8 things to know about China’s biggest army training base
Zhurihe base in Inner Mongolia offers realistic battle conditions in a variety of terrains
For almost 60 years, China has been hosting exercises in its largest military training ground,
the Zhurihe Combined Tactics Training Base, to prepare Chinese troops for future.
During President Xi Jinping’s visit to the military training base in a remote part of northern China, 400km northwest of Beijing, to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, he is expected to watch war games that will showcase China’s ability to win in wars.
Here’s what we know about Zhurihe and the war games that have been taking place there.
What is Zhurihe and what facilities does it have?
The Zhurihe base is a massive military training facility located deep in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
The PLA’s largest and most advanced training base, it has been set up to provide realistic battle conditions for Chinese soldiers to enhance their combat skills.
The training base covers an area of 1,066 sq km, almost the same as the land area of Hong Kong, and has its own hospitals and army logistic facilities.
At Zhurihe, PLA troops have mock battles in grasslands, hills and deserts. Clips broadcast by state-controlled China Central Television have shown soldiers fighting near a building that closely resembled Taiwan’s Presidential Office Building, suggesting Taipei is a likely target of the PLA’s urban combat training.
What kind of drills take place at Zhurihe?
Zhurihe has been hosting realistic combat exercises for about 10 years. Such drills, typically involving battles between red and blue units, are designed to get the soldiers used to fighting more skilful and better equipped foes.
Besides the combat troops, PLA medics also undergo training at Zhurihe, working on battlefield surgery and medical evacuation procedures.
In 2014, Zhurihe also hosted a six-day joint anti-terror drill, with forces from Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan teaming up with PLA personnel.
Who are the red and blue armies?
Many countries have so-called opposing forces dedicated to playing enemy units in military training. In the West, the opposing force is usually called the red army, but that colour, highly symbolic for communist states, represents the PLA side in China.
China’s blue force, the 195th Mechanised Infantry Brigade, was officially set up at Zhurihe in 2014. In a series of battle exercises called Stride, PLA troops from different regions are organised into red units to battle the blue units.
The blue force has adopted a command system and tactics similar to those of Nato forces.
Colonel Xia Minglong, its first commander, said its job was to “study the enemies and act like the enemies”.
How do the red and blue forces fight each other?
During the war games, soldiers have laser receivers scattered all over their bodies, which detect when they are “hit” by enemy fire.
The Zhurihe base allows the army to practise on different types of terrain and the exercises also include mock nuclear, chemical and biological warfare as well as urban combat.
The tactics used by the red and blue armies can get creative. During a mock battle in 2014, some blue troops dressed up as local government officials came to offer the red unit cabbages and potatoes.
After they were invited into the red force’s command building, the blue soldiers “kidnapped” their enemy’s commander.
What weapons are used in the exercises?
In the mock battles, both sides can use regular weapons such as tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery. They also have equipment for electronic warfare and air surveillance.
To better imitate the US army, the blue force has been given upgraded weapons and artillery, including the advanced ZTZ-96A battle tank, the Type-07 self-propelled artillery and an early warning system.
Which force has won most battles?
The red forces were given a drubbing during the Stride exercises in the past three years.
In the 2014 drill, the red units won just one of the seven battles, and in 2015 they lost all the battles to the blue force.
State media said the red force faced greater difficulty as it was supposed to “invade” the territory held by the blue force, which also had more high-tech weapons.
Exercise directors sometimes give the red army extra challenges such as electromagnetic interference and mock chemical attacks.
Has anyone died during the exercises?
The PLA does not publish fatality records at Zhurihe, but at least two soldiers have reportedly died on duty there in the past three years.
How does Zhurihe compare with America’s Fort Irwin National Training Centre?
Chinese media have labelled Zhurihe “China’s Fort Irwin”, but the US training centre, in the desert in California, is much bigger.
The Fort Irwin National Training Centre was established in 1979 and covers an area of 2,600 sq km. The enemy force there, the 11th Armoured Cavalry Regiment, imitates the Russian army.
US soldiers also train at Fort Irwin before overseas deployment and it features several imitation Afghan and Iraqi villages, with mock hotels, mosques and residential areas.