A strong wind creates ripples in the tents, in varied shades of army green, lining the camp in neat rows. The national flags of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan flutter over the campground. Signs giving directions and pointing facilities make one feel at home, for they are in Chinese - and of course Russian.
Welcome to Chebarkul. This is a town about 80 km west of Chelyabinsk in Russia's Volga-Urals Military District. And it's ready to receive Chinese troops for a joint anti-terror military exercise from August 9 to 17.
A grand rostrum occupies the pride of place - it has been built for leaders of the six Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member countries to watch the war games in the final stages, on August 17. Two smaller ones flank it on two sides; they are for the international media. A simulated village has come up 3 km away. It has 50 buildings, including housing units, kindergartens and amusement parks. Some facilities are still under construction, though.
Most of the troops taking part in the exercise will camp nearby. And there is a reason for that.
"We have done everything possible to provide a good living environment for the Chinese soldiers and military officers here. Besides decorating the houses, we have also set up two special canteens for them at the military camp. We will try our best to provide the best logistics support to the Chinese troops," says Russian Colonel Peregudov Alexander Vasilev, responsible for logistics support for Chinese troops.
In fact, about 200 Chinese officers and soldiers of the advanced units, including the command and logistics corps, have already spent two nights at the camp. Also, Chinese military helicopters for the joint drill have been deployed, according to Xinhua.
"Our chefs will prepare the best for their palate once the main units reach here," Xinhua has quoted logistics corps officer Xing Jiashun as saying. The raw materials will come from the Russian army.
Altogether 1,600 Chinese troops will take part in the joint exercise to be held in two places - Urumqi, capital of the Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the Russian Army's 34th Motorized Rifle Division range in Chebarkul.
This will be the largest-ever anti-terror drill of the six SCO member countries and will involve more than 6,500 troops. Part of the Chinese troops, mostly commanding officers, will be stationed at a military camp of the Russian Army's 34th Motorized Rifle Division. A joint command center has been set up there for the drill, and commanders of the six SCO countries will work jointly to draw up action plans and command the troops. Unified frequencies will be set up to help communication, and common signals will be formulated for coordinated action for the joint exercise.
The war game has been designed thus: 250 terrorists will take over the simulated village, where 200 people live. The six SCO member countries will launch a joint operation to rescue them. The initial phase will be conducted in Urumqi and will involve the heads of SCO members' general staffs. After getting the news of the terrorist attack on the small town in the Urals 2,000 km away, the participants will brief their national leaders on the situation, draw up plans to combat the terrorists and then launch "operation rescue".
Airborne units, paratroopers and special troops will be part of the rescue mission, which will perhaps be the most impressive part of the exercise, says Colonel Igor Konoshenkov, a Russian press official who showed Chinese journalists around the drill site.
"We began building the facilities in early May and most of them have been completed," says Konoshenkov. "Russia's total input in the joint military drill will exceed 2 billion roubles (US$78 million)."
The Russians have set up a large tent, complete with Internet connection, to serve as a press center from where the international media can report the event. About 17 km from the drill site is a field military camp, built for the soldiers and military officers of the six countries. Each of these tents can house 16 soldiers.
Konoshenkov says everything that a person, rather a soldier or officer, needs is here: canteens, kitchens, (temporary) hospitals, washrooms and bathrooms - fueled by solar power - phone connections between tents, public phone booths and even soft drink vending machines.
"Soldiers and officers living here, and even those in the field camps, will be served hot soup and meals every day," says Vasilev. "The temporary hospitals here will be run like field hospitals and can provide timely and necessary first-aid services."
All of the Chinese troops and equipment needed for the drill are expected to reach the site in several contingents today. The Chinese troops will join their counterparts from the other five countries for their first joint training session on August 6.
While Russian and Chinese troops will comprise the bulk of the manpower for the drill, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan will contribute an airborne contingent each, and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will send an airborne platoon and staff officers. The Russian Air Force will contribute six Ilyushin Il-76 Candid transport planes, nine Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack jets, 14 Mil Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships and 18 Mi-8 Hip helicopters. China will provide six Il-76 aircraft, eight JH-7-A fighter-bombers, 16 JG-9-W and 16 Mi-17 Hip helicopters. Besides, they will employ 18 122-mm and 100-mm artillery systems each.
The Chinese military began taking part in multilateral exercises in 2002 to broaden its security cooperation with other countries. Since then, the Chinese armed forces have taken part in 17 such drills with Pakistan, India, France, Britain, Australia, Thailand, and the US - and the other five SCO member countries. Such drills have not only highlighted the image of the Chinese armed forces, but also helped them gather valuable experiences in anti-terror operations, says Zhang Fan, a colonel responsible for air transportation of the Chinese troops.
The importance of such a joint drill is that it is close to a real battle - from transportation of equipment to strategic consultations and the "actual battles", Zhang says.
The Chinese Defence Ministry has stressed the SCO drill is not targeted at any country. "The drill aims mainly to showcase the improved security coordination among SCO member countries, their reinforced anti-terror capability, improved Sino-Russian ties and the modernizing of the SCO members' armed forces," says military expert Peng Guangqian.
It's meant to test the depth of SCO member countries' preparedness and capability to deal with a real crisis. It's a test of their strengths to protect themselves.
(China Daily August 3, 2007)