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Stride 2015 is this year’s annual exercise where Chinese mechanized brigades are rotated to the Zhurihe Training Base in Inner Mongolia, to be pitted in grueling simulated combat against Zhurihe’s resident “Blue Force”. The Blue Force, the 195th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, is supposed to simulate the tactics and operations of NATO ground forces like the U.S. Army; the exercise moderators supply them with the location of visiting forces, judicious airstrikes, and the occasional nuclear strike. It’s a tough slog. In Stride 2014, only one visiting brigade was able to defeat the Blue Force, at the cost of 50% casualties.

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Hero Tank

One of the Red Force tanks, a ZTZ-59, took the initiative after losing contact with its main force, destroying several blue force tanks and infantry formations, while dodging 10 anti-tank missiles, and then using their disabled tank as a roadblock. Their war exercise exploits were enough to earn them a spot on a CCTV news boardcast. (Thanks to Hongjian for uncovering the clip). In the future, Red Force tanks could be shooting at robot tanks with live ammo, instead of ‘laser tagging’ Blue Force units.

This year, ten “Red Force” visiting brigades have been selected from China’s seven military regions; Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Jinan, Lanzhou, Nanjing and Shenyang. Compared to more structured previous Chinese military exercises, Zhurihe focuses on finding deficiencies in PLA ground combat tactics, especially in the ability of mid level officers and NCOs to take the initiative in responding to battlefield setbacks. While the older Blue Force ZTZ-59 tanks and ZSD-63 armored vehicles incongruously represent U.S. M1A2 tanks and M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, they’re made lethal through Blue Force’s in depth study of NATO mechanized operations.

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Laser Tag for Keeps

Laser beam designators (like the one installed in the barrel of this PF rocket launcher) and receivers are an essential part of modern army exercises. While not as flashy as live fire exercises, they allow for actual engagements such as tank on tank, not to mention providing more data, increased safety and being cheaper (no need to worry about for pay for live ammunition).

To simulate real-time combat without actually blowing up tanks, each infantry man and vehicle at Zhurihe is equipped with a location transponder, laser transmitters, and laser receiver, similar to the U.S. Army’s MILES training kit. Laser transmitters are mounted on gun and cannon barrels to be “fired” at enemy units and personnel; a successful hit will be registered by said unit’s laser receiver. Transponders allow for the exercise referees to radio in the location of Red Forces to the Blue Force, simulating the usage of enemy drones and spy satellites.

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Eye for the Headlines

Red Force infantry storm a civilian building during Stride 2015. The building, built in the Renaissance-Baroque style of east Asian public buildings, has drawn international attention because of its resemblance to the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan. Also note that the streetlights around the building have solar panels installed.

A minor controversy made the Internet rounds this year, as footage has emerged of Red Force infantry operating around, and apparently storming a civilian building that bears a resemblance to the ROC Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan. (In fairness, many early 20th century east Asian government buildings share the same front tower, double courtyard layout.)

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26th Group Army

Armored vehicles from the 26th Group Army Red Force brigade manuver in Zhurihe, Inner Mongolia. The communications vehicle on the ZDB-97 IFV chassis in front (identifiable by its large topside communications dome) is an integral part of bandwidth heavy modern Chinese land warfare.

Stride 2015 is far from the only summer exercise Chinese forces have engaged in. The PLA’s artillery units got their national chance to shine in Firepower 2015, while the PLAN launched a large scale amphibious landing exercise using modern hovercraft earlier this month. As PLA military exercises become more realistic, inventive and realistic, the Chinese are obviously sparing no pains to prepare for the worst.

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