China says making air force drills more realistic

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's air force is making its drills more realistic and less formulaic as it seeks to boost combat readiness, an official newspaper said on Friday, mapping out the latest step in the country's ambitious modernization program. China has rattled nerves around the region with its plan to reform the military, the world's largest, focusing on quality over quantity and replacing outmoded equipment and tactics dating back to Soviet times. Its air force has been a big beneficiary of the modernization, getting new jets and developing stealth technologies, and is also focusing on improving its training. Combat exercises are becoming more intense and more difficult, ditching past practice of carrying out drills in line with pre-set plans and adding more realistic situations, the state-run China Daily said, citing the air force. "Commanders and pilots have been given stringent, realistic combat scenarios and are told to try their best to win," the paper said. "Now, freestyle fighting, live-fire strikes and long-range sea patrols have become regular elements in the training of the air force's fighter jet and bomber units," it said. Integrated operations involving more than one type of aircraft and different air force units are also becoming more common, the paper said, referring to an area where China has traditionally been weak compared with more Western militaries. "Thanks to exercises that are much more difficult than before, pilots have substantially enhanced their capabilities," air force pilot Xu Qin said. Some elite units now communicate in English during training, the paper said. China's military modernization comes as Beijing takes a more assertive line over territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas and especially over self-ruled Taiwan. In recent months, China has carried out a series of drills near Taiwan, claimed by China as its own, including flying bombers past the island and sailing its aircraft carrier around Taiwan. China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. Proudly democratic Taiwan has shown no interest in wanting to be ruled by autocratic China. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)