China army exercise puts drone defence capability to the test ‘after years spent studying US tactics’

Kristin Huang

China has enhanced its ground-based air defence capability to better counter drone fleets, according to China’s state broadcaster.

CCTV reported on Monday that an air defence brigade had shot down all drone targets during a recent exercise carried out in both daylight and at night, under “real war” conditions that included bad weather.

The brigade, under the Northern Theatre Command’s 79th group army, travelled through heavy fog from the northeastern province of Liaoning to reach the drill location north of Weifang city in Shandong province, northern China.

Company commander Gao Libin said the heavy fog was a challenge. In addition to the weather, the troops had to overcome a number of real war scenarios including evading detection by enemy satellite and making running repairs to vehicles, according to the CCTV report.

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Diao Junqi, battalion commander, said the drill had helped improve coordination among the personnel and speed their response times in combat situations.

“The situation this time was closer to a real war scenario and we hit rounds of drone targets from different positions and in different altitudes in the shortest time possible,” Diao said.

The exercise was in line with China’s aim to boost combat readiness throughout the People’s Liberation Army, which has not been involved in major combat since the brief border conflict with Vietnam in 1979.

Zhou Chenming, a Beijing based military expert, said the drill was meant to close China’s capability gap in its defence against drones, which were deployed by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and are becoming an increasingly common feature of modern warfare.

“The Chinese military has been focusing on fighting against drones since the US used them to defeat its enemies in the Middle East and now, after years of practice, the news reveals that it has mastered all-weather combat capabilities,” Zhou said.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, agreed that the exercise had shown the PLA was increasingly capable of repelling enemy air attacks.

Koh said the PLA had intensively studied US military tactics in previous contemporary conflicts, including the Gulf war, Kosovo war, and the Iraq war, and concluded its forces would have to learn how to fight in all weather and highly complex electronic warfare environments.

The PLA had long been preparing for the current spate of modernisation efforts, Koh said.

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