China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) staged a mock battle with Taiwan last week revealing it would deploy two of its main battle tanks in street combat with the country should the two parties engage in a possible war, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Wednesday.
“Type 96A main battle tanks and Type 04 infantry fighting vehicles were shown engaged in a mock combat exercise” in footage of the staged battle aired by the state-run China Central Television (CCTV) last week.
“The weapons were designed to fight in the complex terrain of Taiwan’s cities and counties, highlighting the PLA’s belief that a street battle would be inevitable once troops landed on the self-ruled island,” according to the SCMP.
Beijing regards Taiwan, a sovereign nation, as a renegade province and has vowed to reunify the island, located off China’s southeastern coast, with itself by force, if necessary.
“This remains a key goal for the PLA and was the focus of the drill,” according to the newspaper.
Last week’s mock battle involved a combat brigade from the PLA’s 72nd Group Army overseen by China’s Eastern Theater Command. The brigade is based in Huzhou, Zhejiang, province, located on China’s eastern coast and lies just north of Taiwan.
According to the CCTV report of the drill, “230 troops equipped with 30 tanks formed a red team to represent the PLA trying to attack a city complex defended by a blue team of 70 soldiers and six tanks.”
“With cover from the tanks and amphibious vehicles, the red army seized the city in just under three hours after removing landmines, roadblocks and other obstacles posed by the drill’s blue army,” the report said.
The blue team appeared to take the geographical advantage during the initial stages of the drill, “only to be hampered by weak firepower and troops” in the latter half.
“[T]he drill aimed to help soldiers in the mechanized armored infantry brigade lose ‘some bad habits’ left by traditional mountain warfare training,” according to CCTV.
Taipei-based defense expert and media commentator Chi Le-yi told the SCMP on Wednesday that mock street battle drills have become a key training feature for the 72nd Group Army in recent years. Remarking on the tanks and amphibious vehicles used during the PLA exercise, Chi said that “the 45-tonnage Type 96A is able to fight in a complicated landscape in Taiwan, which is filled with countless rivers, mountains and bridges.”
“The Type 04 military vehicle could work with the Type 96A, because the former is a light tank able to get through inland rivers and hills,” he added.
Chi warned that Taiwan’s complex geography is “not easy to simulate,” adding that “no one could be more familiar with it than the island’s own military.”
The PLA has ordered increasingly aggressive military drills to be carried out near Taiwan in recent months, part of China’s attempt to intimidate the island by violating its sovereign waters and airspace. The military tension has complicated diplomatic relations between the two parties, already strained over their disagreement on the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty.
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told Australia’s state broadcaster ABC on December 1 that the PLA’s incessant incursions on Taiwanese territory over the past year have caused the island’s government to become very concerned that there is a “real prospect” of war with China in the future.