Flashpoints | Security

China Sends Strategic Bombers, Tanks and 1,600 Troops to Russia for Large Military Drill

China, Russia and six other countries are conducting a 5-day military exercise in western Russia and the Central Asian region.

China Sends Strategic Bombers, Tanks and 1,600 Troops to Russia for Large Military Drill
Credit: Photo/Screenshot from China Central Television

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has dispatched more than 1,600 troops, aircraft, tanks, and military support equipment to a large-scale Russian military exercise, dubbed Center-2019 (Tsentr-2019), held from September 16 to 21 in Western Russia and in a number of Central Asian countries including Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

The PLA’s Western Theater Command has dispatched an undisclosed number of Type 96A main battle tanks, H-6K strategic bombers, JH-7A fighter bombers, J-11 fighter jets, Il-76 and Y-9 transport aircraft, and Z-10 attack helicopters to participate in this year’s Center-2019 military exercise hosted by the Russian Armed Forces, according to Chinese media reports.

Next to China and Russia, the exercise will see the participation of military personnel from member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as well as forces from the regional members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). These include India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The military drill will principally take place in Russia’s Central Military District, with the main exercise to take place in Russia’s Orenburg region. Military drills will also be held in the Caspian Sea and in Kyrgyzstan. The principal aim of the exercise is to simulate a response to possible security threats in Central Asia including fending off terrorist threats, but also repelling conventional military forces from an imaginary terrorist state to the south-west of Russia.

The exercise will be held at training grounds in the Orenburg region, Dagestan, Astrakhan region, Chelyabinsk region, the Altai Territory, and the Kemerovo region. “Episodes of the fight against illegal armed groups will be also conducted at the training grounds of partner states according to separate plans,” the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a statement.

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The main objectives of the strategic command post exercise are to verify readiness levels of the Russian military and to improve interoperability between Russian forces and their international partners, the Russian MoD stated. While the focus of the exercise is officially on “counter terrorist” operations, according to Russia’s defense minister, the exercise is also set to include repelling enemy air strikes and conducting combined conventional offensive air and ground operations. In other words, Center-2019 will feature an inter-state war component.

“The drills will further enhance and deepen the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era between China and Russia. It also has significant meaning on boosting our military’s capability to deal with all kinds of security threats together with other countries’ militaries,” Ma Qixian, the commander of the participating Chinese PLA forces was quoted as saying by China Central Television earlier this month.

On the Russian side, the exercise will involve 128,000 servicemen, over 20,000 pieces of hardware including 15 warships, 600 aircraft, 250 tanks, about 450 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, and up to 200 artillery systems and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, according to the Russian MoD. The official numbers of military personnel and hardware are usually exaggerated.

The Russian military has a four-year cycle with scheduled military exercises (snap exercises by their very nature occur unannounced) rotating annually between four Military Districts: Zapad (Western), Vostok (Eastern), Kavkaz (Southern), and Tsentr (Center). The annual Russian strategic exercises are usually conducted in one military district. Center-2015 officially involved 95,000 personnel, over 7,000 pieces of hardware and weapons systems, as well as 170 aircraft and 20 warships.

Last year’s Eastern-2018 (Vostok) exercise was the largest Russian military exercise in almost four decades, according to the MoD. The Russian military was joined by 3,500 PLA personnel, 900 pieces of heavy weaponry, and 30 fixed-wing aircraft from the PLA’s Northern Theater Command highlighting the growing military ties between the two countries.

Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reached yet another agreement to deepen military cooperation earlier this month. Notably, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the Russian Air Force also jointly conducted their first ever joint long-range aerial patrol in the East China Sea and Sea of Japan on July 23.