China puts tanks to the test in a mock street battle for Taiwan

Minnie Chan
·3-min read

The People’s Liberation Army would deploy two of its main battle tanks in street combat in a possible war against Taiwan, according to mainland Chinese state television reporting on a recent military exercise.

In a documentary aired by CCTV last week, Type 96A main battle tanks and Type 04 infantry fighting vehicles were shown engaged in a mock combat exercise.

The weapons were designed to fight in the complex terrain of Taiwan’s cities and counties, highlighting the PLA’s belief that a street battle would be inevitable once troops landed on the self-ruled island.

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Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that must eventually be reunited with the mainland – by force if necessary. This remains a key goal for the PLA and was the focus of the drill.

The exercise involved a combat brigade from the PLA’s 72nd Group Army based in Huzhou, Zhejiang province, and overseen by the Eastern Theatre Command.

According to the report, 230 troops equipped with 30 tanks formed a red team to represent the PLA trying to attack a city complex defended by a blue team of 70 soldiers and six tanks.

With cover from the tanks and amphibious vehicles, the red army seized the city in just under three hours after removing landmines, roadblocks and other obstacles posed by the drill’s blue army, the report said.

The exercise is a typical drill simulating conflict between the PLA and its Taiwanese counterpart, with the mock Taiwanese team appearing to take the geographical advantage only to be hampered by weak firepower and troops.

The CCTV report said the drill aimed to help soldiers in the mechanised armoured infantry brigade lose “some bad habits” left by traditional mountain warfare training.

Taipei-based defence expert and media commentator Chi Le-yi said street battle drills had become a key training subject for the 72nd Group Army in recent years.

“The 45-tonnage Type 96A is able to fight in a complicated landscape in Taiwan, which is filled with countless rivers, mountains and bridges,” Chi said.

“The Type 04 military vehicle could work with the Type 96A, because the former is a light tank able to get through inland rivers and hills.”

But Chi warned it was not easy to simulate Taiwan’s complex landscape and no one could be more familiar with it than the island’s own military.

The cross-strait relationship has reached its lowest ebb since Tsai Ing-wen, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said the PLA was anticipating the difficulties and challenges of an island seizure if a war broke out across the Taiwan Strait, with the preparing amphibious assault ships – such as the Type 075 and Type 071 – to carry tanks to the island.

“Using main battle tanks in street fights is one of the most popular tactics in modern warfare, while the final war to put the whole of Taiwan under control should be completed by ground forces and marines,” Song said.

“As the Taiwan problem is an issue on the table, the recent street battle broadcast by CCTV was also aimed at sending a warning to the Taiwan independence-leaning forces.”

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