While the Trump administration unveiling another round of tariffs on Chinese goods worth $200 billion - for which China's Commerce Ministry is planning "countermeasures," Beijing quietly began conducting military drills at five bases for electronic warfare, cybersecurity, reconnaissance and tactical strikes at five training bases, reports the South China Morning Post.
Over 50 combat units consisting of around 2,100 officers are taking part in the war games, which includes airborne troops, special forces and electronic warfare experts from the Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western and Central command theatres, according to official accounts over social media.
The war games began simultaneously at the Zhurihe Combined Tactics Training Base near Inner Mongolia, as well as four military institutes in Chongqing, Hebei and hefei provinces, as well as the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, according to the ground force.
The drill was meant to replicate combat conditions so the troops would stay in camps rather than barracks or dormitories, the ground force said via social media on Monday.
Military inspectors from the PLA’s anti-corruption watchdog, the military’s disciplinary commission, were sent to monitor the war games, with live pictures and video footage being sent to relevant troops, it said.
The combat units were made up almost entirely of new graduates and military officers from the surveillance troops, information security force, cyberwarriors, special fighting troops and a strike team from the army’s aviation unit, the ground force said on its WeChat account. -SCMP
China's ground force said that the five new units were organized with the goal of "transforming their tradition combat role into a "modern army to right with the navy and air force," along with the newly established strategic support unit and the rocket force.
The five theatre commands were established directly by President Xi Jinping - who replaced the army's seven military commands in February, 2016 to become chairman of the Central Military Commission. He has since shed 300,000 members of the PLA - cutting the army's size down to 2 million troops. For reference, the entire US military has around 1.3 million troops.
Xi laid out an ambitious plan in October for the PLA to modernize by 2035, on its way to becoming "one of the strongest forces by 2050," reports The Morning Post, emphasizing technology and modern warfare strategies.
“The scale of new combat forces has been expanded and becomes more important in combat effectiveness after many traditional troops and outmoded weapons were dissolved amid the military overhaul,” said a PLA commentary published on June 15.
That said, some ground force leaders fell short of Xi's new requirements, according to The PLA Daily - the public face of the Army.
“However, some commanders failed to understand and study the real role of new combat forces, with some turning the new units into superficial troops or even ‘master of none’ … and some even immersing in traditional combat drills, letting the new combat units become an isolated fighting force.”
On Friday, CNBC reported that China was quietly conducting electronic warfare tests on tech-jamming technology in the South China Sea - weeks after delivering military equipment to the disputed Spratley Islands.
The move allows Beijing to further project its power in the hotly disputed waters. The placement of electronic warfare assets, which are designed to confuse or disable communications and radar systems, comes on the heels of China's installation of anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three outposts in the hotly contested waters of the South China Sea. -CNBC
The Spratleys lie two-thirds of the way east from Southern Vietnam to the southern Philippines - while just north like the Parcel islands, where Beijing has 10 outposts, including Woody Island - their administrative and military headquarters in the South China Sea.
China will be looking to compete with the United States' GPS system with their Beidou program - also known as Compass. The system is expected to be completed by 2020, and will significantly improve China's electronic warfare capabilities.
The Beidou system will definitely ‘add wings’ to the PLA, but only when all service troops are able to operate the new combat skills smoothly," said Hong Kong-based military expert Song Zhongping, who added "Electronic warfare – like cyberwarriors and army aviation air strike operations – are strategically important in modern combat, as many new weapons also need the support of electronic facilities."
Professor He Qisong, a defence policy specialist at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the drills this week indicated that the PLA was exploring a new training model to prepare commanders and soldiers for modern warfare.
“All the electronic warfare operations need a comprehensive and safe cybersecurity network. That’s why the strategic support force was established [in late 2015], and it has played a key supporting role in different service troops,” he said. -SCMP
“As a traditional ground force without real combat experience since the late 1970s, it really takes time for the army to break in modern warfare operations with so many newly established units.”