Russia, China: Training to Fight Together Against Potential Enemies

August 16, 2005 14 02  GMT


With their upcoming joint military exercises, Beijing and Moscow will send signals to the United States that Washington will not want to see -- the potential of close Sino-Russian military and political cooperation and the possibility of China's increased ability to complicate U.S. naval operations in its waters. Though the exercises do not indicate an upcoming Chinese invasion of Taiwan, they are a major step in training China's forces to achieve such a goal -- a fact that will not be lost on Taipei. The exercises will not only lead Russia and China's allies to feel they have solid protection, they also will result in China's acquiring more advanced Russian military hardware, and Russian and Chinese officers and troops will gain experience by working together. Though the upcoming exercises are very different from the original plan, they signal a burgeoning military interoperability that could be needed elsewhere -- perhaps in Central Asia -- to prevent another pro-Western "revolution."


Russia and China will conduct military exercises, called Peace Mission 2005, from Aug. 18 to 26 under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The maneuvers represent a qualitative leap in the countries' military ties and overall strategic partnership, advancing them toward a strategic alliance and signaling that they could conduct joint military operations in the future. The exercises will be the largest in the history of Sino-Russian training and will involve "the most modern Russian weapon systems and a large number of troop units and weapons of our Chinese partners," Russian President Vladimir Putin told Xinhua.

The multi-purpose exercises' goals are ambitious indeed. The key military goals include learning how both nations' troops and staffs can coordinate on the battlefield in any conflict they jointly fight -- which entails learning about the interoperability of their respective weapons and tactics. Other goals are to advance capabilities on both sides -- especially China -- for contingency planning, such as preparing their forces to fight in conflicts that are off the table now but for which general staffs are always planning -- such as a Chinese invasion of Taiwan -- in case geopolitical circumstances change.

The exercises' key political goals are to warn Washington to stop pushing both Russia and China, or face the possibility of an eventual joint military response. This not only forces pro-U.S. governments -- from Tokyo to Taipei and some former Soviet Union (FSU) regimes -- to consider whether being solidly pro-U.S. and playing against the two Asian Giants is in their best interest, it also assures China and Russia's allies that the two countries' military umbrella is strong enough to ward off a U.S. geopolitical offensive.

To reinforce the seriousness of the two countries' shared intentions to counter the U.S. geopolitical offensive in their region, Russian and Chinese defense ministers will observe the live-fire part of the exercises -- and, as he has done before, Putin could make a surprise appearance and join Chinese President Hu Jintao to observe the exercises. Other SCO members' defense ministers are also invited observers. The United States, for obvious reasons, will send observers to the exercises. China and Russia's extension of an invitation to Washington was meant as a friendly move, but Washington will watch nervously and try to determine how strong the Russian forces still are and how strong the Chinese will become, along with how serious both countries are about military cooperation.

Eighteen hundred Russian troops and staff members will participate in Peace Mission 2005, as will two Tu-95MS strategic missile carriers, four long-range Tu-22M3 bombers, two Tu-22MR reconnaissance aircraft and up to six of Russia's newest Su-27SM multi-purpose jets. About 10 other aircraft -- including long-range Il-76 transportation, air-refueling and early-warning aircraft -- also will be involved. The Russian Navy will be represented in the exercise by the Udaloy class destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov, which specializes in anti-submarine warfare; the Sovremenny class destroyer Burny; the BDK-11, a large amphibious landing ship capable of deploying 25 armored vehicles and up to 225 troops; the tanker Pechenga; the rescue tug SB-522; and a Kilo class diesel-electric submarine.

Chinese forces participating in the maneuvers include about 10,000 troops and staffs, various ground forces' weapons systems, dozens of Russian-made Su-27 "Flanker" air superiority fighters and Su-30MKK "Flanker-C" multi-role fighters, coastal artillery and missile batteries, two Russian-made Sovremenny class destroyers, several surface warships -- some of which will carry amphibious means -- and two Russian-built Romeo and Kilo class diesel submarines. Two Chinese-built Luhai class destroyers comparable to the U.S. Aegis destroyers also could participate.

Peace Mission 2005's many purposes become apparent in an analysis of the maneuvers' theater and scenario. Choosing a sea and coastal theater shows that Moscow and Beijing are concerned with the well being of not only their landlocked Central Asian allies but also of other friendly states in coastal areas.

The scenario of Russo-Chinese military operations always has been a nightmare for Washington. The Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s was crucial to the United States' success in the Cold War. An overall strategic and military alliance between Russia and China would pose a very serious threat to U.S. dominance. The joint exercises are intended to send a very loud message to Washington meant to deter further geopolitical encroachment on Moscow and Beijing's spheres of influence.

The exercises betray Beijing and Moscow's strategic concerns that if the U.S. geopolitical offensive is not checked, eventually all of Russia and China's allies in the region will turn pro-U.S., as Russia has seen happen in the FSU with a series of pro-Western "revolutions." Apparently at their early July summit in Moscow, Putin and Hu decided that the time had come to stop retreating and take a stand against further U.S. moves by resisting new "revolutions" -- a decision that translates into armed confrontations. To overthrow current FSU governments, opposition movements will have to use force, such as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan recently saw. Though Moscow and Beijing's allies feel they can quell armed uprisings on their own, China and Russia fear the United States will offer opposition movements military support. Thus, the exercises include a scenario in which a hypothetical ally asks Beijing and Moscow for help to defeat an internal uprising and fend off U.S. intervention into the conflict on behalf of the armed opposition. According to Russian military sources, in the first two days of the exercises, high-level staff officers will not only participate in war games on the sea but also will participate in scenarios using Central Asian maps -- a reflection of the fact that China and Russia feel the most geopolitical pressure from the United States there.

Though joint military training and coordination are certainly required if China and Russia are to jointly fight armed separatists in a weaker third country, it is even more important if they are to ever jointly fight the world's most high-tech force: the United States. Geopolitics dictates that no matter what a country's relations with other major players are, that country should prepare to confront those other players in case of a threat to national interests. Thus, no matter when or whether it will happen, all major powers train their armed forces to fight major potential enemies. Even U.S. forces, with their involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, still find time to conduct exercises with missile test launches and develop new conventional and nonconventional strategic weapons systems that have little use in counterinsurgency operations, but would be needed in a confrontation with China and Russia.

Beijing and Moscow are no different. Chinese and Russian troops will use high-tech weapons in the air and naval portions of the exercises as part of their training for a hypothetical battle against a highly sophisticated enemy such as the United States. The contingency part of Peace Mission 2005 is not limited to training Russian and Chinese armed forces to fight together against the United States. The sophisticated amphibious and airborne operations and anti-ship maneuvers could serve as training for either joint or unilateral operations in other scenarios -- conflicts against Taiwan, Japan, further clashes over the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea or over the energy riches of the Caspian Sea or other areas. These conflicts are unlikely in the near future but are not inconceivable further down the road.

Building a Sino-Russian military alliance implies not only joint training on fighting together but also arming China with modern Russian weapons that would increase Beijing's chances to fare well in a possible confrontation with U.S. forces -- over Taiwan or in another scenario. Russia must send Beijing more modern arms with greater firepower than Beijing has received so far. All indications are that Peace Mission 2005 will serve to showcase Russian weaponry to the Chinese military, which already is Russia's largest client for weapons sales. In 2004, Russia transferred more than $1.4 billion of hardware to China, including more Su-30MKK fighters and a Kilo class diesel-electric submarine. China and Russia already have contracted for more weapons -- and it seems more powerful weapons have been added to the plate.

Tasks, Weapons and Major Focus

The exercises' goals, including showcasing specific modern weapons, are reflected in specific tasks the Chinese and Russian forces will perform.

Though the maneuvers do not officially start until Aug. 18, they unofficially began Aug. 13. The unofficial stage, which will end Aug. 16, is in the Yellow Sea off Qingdao, a major Chinese naval base located in Shandong province. Six Russian warships and a large number of Chinese warships, including diesel submarines (nuclear subs are unlikely to participate because of the area's shallow water), are training on executing a joint cruising and combat order while going to high seas, and on blockading a coast occupied by hostile forces. At this stage, the main focus is for the Chinese People's Liberation Army's Navy (PLAN) to learn from its Russian counterpart how to better operate and maneuver modern naval ships in order to maximize the use of the high-tech Russian ships PLAN currently has, including submarines and missile destroyers. Meanwhile, the Russians are gaining experience in cooperating with China's navy and getting an idea of what PLAN -- which is striving to develop blue-water capabilities -- can do at sea.

The second stage will take place on Russian territory, in the Far Eastern Military District. Both countries' chiefs of general staff -- Russia's General of the Army Yuri Baluyevsky and Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Col. Gen. Liang Guanglie -- will officially open the exercises. Then map and computer-simulated staff exercises down to the regimental level will be conducted Aug. 18-19. Though less spectacular than other stages, this is a crucial part of the maneuvers; Russia and China's strategic planners and commanders from operational to tactical levels will gain experience in jointly planning and executing wargames against what effectively could be U.S. and pro-U.S. forces. In modern warfare, it is strategically important to have coordination and understanding among commanders and staffs from different countries.

During the third stage, Aug. 20-22, at China's request the Russians will demonstrate a beyond-horizon landing operation, with the enemy played by several Chinese and Russian submarines, aircraft and surface ships. Russian striking forces headed by the Marshal Shaposhnikov will engage the "enemy" by imitating naval strikes and executing electronic warfare and maneuvering, thereby clearing the way for the BDK-11 landing ship to deliver ashore a reinforced Russian marine company with amphibious armored vehicles and artillery to take a beachhead. Simultaneously, a reinforced paratrooper company with armor and artillery from the Russian 76th Airborne Division will airdrop behind "enemy" front lines. PLAN marines and PLA paratroopers might join Russian colleagues in this training coastal assault, while Chinese-built SH-5 could imitate dropping depth charges and torpedoes to help the attack. Chinese armor, infantry and coast artillery units will play the defenders. This stage's special significance is that the Russians' complex beyond-horizon landing operation -- effectively a combined arms operation with participation of forces from all armed services -- will be a complete revelation for the Chinese, giving them a first virtual modern experience of how to invade Taiwan.

Stage four, slated for Aug. 23-26, will consist of anti-shipping operations. Strategically, this is perhaps the most important stage. Here, the Chinese will observe some of Russia's most powerful airborne weapons in action during live-fire exercises. These exercises are designed to demonstrate the denial of territorial waters to an enemy navy -- another signal that Washington will hear loud and clear. Two Tu-95MS "Bear" bombers will launch long-range standoff missiles, probably the Kh-55 and 3M80 "Sunburn" anti-ship missiles. Originally designed as a strategic bomber in the 1950s, the Tu-95 has long since been adapted to perform long-range anti-shipping missions, specifically against aircraft carrier groups. It has been constantly upgraded and modified to carry various anti-ship missiles and guided munitions. It is possible that the "Bears" will deploy their guided munitions in this exercise. The four Tu-22M3 "Backfire" bombers most likely will deploy the same weapons, while the Su-27SM "Flanker" multi-purpose jets will demonstrate how they destroy the "enemy" planes that have taken off from aircraft carriers.

Stratfor has obtained satellite imagery showing that the incomplete Soviet-era aircraft carrier Varyag has been moved from its dry-dock at China's Dalian naval base. The carrier had spent two years moored to a dock but was moved to a dry-dock in April 2005, where major repair and refurbishment operations have been undertaken. As of Aug. 13, the Varyag had been relocated to a dock. That the carrier has been moved twice in the last four months after spending two years idle could indicate that the Chinese are preparing to use it as a target, perhaps posing as a U.S. aircraft carrier heading a group of warships, during the live-fire portion of the exercise. There are two likely scenarios if this happens. The first -- and more spectacular -- is that the ship will be destroyed in the exercise by Russian air- or sea-launched anti-ship missiles. The second scenario is that the Varyag will not be destroyed but simply aimed at by the Chinese and Russian aircraft and missile destroyers. This would preserve the Varyag for future exercises.