TAIPEI — China has greatly increased the realism of its Army training, attempting to improve readiness and interoperability, and unearth operational weaknesses.
Since 2006, the PLA has increased the number of trans-regional exercises, particularly units moving from one military region (MR) to another for training, said Roy Kamphausen, senior vice president for research at the National Bureau of Asian Research.
While rail still serves as the predominant means of moving troops, more trans-regional exercises suggests higher priority is being placed on road mobility, Kamphausen said.
The PLA has made three key improvements in land warfare exercises, said Li Xiaobing, author of the book "A History of the Modern Chinese Army."
"They even traveled long distance to Russia for a joint land exercise," he said.
Third, the blue army or enemy force is now better prepared and stronger than the red army or PLA.
"The red army has to fight harder and smarter rather than expecting a guaranteed victory," Li said. Li once served in the PLA and is now a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma.
The PLA's exercise regime is now reaping the benefits of nearly two decades of investment in "informationalization" and "mechanization," said Richard Fisher, a senior fellow on Asian military affairs with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
Li said weaknesses of the recent land exercises remind people of the institutional problems of the PLA.
"Politics still has a role in the exercises, including site selection, commander appointments and battle designs," he said. Problems include economic issues: "Some units were asked to use old weapons before their retirement and ammunition before the expiration dates."
Exercises also focused on forming modular, combined arms battalions, where standard infantry armored battalions temporarily are reinforced by artillery, engineers, air defense and special operations forces, These exercises discovered that battalion headquarters has not assigned enough personnel to control these operations, so they are experimenting with how many officers and noncommissioned officers to assign to a battalion staff, Blasko said.
"This problem is because under the old Soviet organizational system, regiment headquarters did all the planning and gave very specific orders to battalions; now, under brigades, there is no intermediate regimental headquarters between brigade headquarters and the infantry and armored battalions," Blasko said.
"They are also attempting to improve techniques to conduct what we call 'close air support,' provided by Air Force planes or Army Aviation helicopters."
When new equipment is introduced, units have to adjust their operational methods and techniques to take advantage of the new capabilities, Blasko said.
"So they are constantly discovering problems in training, which is one of their main objectives in any exercise. They then conduct remedial training that year or focus on those problems in the next training season," he said.