Chairman Observes Chinese Land Combat Exercise

By Jim Garamone

DALIAN, China — Artillery and mortar fire poured in on one impact area, while attack helicopters launched strikes that absolutely pulverized another. Tanks and armored personnel carriers raced down tank trails, firing main guns and disgorging soldiers who immediately went on the attack with small arms.

All this – and more – went on under the watchful eyes of General Peter Pace. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Marine for 40 years, Pace has participated in countless exercises like this one.

But this one was different for the chairman. The troops, tanks, aircraft and armored vehicles were Chinese. Pace observed the exercise at the Dalian Training Area here at the invitation of the leaders of the People’s Liberation Army.

Pace came here to increase understanding and military-to-military cooperation between the United States and China. He met with senior Chinese defense and foreign affairs leaders in Beijing March 22 and 23. After the meetings, he flew to Shenyang, China and was hosted by soldiers of the Military Region. He visited airmen of the 1st Air Division at Anshan Air Base and then flew in a PLA Air Force Boeing 737-300 here to observe the exercise conducted by soldiers of the 39th Army Corps.

Fog on the peninsula jutting out into the Yellow Sea almost cancelled the trip. But it cleared enough to continue. Pace and his staff ate lunch with the leaders of the unit and then climbed a steep hill to observe the exercise. A Chinese senior colonel described what would take place through an interpreter.

And then the crack of artillery began.

The Chinese military ran the exercise without mistake or mishap, even though banks of fog sometimes obscured the terrain. Pace watched as state-of-the-art T-99 tanks rumbled into view and he could hear the squeal of the tracks as they went over the roadwheels.

Chinese soldiers ran out of BMPs – armored personnel carriers – to open lanes through simulated minefields. Some vehicles were “hit” and large clouds of red smoke billowed from them. The follow on forces drove on to the battlefield in older T-80 tanks.

The sights, the noise, the smells, the orders pouring over the radio net were familiar to seasoned U.S. military professionals observing the exercise. Even the feeling as the overpressure of an explosion a mile away reaches the observation point seemed normal. One difference was that in the United States, the friendly forces are called the “blue forces.” In China, the friendly forces are called “red forces.”

Following the exercise, Pace spoke with PLA leaders and then met with the soldiers who put on the demonstration. Pace thanked the soldiers for the extra work they had to put in to make the demonstration so successful. He told them he was honored to be with them, and said the free and truthful exchange of ideas by military professionals can make the world a safer place.

After a group photo, Pace and Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey shook hands with each of the soldiers involved.

Pace Visits Chinese Air Base,
Checks Out Su-27 Fighter-Bomber

By Jim Garamone

ANSHAN, China — In a move toward openness, Chinese military officials let the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff examine their top-of-the-line combat aircraft and allowed him to speak with pilots and ground personnel here.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace and his party toured Anshan Air Base, home of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s 1st Air Division, and he examined a Chinese-built Su-27 fighter-bomber. The base was part of a visit to the Shenyang Military Region.

The 1st Air Division has three flying regiments and has Su-27s, F-8s and F-7Es. The Su-27 is the top of the food chain for the PLA Air Force, and Pace was the first American to get such a close look at the aircraft, senior Chinese officials said.

NATO pilots know the aircraft by the code name Flanker, and former Soviet Union engineers designed it to counter the American F-15 Eagle. The Su-27 was engineered to be an air superiority fighter and the Chinese still use it in that role, but they also can use it as a precision ground-attack aircraft. The Russians licensed the Chinese to build the plane in China.

The Su-27 does have some drawbacks. Some of the avionic packages are Russian, and the “warranty isn’t the best,” said a U.S. military official speaking on background. There is no air-to-air refueling capability for the Su-27, and that limits the Flanker to a range of about 1,500 kilometers.

Pace, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman, and Air Force Brig. Gen. Ralph Jodice, the defense attaché at the American embassy in Beijing, climbed into the cockpit of the aircraft. In addition, Chinese pilots flew four aircraft around the airfield to give the chairman and his party a small look at what the aircraft can do in the air.

While he said examining the aircraft was good, Pace said he was even more interested in the PLA Air Force personnel. The chairman spoke to pilots and enlisted men about their service, the qualities of their aircraft and their training and experience of the personnel. He said they were highly motivated and impressed him with their professionalism.

Chinese officials said all their pilots are college graduates and that 96 percent of them are capable of handling complex air operations. The officials said pilots average 120 hours of flying time per year with most of their training centered on tactical considerations. Roughly 35 percent of pilot training is at night. They said they had about 130 pilots for the 100 aircraft in the unit.

In comparison, U.S. Air Force pilots average about 250 flying hours per year and there are roughly 120 pilots per 100 aircraft.

Pace thanked the Chinese personnel for their work. He said their efforts are helping to bring China and the United States closer together. Pace told the airmen that the United States and China have many common national interests and that it is in Asia’s and the world’s interest for the two countries to cooperate.

During the visit, the base commander pinned a set of Chinese pilot wings on Pace’s uniform. Pace told the commander, and all the pilots he met, that, “while I did not earn the wings, I will wear them as a compliment to your professionalism.”