The People's Liberation Army Air Force finished a large-scale, 12-day military drill in the Gobi Desert on Friday that chimed with new Central Military Commission (CMC) chief Xi Jinping's emphasis on the strategic importance of such exercises. More than 14 air force units and at least 100 pilots in advanced Jian-10 and Jian-11 fighter jets took part in the drill in the Lanzhou military command's training base in the Gobi Desert, which is on the border between China and Mongolia, Xinhua reported, adding that the exercise was the biggest air-to-air strike assessment drill in recent years. The report quoted Yang Yongfei, an air force brigade commander, as saying that the drill was a response to political tasks set out at the Communist Party's national congress last month and reflected the army's achievements in information warfare modernisation. Xi, who replaced President Hu Jintao as CMC chairman on November 15, after the party congress, took a tough stand at a special meeting of the outgoing and incoming commissions on November 17, instructing all military leaders to improve the PLA's deterrence and fighting capabilities through military exercises. Xi also stressed that the army should fully realise its important role in the nation's security and development strategy and speed up military modernisation. Speaking to the PLA's Second Artillery Corps - its strategic missile force - yesterday, Xi again highlighted the importance of drills and called on the corps to make concrete preparations for combat and to beef up drills to enhance its ability to carry out missions under complicated circumstances, Xinhua reported. The state news agency said the drill simulated air combat and was aimed at assessing the air force's fighting capability in modern warfare scenarios. China's military might: in pictures "Experts who are specialists in electronic countermeasures, radar, missiles and air-to-air combat are the adjudicators on our assessment team, with all simulated tactical situations being designed by air combat manoeuvring instrumentation in a bid to be close to actual combat," Xinhua quoted Jiang Jinming, director of the air force's training department, as saying. Xu Guangyu, a senior researcher at the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said that as the PLA was not in the business of declaring war on other countries, it could only improve its combat capabilities through simulations. "We are not the US army, which has had many opportunities to engage in wars to maintain its fighting skill," he said. "The PLA is a defensive force that can only rely on military drills to improve its capabilities." Last month an army aviation troop also conducted military drills.