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Why Is China Sending Its Most Advanced Tanks to Russia?

International Army Games 2021

Earlier this month Chinese Type-96 main battle tanks (MBT) were transported to Russia in advance of the International Army Games 2021, an annual Olympics-like military sporting event organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense. This year’s games will be held in Russia and ten partner states and take place from August 22 to September 4, and include more than 280 teams from 42 countries.

China, which will host the actual upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing next February, is certainly taking the International Army Games 2021 as seriously. In addition to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sending its most advanced and upgraded Type-96 MBTs to take part in the popular tank biathlon, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has announced that it will send 50 members of its marine corps to Vladivostok.

Those troops will compete with troops from Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and other countries in combat vehicle driving, weapons operation, and cooperative ability in crossing obstacles, Chinese media reported. Additionally, the PLAN warship Guangyuan, a new-generation corvette that was independently designed and built in China, has sailed to the Far Eastern Russian port city to participate in naval competitions that include marine rescue and live fire at targets.

Closer Ties With Russia

China has competed in the International Army Games since the inaugural edition was held in 2015, and beginning in 2017 has been a joint host. Its continuous participation in the games further highlights China’s deepening strategic ties with Russia. This year Beijing has announced that it will send 17 teams that represent its army, air force, and naval services.

Beijing is further using this year’s games to debut some of its latest military aircraft including its J-10B fighter, J-16 fighter, and Y-20 large transport aircraft. Other aircraft that will be sent to the games include its H-6K bomber and Y-8 tactical transport aircraft. A total of 11 aircraft that are produced in China will reportedly be sent to take part in various competitions and flyovers.

The J-16 has been in service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) since 2017, while the Xian Y-20 heavy transport has been deployed with medical personnel in supply transport missions in support of Covid-19 relief efforts in China.

“By sending a PLAAF fleet that includes these three aircraft to the International Army Games, China is showcasing the capabilities and combat readiness of domestically produced aircraft, as seen by how the Y-20 transport aircraft is currently replacing the PLAAF’s Russia-produced IL-76 aircraft,” Vera Lin, aerospace, defense and security associate at international research firm Global Data, said via an email.

Beyond highlighting the leaps forward China has made with its domestic aviation industry, the Army Games could be seen as an opportunity for potential export of its latest aircraft.

“Based on the Y-20 performance in the competition, the aircraft may attract the attention of foreign buyers in a market that has been previously dominated by American-made C-17 and Russian IL-76,” Lin added. “By sending a PLAAF fleet that includes these three aircraft to the International Army Games, China is showcasing the capabilities and combat readiness of domestically produced aircraft, as seen by how the Y-20 transport aircraft is currently replacing the PLAAF’s Russia-produced IL-76 aircraft. Based on the Y-20 performance in the competition, the aircraft may attract the attention of foreign buyers in a market that has been previously dominated by American-made C-17 and Russian IL-76.”

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.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

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