Explained: What are live-fire exercises, recently conducted by China?

In a massive show of strength, China began its live-fire exercise near Taiwan on Thursday (August 4), launching at least 11 ballistic missiles into the country’s coast, a day after US House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.

Taiwan’s defence ministry announced on Friday, that multiple Chinese ships and planes had once again crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which separates the two countries. Calling the military exercises “highly provocative,” the defence ministry states that it had dispatched aircraft and ships and deployed land based missile systems in response to the situation.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned China’s largest live-fire exercise in the region, calling it a “serious problem that impacts our national security and the safety of our citizens,” after 5 ballistic missiles launched by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone

What are live-fire exercises?

They are exercises primarily used by military personnel, in which live ammunition is used to create training conditions that are as close to real combat scenarios as possible. Live-fire exercises are also used by law enforcement and firefighters as a form of field training, to train them to act calmly in real-life emergency situations in the future.

During live-fire training, soldiers are placed in simulated combat situations and are given the opportunity to use their weapons and equipment (like ships, aircraft, tanks and drones). Such exercises are invaluable in maintaining combat readiness of troops, the cohesiveness of units, and instilling confidence in their ability to use their weapons and equipment correctly.

It also involves testing the effectiveness of vehicles, weapon platforms and weapons systems (such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, anti-aircraft weapons), so that any design flaws can be resolved before the weapons are fully operational.

As we see in the recent case in the Taiwan Strait, live-fire exercises allow countries to brandish their military prowess and capacity for destruction. As the Associated Press notes, the drills involving warplanes, ships and missiles are designed to show the level of lethal force that China could unleash on Taiwan, if the country refuses to toe the line set by Beijing.

Have they been done in the region before?

China had previously undertaken a similar show of force during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995-1996, when it fired missiles into the waters near Taiwan, after former President Lee Teng-hui visited the US, despite China’s strong objections.

Between July 25-29, the US army resumed its live-fire drills in South Korea after a hiatus of three years, in response to the series of weapons tests undertaken by North Korea this year. The deadly Apache helicopters stationed in South Korea were allowed to fire rockets and guns at the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, south of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea. The live-fire exercises had been previously cancelled in 2019 after residents living in the vicinity of the area had complained about noise and raised concerns about safety, as reported by Reuters.

After North Korea launched 8 short-range ballistic missiles on June 5 , the US and South Korea responded in a tit-for-tat fashion, by firing 8 of their own into the sea.

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