aircraft are taking part in the drills in the eastern province of Shandong and the central province of Henan, the official China News Service said. The exercises, codenamed “Vanguard 2010,” will involve emergency evacuation, war planning, and reconnaissance and early warning, the report said. They are due to last five days. The exercises — aimed at ensuring preparedness for the defence of Beijing in a potential air raid — will include one live-fire drill and will take place in real-time war conditions without any previous rehearsal, it added. The exercises come hot on the heels of large naval and air drills held on China’s southeast coast last week, just as South Korea and the United States conducted their own naval exercises in the region, opposed by Beijing. A large group of submarines and warships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy fired guided missiles in the South China Sea and tested anti-missile air defence systems.”


36. In a despatch of June 29, 2010, the Reuters news agency reported that China had denied media reports that an artillery drill in the East China Sea was in response to a planned military exercise between South Korea and the US. The Reuters added: “The 6-day, live ammunition exercise which started on Wednesday in the East China Sea off China’s coast, was seen by some analysts as a “response to a (planned) joint exercise between the United States and Republic of Korea navies in the Yellow Sea,” said the China Daily, the country’s official English-language newspaper. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said there was no such link and a Chinese military officer said the timing was coincidental. “This is a regular military exercise,” the spokesman Qin told a regular news conference. “This is not related to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.” Li Daguang, a professor at China’s National Defense University and a PLA officer, said the exercise was “not aimed at the U.S.-South Korea joint exercise.” “The PLA artillery exercise in the East China Sea and the joint U.S.-South Korea exercise in the Yellow Sea are a complete coincidence,” Li told the “Wen Wei Po”, a Hong Kong newspaper under mainland control. “The outside world shouldn’t read anything into this.” The Yellow Sea lies to the north of the East China Sea and the areas of the two exercises would not overlap. China’s Foreign Ministry said last week it was concerned about reports a U.S. aircraft carrier may join the anti-submarine exercise with South Korea following a standoff with North Korea over the sinking of a warship from the South. “Though the Chinese government did not say anything about the drill, anybody with common sense on military strategy will bet that they are related,” one expert on China-U.S. relations, Shi Yinhong of Renmin University in Beijing, told the China Daily.”


37. China held a three-day military exercise in the South China Sea in July that coincided with joint naval exercises in the Sea of Japan by the US and South Korea. An unspecified number of warships, submarines, and combat aircraft took part in live fire exercise, which was personally overseen by Gen.Chen Bingde, the Chief of Staff of the PLA.

38. The party-controlled “Global Times” reported as follows on November 3: “The Marine Corps of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) staged a military drill in the disputed South China Sea Tuesday as representatives from more than 40 countries observed. The Marine Corps’ annual war games included amphibious combat military exercises during drill codenamed Jiaolong-2010. Some 1,800 naval forces and at least 100 warships, submarines and combat aircraft took part in the live-fire exercises. More than 200 military students from 40 countries and regions observed the exercises that included assault drills. They discussed the exercises with commanding officers. “This is basically a routine military exercise but it is also based on the current combat situation in the South China Sea,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times. Analysts said that the show of military capability highlights China’s concerns in the area, the site of previous disputes with other nations. “It was not a special signal, but we chose that theater to show our naval capacity and strength,” Li said. “Some countries intervene in the South China Sea in recent years, jointly conducting military exercises with our neighboring countries, so it’s time for us to oppose these intervention with power politics,” he said.


39.The Xinhua reported as follows on December 23,2010: “For days in a row, a pontoon-bridge brigade under the Nanjing Military Area Command(MAC)of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army(PLA), a destroyer flotilla and a submarine flotilla of the PLA Navy, an aviation division and a ground-to-air missile brigade of the PLA Air Force, and a brigade of the PLA Second Artillery Force organized actual-troop and live-ammunition drills respectively in the sea areas of the Bohai Sea and the East China Sea, at an airport beyond the Great Wall, in a military base in Northwest China, and on the tributaries of the Yangtze River, so as to receive the grading assessment for annual training from the military training assessment team of the PLA General Staff Headquarters. The year-end assessment is an important platform to test the training quality, combat capability, training effectiveness and training style of the PLA troops. The actual-combat assessment was carried out in full swing and the actual-troop, actual-equipment and live-ammunition drills culminated in different places ranging from land to air, from surface to underwater, from snowfield to Gobi desert, and from air to deep sea. In the whole process of the assessment, relevant troop units had totally organized 10 actual-troop and live-ammunition drills and exercises, six of which were conducted by the PLA Navy, the Air Force, and the Second Artillery Force under close-to-real-war background.” (My comment: It is not clear whether this grading assessment was in respect of all the exercises held in 2010 and did not refer to a single exercise)

40.The “China Daily” of December 14,2010, listed the “ Top 10” military exercises of 2010. The following six involving China figured in the list: “Vanguard 2010″, Mission Action 2010, a joint Chinese-Thai marine exercise in Thailand in October code-named “Blue Strike 2010”, which was described as the first joint training exercise of the Chinese Marines in a foreign country, Peace Mission—2010, the third counter-terrorism exercise with Pakistan in Xinjiang in July and the joint army training exercise with the Turkish Army in November. The other four exercises which figured in this list of Top 10 exercises of 2010 were: an air defence drill in Iran in November, Russia’s Vostok-2010 exercise in June, a US-South Korea joint naval exercise in November and a US-Japan joint naval exercise in December. ( 15-1-11)

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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