New weaponry in action as Chinese troops, jets, artillery hold drill in Tibet

By Minnie Chan
A screen shot from video shown on the PLA Daily website shows Chinese soldiers conducting a military drill in Tibet. Photo: Handout

Chinese fighter jets dropped missiles, troops brought down drones and ground force howitzers made precision strikes during a high-altitude drill by the Tibet Military District intended as a warning to India, according to military observers.

In footage of the drill posted on the PLA Daily website on Monday, several units from the People’s Liberation Army’s Tibet Military District were shown occupying an enemy’s key command centre at an altitude of 4,700 metres (15,400 feet).

The drill involved infantry, artillery, army aviation, special operation forces, electronic warfare, engineers and chemical defence units, the video stated, without saying when it was conducted.

It was designed to test the ability of the various units to work together, as well as use new weapons systems deployed to the region in recent months.

In the footage, PLA air defence artillery troops bring down drones similar to Indian reconnaissance devices, air force fighter jets drop missiles to paralyse an enemy command centre, and ground force artillery target a field with precision strikes.

The enemy in the exercise was not specified but Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor, said it was obvious.

“It’s very clear that the PLA’s simulated enemy in these multi-unit joint drills is their Indian counterpart in the Himalayas, with the goal of the training aimed at testing the high-altitude air defence and offence of the Tibet Military District,” Song said.

“In the video clip, the Tibetan artillery troops showed that they are able to use long-range rocket launchers to stage precision strikes, while air defence missile systems could knock down incoming cruise missiles from the hostile side.”

New weapons recently sent to the Tibet Military District were shown in the video. Photo: Handout

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing, said the Indian military used spy drones for reconnaissance over Chinese territory so exercises to simulate such incursions were incorporated into regular training in Tibet.

“The PLA has a military advantage when facing the challenges from their Indian counterpart, but the PLA doesn’t want to fight with India,” Zhou said. “India is a big trading partner of China, and China needs the Indian market. So the drill is just a warning to the Indian side.”

The footage showed new weapons, including the Type PHL-03 multiple launch rocket system, and PCL-181 vehicle-mounted howitzers. It also showed PLA airborne troops rapidly occupying the enemy’s main command centre under the protection and support from artillery, intelligence, air force and other combat units.

Zhao Xianfu, a Tibet Military District brigade commander, said in the video: “We want to test our new equipment, and the rapid response, mobility and integration in joint cooperation among different fighting units in real combat.

“Our next step is to explore new approaches for fighting under extreme conditions in the high-altitude areas, to further boost the military region’s transformation and development.”

What message was Xi sending on his visit to Tibet?

The Tibet Military District, the combat unit in the Himalayas, was once seen as lagging in the PLA’s decades-long modernisation drive. But border conflicts with India in recent years – including a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley in June last year – have prompted hardware upgrades in the remote region.

More than 30 new weapon systems have been deployed by the PLA to the area in recent years, according to a PLA Daily report in January. It said the military area had designed at least 10 air defence and offence combat scenarios to help troops to integrate with the sophisticated equipment and the extreme climate during regular training.


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