The Zhurihe training base for PLA was set up in inner Mangolia to study the enemy armies and act like the enemies in live or mock war games. It covers an area of 1,066 sq km, almost the same as the land area of Hong Kong, and has its own hospitals and army logistic facilities.
Zhurihe has been hosting realistic combat exercises for about 10 years. Such drills, typically involving battles between red and blue units, are designed to get the soldiers used to fighting more skilful and better equipped foes.
Besides the combat troops, PLA medics also undergo training at Zhurihe, working on battlefield surgery and medical evacuation procedures.
Many countries have so-called opposing forces dedicated to playing enemy units in military training. In the West, the opposing force is usually called the red army, but that colour, highly symbolic for communist states, represents the PLA side in China.
China’s blue (enemy ) force, the 195th Mechanised Infantry Brigade, was officially set up at Zhurihe in 2014.
The blue force has adopted a command system and tactics similar to those of NATO forces.
During the war games, soldiers have laser receivers scattered all over their bodies, which detect when they are “hit” by enemy fire.
The Zhurihe base allows the army to practise on different types of terrain and the exercises also include mock nuclear, chemical and biological warfare as well as urban combat.
In the mock battles, both sides can use regular weapons such as tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery. They also have equipment for electronic warfare and air surveillance.
To better imitate the US army, the blue force has been given upgraded weapons and artillery, including the advanced ZTZ-96A battle tank, the Type-07 self-propelled artillery and an early warning system.
The red forces were given a drubbing during the Stride exercises in the past three years.
In the 2014 drill, the red units won just one of the seven battles, and in 2015 they lost all the battles to the blue force.
State media said the red force faced greater difficulty as it was supposed to “invade” the territory held by the blue force, which also had more high-tech weapons.
Exercise directors sometimes give the red army extra challenges such as electromagnetic interference and mock chemical attacks.
The PLA does not publish fatality records at Zhurihe, but at least two soldiers have reportedly died on duty there in the past three years.
Chinese media have labelled Zhurihe “China’s Fort Irwin”, but the US training center, in the desert in California, is much bigger.