Russia’s Vostok 2022 war games were a chance for the People’s Liberation Army to test its abilities and deepen trust with partners, according to military mouthpiece PLA Daily. The eight-day exercises, which ended on Wednesday, “reflected the level of the PLA’s training and readiness for war, and … the advances in national defence and military reform”, the report said. The PLA sent the second-biggest contingent of the 14 participating countries, including more than 2,000 personnel and over 300 vehicles. “All forces showcased new improvements in their operations,” said Zhao Jianyou, assistant to the Chinese commander of the joint battle command for the exercise. China faces dilemma over military ties with Russia It is the fourth time Chinese forces have taken part in Russian strategic war games and second time they have been involved in the Vostok exercise. In addition, it is the first time the PLA has been represented at the event by all three major branches – ground, naval and air forces. Jiang Zhaosheng, deputy commander of the ground forces involved in the drill, said the exercise tested the ability of various equipment to adapt to the environment and manoeuvre in unfamiliar areas. In particular, the ground force’s Type 99 main battle tanks and Type 04A armoured vehicles showed high mobility and strike precision in difficult terrain and bad weather, Jiang said. PLA officers also highlighted the role unmanned aerial vehicles played in combat, saying the drones were used in situational awareness reconnaissance and strike effectiveness assessment, providing real time information for tactic adjustments and reducing response time. “The PLA showed its offensive and defensive abilities, combining information link nodes,” Chinese military commentator Song Zhongping said. Observers noted that during the exercise PLA Air Force J-10B fighters took off from an airfield in China carrying anti-radiation missiles, conducted suppression of enemy air defences operations in Russian airspace, and then returned to base in China. This, too, was a first for Chinese warplanes involved in joint exercises abroad – previously they would take off from foreign soil. Such real time cross-border missions require ground command and guidance on the Russian side, suggesting a higher level of mutual trust and closer coordination between the two, according to military blogger “Big Ivan”. He also noted that a high degree of attention appeared to be given to communications, with state broadcaster CCTV showing soldiers issued with special mobile phones and advanced radio devices installed in equipment. It comes amid reports that the armed forces of both Russia and Ukraine have been using civilian communication devices and signals. “In a sense, [the PLA] are demonstrating to the Russian army the correct way to manage signals,” the blogger wrote. The joint naval exercise with Russia in the Sea of Japan – also unprecedented for the PLA Navy – practised hunting an “enemy submarine”. Guns were fired during the exercise but an important element was missing, according to Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Tong. Wong said there was no test of the vertical missile launch system of the Type 055 destroyer, one of three warships from the Northern Theatre Command taking part. Interaction between the Chinese and Russian navies was also “limited”, he said. Nevertheless, it was politically significant to have Chinese warships conducting drills in waters disputed by Russia and Japan. Tokyo protested over the war games, saying it was “seriously concerned” about the firing exercises by Russian and Chinese warships off Japan’s northern coast. The joint exercise also comes amid Western sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and China’s tensions with the United States over Taiwan, among other rivalries. A dozen other countries, mostly members and observers of the Russian-led post-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, also took part in Vostok 2022. Among the participants was India, which was one of the 17 nations, mostly Nato members and partners, that joined the US-led Exercise Pitch Black in Australia from August 19. The White House expressed concerns about India’s involvement in both exercises.