Chinese PLA Air Force units from all five theater commands reportedly performed simultaneous exercises last week, an unusual maneuver possibly aimed at sending a message to its arch-rival, the US and allies.
The latest report comes only days after the PLA Navy staged a large-scale exercise in three sea regions — the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and the Yellow Sea.
China’s state-owned Global Times now reported that all five commands conducted drills to demonstrate battle readiness. A regiment attached with the PLA Eastern Theater Command Air Force performed flying drills on February 10, dispatching aircraft including a KJ-2000 airborne early warning and control system.
On February 9-10, J-10 fighter jets belonging to brigades affiliated with the PLA Southern Theater Command Air Force conducted exercises aimed at sharpening the pilots’ air-to-air combat capabilities.
On February 7, the PLA Western Theater Command Air Force arranged a ground-based anti-aircraft missile unit to perform combat-oriented drills in biting cold and oxygen-depleted conditions. The unit was also tasked with conducting simulated aerial battles with warplanes including J-16 fighter jets.
JH-7 fighter-bombers underwent maintenance and performed flight maneuvers at a brigade associated with the PLA Northern Theater Command Air Force on February 9.
The same day, a ground-based anti-aircraft missile battalion and a radar brigade associated with the PLA Central Theater Command performed drills to check their combat readiness. The airborne forces also conducted cold resistance training for paratroopers on February 7 and flight tests for Z-10 attack helicopters and Z-8 transport helicopters on February 10, the report said.
A Chinese military expert told Global Times that the extensive aerial and sea drills demonstrated the PLA’s high degree of battle readiness in the face of military provocations from the United States and its allies.
Why Such Massive Drills?
Chinese drills were in response to the Noble Fusion 2022 exercise conducted by the US and Japan between February 3 and 7.
The exercise, led by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, involved approximately 15,000 US sailors and marines, as well as 1,000 members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, and covered a vast portion of the first island chain, the Stars and Stripes reported.
#NobleFusion2022 Flight Ops ✈️ #USSAmerica (LHA 6) conducted flight operations with @jmsdf_pao_eng, #USSEssex (LHD 2), & #USSAbrahamLincoln (CVN 72) during exercise Noble Fusion 2022.#NavyPartnerships pic.twitter.com/NbfFnplqZA
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) February 8, 2022
China views these movements in the region as highly provocative, since they virtually enclose the waters to the east of Taiwan’s island. Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times that despite the Beijing Winter Olympics, during which a peaceful atmosphere should be maintained, the United States and Japan continued to conduct military drills and inflame the situation.
This is a major threat not just to China’s national security, but also to global peace and stability, Song claimed, noting that the US is also mobilizing its NATO partners for drills in Europe.
Earlier, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, a spokesperson at China’s Ministry of National Defense, said at a press conference on January 27 that the PLA would be fully prepared for any external provocation and contingency.
PLA Intends To Improve Combat Capability
President Xi Jinping, who is also the chairman of the Central Military Commission, recently issued an order promulgating a set of regulations on military equipment testing and assessment.
The regulations, which consist of 56 articles divided into 11 chapters and came into force on February 10, establish the essential tasks, contents, and management mechanisms of military equipment testing and assessment under new circumstances. It will also serve as the core guideline of related activity.
They also emphasize combat-oriented tests as part of the ongoing “trend of informatization and intelligentization throughout the equipment’s entire life spans”. The regulations increased the criteria for weaponry and equipment used by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which will help to improve the troops’ combat capability, the report said.
New military equipment will be subjected to rigorous, scientific, and combat-oriented testing not only before they are commissioned, but also during their service, according to Global Times, stressing that more flaws and space for improvement can only be discovered during real usage.
The move is in line with Beijing’s ambition to accomplish the modernization of national defense and armed forces by 2035 and to turn the PLA into a world-class military force by the mid-century.