China's navy and air force prepare for historic combat drill

Joint exercise over East China Sea to depart from traditional predetermined scenarios to better reflect real battle conditions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 5:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 9:12am

Chinese naval and air forces will hold their first joint air combat drill, putting their personnel through realistic confrontations rather than scripted scenarios to improve battle readiness amid the country's bitter territorial rows over the East China Sea.

The drill would involve a naval aviation unit from the navy's East Sea Fleet and a star fighter jet unit from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force, PLA Daily, the military's official mouthpiece, said yesterday.

The troops would conduct one-on-one confrontations and the forces would include the country's third-generation fighter jets, the most widely used model on the mainland. The paper did not give further details on the drill's location or length.

The exercise aimed to break down barriers between the various wings of the PLA and would pave the way for more regular mixed-forces drills, the paper said.

The drill suggested military exercises were going off-script to test and improve the fighting skills of the forces, military commentators said.

"China's military drills used to have a script - preplanned scenarios between the 'red army' and its pseudo opponent 'blue army'. And of course the 'red army' always wins," Macau-based military analyst Antony Wong Dong said. "Such air combat drills are very common in the United States, but China has been behind."

The shift to combat drills echoes the directives of President Xi Jinping , who has said repeatedly that the country's military exercises should operate more like real battles.

"Chinese pilots have not been in a real battle for decades. They have very long flying hours - the major criterion of their performance review, but fighting skills are their weakness," retired major general Xu Guangyu said.

"It will be too late to practise when the tensions escalate."

Wong said the fighter jet unit taking part in the drill was likely from the Nanjing command, and the exercises were very likely to be carried out over the East China Sea. "There's no doubt the drill is a warning to Japan, and even the US," he said.

In late July, massive delays hit key airports in the east of the country when the PLA carried out military drills in waters off the southeast coast.