The effort to send a regiment of 3,200 troops, along with 1,000 pieces of military equipment and 30 fixed-wing warplanes and helicopters, across the border to Russia’s Far East has been touted as a feat in itself by China Central Television.
Other state media outlets have given scant details about the People’s Liberation Army’s unprecedented involvement in the Vostok 2018 exercise, whose scale is also unseen in Russia’s post-Soviet era.
China’s participation expands tacit understanding and interoperability between the two militaries, as well as allaying its concerns about a huge military exercise taking place near its border.
The Chinese state broadcaster revealed that all these soldiers and their weapons and vehicles traveled hundreds of kilometers to Russia by rail.
The PLA contingent dispatched by the North Theater Command embarked on their trip in mid-August from the northernmost province of Heilongjiang, on an international train bound for Moscow.
The PLA reportedly requisitioned 28 trains to Heilongjiang in ensuing weeks to transport the 3,200 servicemen, most of who had never been abroad before. They traveled to join thousands of Russian troops at the Tsugol Training Range, the main site of the massive drill in the Zabaykalsky Krai federal region that straddles the borders of Russia, China and Mongolia.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said earlier the drills would mobilize nearly 300,000 Russian troops, about 36,000 military vehicles, more than 1,000 aircraft and around 80 ships.
Captain Zhang Lei, a company commander in an armored battalion, told CCTV: “I’ve never experienced an overseas deployment of this scale. Previously, we usually project small-scale forces between our domestic training camps.”
Zhang said his company received the new armored infantry vehicles less than a year ago and they were still tackling a host of teething issues. So, long-distance deployment on a foreign soil could be a challenge.
Earlier, the PLA Daily also revealed that other than assault choppers such as the Z-9 and Z-19, a squadron of JH-7 tandem fighter-bombers would also go, after they were involved in joint exercises in anti-terrorism drills with the Russian Air Force and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
One JH-7 pilot told the broadcaster he had to land at an intermediate airport before flying across the border before flying to a Russian military airport.
All troops and their equipment arrived in Russia at the end of August, which allowed a 10-day break prior to the official start of the drill yesterday. That meant they had plenty of time to compare notes with their Russian counterparts about tactics and logistics.
When the PLA and the Russian Armed Forces troops opened the first salvo of the war game, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in the picturesque Russian city of Vladivostok making caviar blinis – Russian pancakes – with his counterpart Vladimir Putin, in a show of bromance on the sidelines of the 2018 Eastern Economic Forum.