PLA Navy gains experience with key live-fire drill

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2011, 12:00am


The PLA Navy's first live-fire drill in the Gulf of Aden has highlighted the ongoing importance of its historic anti-piracy deployment to the Indian Ocean, military analysts say.

A Z-9 helicopter took off from the frigate Wenzhou on Sunday and fired on three moving targets over 30 minutes, the PLA Daily said.

Gary Li, a PLA watcher at the private intelligence firm Exclusive Analysis, said that while such operations may be routine for some foreign navies, it was good experience for China.

'The use of helicopters in an attack is really quite new for the PLAN, so this really is vital experience,' London-based Li said. 'It is one more sign of the usefulness of the whole Indian Ocean deployment beyond the anti-piracy work.'

He noted that the Z-9 fired from a range of 1,000 metres - far further than typical rules of engagement against pirates. This suggested that the training could have been more along the lines of a classic assault pattern than simple warning shots against pirates.

Guo Xichun , the helicopter pilot, told the PLA Daily the training would improve the fleet's quick-response ability. 'The warnings delivered by airborne weapons can effectively deter the rampant pirate activities and, hence, disperse them,' Guo said.

Both Asian and Western naval officials involved in the international effort against the piracy problem said several navies were ensuring they were prepared to take a tougher line in response to escalation from pirates, who now operate from mother ships far from their lairs on the lawless coast of Somalia on the Horn of Africa.

'We know the Chinese out here place great value in the training opportunities the operation provides,' said one Asian naval officer involved in the effort. 'We can expect to see more of this kind of thing.'

The difficulties involved in attacking a pirate-held ship were highlighted when South Korean forces engaged in a five-hour shootout with pirates in February before boarding a captured vessel and rescuing the crew. The PLA has since practiced similar boarding missions and opened fire from helicopters several times to thwart attacks.

Terence Yeung, a Hong Kong-based military expert with the Baptist University, said that while it was the first live-fire drill in the Gulf of Aden, it remained routine training, with no military or political significance.

The PLA has operated revolving three-ship deployments to the Horn of Africa since December 2008, the first time the nation's navy has ventured into a conflict zone beyond home waters in centuries.

The ships provide escorts for convoys of ships from greater China and liaise with international flotillas.