Simulated battles raise troops' capabilities
For years, Zhurihe, the largest military training base in China, has prepared Chinese troops for war.
On Sunday, the base in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region hosted a massive military parade for the 90th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Compared to past military parades in Tiananmen Square, Zhurihe's military parade resembled a prewar inspection, an anonymous retired PLA senior commander said.
Covering more than 1,000 square kilometers, Zhurihe has been the site of many major PLA exercises and international war games involving the PLA and foreign militaries.
The training base covers deserts, grasslands, mountains and ravines, making it the perfect place for massive joint military exercises, because the PLA can use it to learn how to fight under different conditions and regions, and also to test advanced weapons, said Song Zhongping, a military expert who served in the PLA Rocket Force.
In the past, Zhurihe was not reported in State media, and was only referred to as "a military training base in North China." It could only be seen in satellite images. It was finally declassified in 2003, according to China Central Television.
"The PLA uses Zhurihe to showcase its modernization. Opening it to foreign militaries shows the growing transparency and confidence of the Chinese military," said Yang Yucai, a professor at the National Defense University of the PLA.
In 2005, a massive military drill was held in Zhurihe, which was witnessed by military officers and diplomats from 24 countries, including the US, Russia, the UK, France and Germany, news website people.com.cn reported.
Stationed in Zhurihe is China's first professional simulation opposition force brigade, or the "Blue Army brigade."
As of September 2015, the brigade won 31 of 33 simulated battles against elite troops across the country, and these troops play the role of the "Red Army."
Zhurihe holds military simulation competitions every year, and troops across all command theaters come to Zhurihe to train and improve their combat skills by facing the Blue Army.
The Blue Army plays the role of a "knife grinder" for the whole army, "and the grinder should be harder than the knife to sharpen the knife. Therefore, the Blue Army has well-trained personnel and better weapons than other troops in the simulations," Song said.
The state-of-the-art simulation system uses laser simulations to make it appear as if the Blue Army is using foreign weapons and is capable of powerful airstrikes based on the requirements of those in charge of the exercises. It can even use simulated tactical nuclear bombs or chemical weapons, an anonymous PLA officer who had participated in exercises in Zhurihe, told the Global Times.
"For instance, the Blue Army is armed with Type-59 main battle tanks but the Red Army has more advanced Type-99s or Type-96s. But those in charge of the exercises will make it appear as if the Blue Army's tanks are US-made M1 tanks through laser simulation, and this will make it more difficult for the Red Army," he said.
The task for the opposing force is to devise tactics to think like our potential enemies rather than just using similar weapons, Song further noted.
"The Blue Army will normally simulate the US Army, but it doesn't mean we are hostile to the U.S. The U.S. has the most powerful and advanced military force in the world, so we want to learn from the best and use the highest standards to train our troops and improve our own combat capabilities," Song said.
Man Guangzhi, the Blue Army commander, told CCTV that "we are trying our best to simulate the foreign forces by studying their most recent military operations and gathering information on their most advanced military tactics."
"In some cases, the opposing force will also simulate a weaker force, such as Taiwan's military," Song said.