THE People's Liberation Army and Air Force ran a major joint exercise last month in the remote Taklimakan Desert in northwestern Xinjiang autonomous region. The 'live wire' manoeuvres are believed to be the largest mounted in the mainly Muslim region which borders several countries in the former Soviet Union. Liberation Army Daily said the exercise began on August 29 and was still running more than two weeks later. It did not state when the manoeuvres were due to end. 'The purpose of the exercise was to temper the combined operations capabilities of various arms in desert areas,' the newspaper said. One Western analyst said it was probably run at a 'strategic level'. Liberation Army Daily quoted Lanzhou Military Region commander, Liu Jingsong, as saying this type of joint exercise in the desert was 'something new for the PLA'. The newspaper said the desert had become an arena for high-technology warfare, and that the army and air force had encountered a host of problems in carrying out rapid-mobility attack and defence drills in such circumstances. The problems included coping with 'capricious weather' which brought troop fatigue and equipment problems, manoeuvring difficulties in the desert, and providing battlefield concealment and logistics support on 'drifting sands'. During the exercise, 'friendly' and 'enemy' aircraft rehearsed dog fights, attacked ground troops and blew up pontoon bridges.