By Xinhua writer Yan Hao
BEIJING, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Tuesday launched its largest-ever tactical military exercise, involving the deployment of about 50,000 heavily-armored troops over thousands of miles to test the PLA's long-distance mobility.
According to the PLA General Staff Headquarters, in charge of organizing the exercise "Stride-2009," one army division from each of the military commands of Shenyang, Lanzhou, Jinan and Guangzhou, will participate in a series of live-fire drills lasting for two months.
Unlike previous annual tactical exercises, the army divisions and their air units will be deployed in unfamiliar areas far from their garrison training bases by civilian rail and air transport.
The division from northeast Shenyang Military Command will be transported to northwest Lanzhou Military Command. Troops from east Jinan Military Command and south Guangzhou Military Command will be exchanged.
In the unprecedented exercise, one of the PLA's major objectives will be to improve its capacity of long-range projection.
The General Staff Headquarters, which have been preparing for the exercise for three months, will coordinate with China's civilian airlines to use passenger and cargo flights to complement Air Force transport.
All heavy weapon systems, such as tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, will be carried by rail, and lightly armored troops deployed to Jinan Military Command will go by China Railway High-speed (CRH) trains traveling at up to 350 kilometers per hour.
Although the PLA's logistic capacities have been greatly improved, it still requires greater coordination and efforts to conduct joint operations and long-range force projection.
The live-fire drills of the "Stride-2009" exercise will be conducted in four tactical training bases respectively in the four military commands. The PLA will introduce a newly developed laser-beam combat simulation system by which the troops in each base will be divided into Red and Blue rivals to carry out fights.
Laser transmitters and receivers installed in the soldier's weapons and helmets, as well as similar laser devices in larger weapon systems, enable the troops to conduct nearly real combat without shedding blood.
The troops involved in the exercise will also adopt China's Beidou or COMPASS-G2 satellite communication and positioning system for an encrypted communication between the PLA's headquarters and the divisions to reduce the dependence on foreign communication systems.
On Tuesday morning, the division from Lanzhou Military Command started to mobilize, heading for the PLA's Taonan Tactical Training Base in Jilin Province of Shenyang Military Command.
More than 700 military vehicles advanced across the Yellow River trough a 250-meter long pontoon bridge built by the Lanzhou division's engineering regiment at a ferry place in northwest Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
The division's forward command post and special unit took off from a northeast air base on two Boeing 737-800 civilian passenger jet airliners. Another group of heavy equipment carried on two chartered trains also departed from railway stations in the region's capital Yinchuan and Qingtongxia.
The personnel and equipment mobilized on Tuesday will be followed up by the rest of the 13,000 troops of the Lanzhou division -- which will be transported through five provinces and regions, day and night, to reach the Taonan base.
The Lanzhou Military Command also deployed fighters, attackers and gunships from its army aviation force to provide air cover for the long-distance maneuver and participate in the live-fire drills at the tactical training base in Shenyang Military Command.
The exercise will also focus on suppressing adversary's electronic devices and countermeasures under a complex electromagnetic environment, said Maj.-Gen. Cui Yafeng, general director of the exercise involving the Lanzhou division at Taonan base.
Chen Hu, executive chief editor of the World Military Affairs Magazine, said long-distance mobility was crucial for the PLA to deal with diversified threats and responsibilities in the future.
"The long-range mobility is a fundamental capacity for the PLA to perform other duties," Chen said. "The increasing attentions to the improvement of the capability especially after the Wenchuan earthquake has become one of the PLA's priorities."
After the 8.0-magnitude quake on May 12 last year, many PLA ground troops headed for the epicenter were stranded outside the mountainous region in the Sichuan Province.
The Air Force units could also provide limited support to relieve the disaster hit local residents due to lack of large helicopters and transporters.