Even as U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh III was visiting China, the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), was conducting “Mission Action-2013 C,” the final part of a series of large-scale exercises involving the PLA Air Force, the PLA Navy Air Force, and ground force units.
According to Chinese press reports, these exercises will include simulated air combat operations, joint air defense, and cross-military region deployments of forces.
This latest series of exercises continues a trend of the past several years marking the growing importance of joint operations in the Chinese conception of military preparations. Where the PLA used to be much more focused on individual service operations, more recent exercises have involved forces drawn from various services. It is also noteworthy that Chinese space forces have been part of “Mission Action-2013 C,” with the Chinese Beidou navigation satellite constellation specifically mentioned.
Chinese military exercises have become steadily more sophisticated. Chinese military writings have emphasized the need for more realistic training activities incorporating all the aspects of “local wars under informationized conditions,” as the Chinese military conceives of future wars. The elevation of General Fan Changlong to one of the vice chairman slots on the Chinese Central Military Commission (CMC) may also reflect this growing importance.
General Fan’s promotion marks an unprecedented two-grade promotion to the CMC, which oversees the entire PLA. In his previous position, General Fan had been head of the Jinan Military Region, which staged several large-scale joint exercises. It is possible that his elevation to the top Chinese military leadership will mark the incorporation of lessons learned from his tenure in Jinan to PLA-wide training activities.
It is not clear whether the PLA invited the United States or other Asian nations to send observers to these exercises.