The old saying “a day at the beach,” is meant to evoke a non-stressful, relaxing day involving projects or tasks that are easy or otherwise non-challenging. That wasn’t exactly the day at the beach that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) experienced earlier this month and involved armored units from the 73rd Group Army.
Believed to be China’s main invasion force in a presumed attack on Taiwan, members of the armored division reportedly fired several thousand rounds or ordnance during the drills, which were conducted on May 12, according to reports from state broadcaster CCTV. The unit is stationed in Xiamen in Fujian province and conducted the combat training off Dongshan County in the Taiwan Strait.
The 73rd Army Group is comprised of two motorized infantry divisions including the 86th Motorized Infantry Division (People’s Republic of China) and the 91st Motorized Infantry Division, as well as an armored brigade, air defense brigade, a surface-to-air missile regiment, an artillery regiment, and an engineer regiment. It is considered a Category A unit, with priority status in terms of readiness, strength, and modern equipment.
Formerly known as the 31st Group Army, it was one of the few units to remain in China during the Korean War where it was positioned to defend against a potential U.S.-Taiwan invasion. The unit later took part in artillery bombardment of Kinmen and the Matsu Islands that resulted in the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis.
Another Pending Crisis?
Units of the PLA’s Group Army routinely conduct training near the Taiwan Straits, but the activities have ramped up in recent months. Even as the beach landing was taking place, the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) South Sea Fleet conducted a two-day drill in the South China Sea and conducted live-fire exercises at floating targets.
Footage published online of the recent training exercises showed multiple Type 05 amphibious fighting vehicles heading into the sea and then engaging in beach landings during the exercises in the south of China that lasted more than eight hours. According to Newsweek, which cited reports from state media, the vehicles navigated an obstacle course made of buoys and conducted live-fire exercises with anti-tank missiles and the 105mm guns towards a marked position on the mountainside.
While Beijing maintains that Taiwan is a breakaway province that will, eventually, be part of the country again and by force if necessary, it is unlikely an invasion would occur soon.
According to a 2019 Department of Defense (DoD) report, the Chinese military lacked the ability to mount a large-scale beach assault across the Taiwan Strait; and in the two years since that report was published, the PLA likely hasn’t made enough progress. However, it has increased the size of its navy, and drills such as these ones have intensified.
A failed invasion would be far worse than no invasion at all, and that will likely give Taipei more time to only further prepare should Beijing decide to bring Taiwan back into the fold.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.