PLA armoured brigade holds ‘high altitude drill’ in Tibet with most advanced tank

The reports have not mentioned when the test took place, but the Global Times reported it on Thursday in apparent signalling to India, in a report headlined "India urged to drop delusion of military strength".

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The People’s Liberation Army’s Western Theatre Command has recently held an armoured brigade military drill in Tibet at 5,100 metres above sea level for the first time to “test combat readiness”.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported from Lhasa that the drill also included the PLA’s most advanced battle tank, the Type 96B and was aimed at testing “full combat readiness”.

The report, dated July 3, showed pictures of the Type 96B tank in action for the first time. It did not mention the date of the drill but said it was a first-ever exercise at 5,100 metres for the armoured brigade and the 96-B and was aimed at “carrying out battlefield environment analysis, combat operations command, combat coordination and other real combat and live-fire shooting training” to test integration of military operations.

The report said the drills were aimed at “paying close attention to officers command skills training, command and control systems, combat unit synthesis and combat readiness” in the “complex high altitude environment of the Tibetan plateau”.

The drill was also reported on Thursday by the Global Times in apparent signalling to India, in a report headlined “India urged to drop delusion of military strength”.

The report came as a retired PLA General, Zhu Heping who is a former vice president of the PLA Air Force Command College, said India would not be able to stop China’s road construction in Doklam, which triggered the stand-off with Bhutan on June 16 opposing the road into what it sees as its territory.

INDIA’S TRESPASS

“India’s trespass shows its stance to China. Actually it is a very small and narrow area where troops of a large scale cannot be fully deployed,” Maj. Gen. Zhu (retired) said.

“Do you think a few military vehicles and soldiers on the border will stop China’s development and its border construction?” he asked. “The Chinese military is becoming stronger and stronger and leaving the Indian military farther behind. India’s provocation won’t affect the general situation or take any effect.”

The Thursday report said the “PLA Western Theater Command recently sent an armoured cavalry brigade in a military drill in regions 5,100 meters above sea level, the first time a PLA armored brigade is exercising in this type of environment. Photos released by Xinhua show that the brigade is armed with China’s most advanced main battle tank, the Type 96B.”

The 96B has been described as the “pillar” of China’s tank fleet. The China Daily reported in August that the tank would be the “backbone” of China’s tank force though it has had reported teething troubles.

THE PILLAR OF CHINA’S TANK FLEET

“The Type-96B is the strongest variant of the Type-96 family and is truly an advanced, third-generation main battle tank,” military expert Gao Zhuo told the paper. “The PLA will use it to replace the old tanks such as the Type-59 and Type-69 models.”

The China Daily said by 2016 China had 7,000 tanks in active service, including about 2,000 Type-96s and Type-96As, as well as about 600 Type-99s and Type-99As, all made decades ago. It quoted the China North Industries Group as saying the 96 series “has a high-performance 125 mm smoothbore gun, an improved, more powerful engine, newly developed transmission gear and a state-of-the-art fire-control system”.

Separately, the Global Times quoted another expert, Hu Zhiyong of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, as saying China was better prepared than in 1962.

“In 1962, the People’s Liberation Army still achieved an overwhelming victory in the military conflict against the Indian army with really poor logistics conditions. Nowadays, the situation is entirely different from 1962, so we hope India will not do anything irrational for its own good, otherwise it will pay more than in the past,” Hu said.

INDIA HAS NO COMPARISON WITH CHINA

“Not only militarily, but economically and technologically, India has no comparison to China at this moment. We have no hostility to India and we really want to cooperate with India to improve our ties. The door of peaceful resolution is always open as long as India doesn’t shut it.”

Song Zhongping, a retired official of the PLA Rocket Force, added that “India’s military has more experience in mountain combat, but it has at least three key weaknesses.

First, its weapons are mostly imported, so how could it maintain supply after if it engages in total war with China? Second, its logistics are poor, because its plan to build 73 highways for military logistics by 2020 is only a third complete. And third, its weapons [from different countries] aren’t compatible in one comprehensive combat system and its long-range missiles are not accurate at all,” he said.