At 7,000 troops, the Peace Mission 2014 military exercise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was not large militarily. But its geopolitical importance was considerable: It was the biggest exercise to date for a budding anti-democratic alliance that includes two nuclear powers and could soon gain three more.
Annual “Peace Mission” military exercises usually have highlighted increasing SCO counter-terrorism cooperation. But Peace Mission 2014 in late August allowed host China to display two decades of investment in joint-force mechanized warfare more appropriate for invasion. This was likely encouraged by the exercise scenario of “a separatist organization, supported by an international terrorist organization, plotting terrorist incidents and hatching a coup plot to divide the country,” according to China’s Xinhua newspaper.
Peace Mission 2014 included 5,000 troops from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), 900 from Russia, 500 from Kyrgyzstan, 300 from Kazakhstan and 200 from Tajikistan. Russia brought the largest force: 13 T-72 tanks, 40 BMP-2 armored personnel carriers (APC), four Su-25 attack aircraft, eight Mi-8 helicopters and two Il-76 transports. Kazakhstan sent Su-27 fighters and a small airborne troop unit to jump with a PLA airborne group.
But it was China that “won” the power display, first by using its premier army unit, the 38th Group Army (GA) of the Beijing Military Region, and by hosting Peace Mission 2014 at one of its most modern mechanized training and simulation bases in Zhurihe, Inner Mongolia. China contributed 50 aircraft and 440 other ground force weapons in the exercise and set up two digital joint command centers and a separate intelligence information-sharing center.
Perhaps most noteworthy was China’s display of a modern mechanized armor formation supported by army aviation and the PLA air force (Plaaf). For the first time, China displayed its T‑99A tank, or T-99A3, the latest third-generation of the T-99 series, armed with a stabilized, missile-firing 125-mm gun and featuring improved armor and targeting systems. These were supported by the new 100-mm gun-armed ZBD‑04A tracked infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and the 30‑mm cannon-armed ZBD-09 8 X 8 IFV.
Artillery support came from the PLA’s new 155-mm self-propelled PZG‑05 and from 122-mm artillery rockets. Also used publicly for the first time was the tracked PGZ-07 twin 35-mm anti-aircraft artillery system, which uses a Chinese version of the Oerlikon Advanced Hit Efficiency and Destruction (Ahead) airburst shell.
Also new to the exercise were two PLA dedicated attack helicopters, the 7-ton Z-10 and 4.5-ton Z-19. Both fired unguided rockets but can be armed with the Hellfire-equivalent HJ-10 guided antitank missile. The Plaaf used Su-27SK and Chengdu J-10 multirole fighters and Xian JH-7A attack fighters. The JH-7A employed the 500-kg (1,100-lb.) LT-2 laser-guided bomb. The Plaaf publicly deployed for the first time the Chengdu/Guizhou Pterodactyl, a Predator-1-size unmanned combat aerial vehicle to destroy fixed targets. A turboprop-powered KJ-200 airborne-warning-and-control system aircraft supported operations for the first time in a Peace Mission exercise.