Category The Chinese Air Force

The Commanders of PLAAF Military Regions

As this is written, the military region air force commanders are all tran­sitioning to retired status. The youngest commanders were born in 1949 and

the oldest in 1947. Jia Yongsheng of the Beijing MRAF and Liu Zhongxing are already over the retirement age.28 The CMC has applied a level of flexibility in service age to some special cases in recent years.29 The current MRAF com­manders will all retire before the end of 2011, unless some “historical acci­dents” happen, such as an outbreak of conflict.

Attention should therefore be focused on the younger and rising stars in the MRAFs, who are in their early 50s, have served in operational front­line posts, and have held senior commanding positions for a number of years. Most are chiefs of staff of MRAFs who proved themselves as the top-grade fighter pilots, commanders of the “fist units” and as staff officers in headquar­ters assignments. They are:

Major General Ma Zhenjun (ЙШ¥), deputy commander and chief of staff of the Beijing MRAF. Born in 1964, he is probably the only major general at the full corps rank in the air force who was born in the 1960s.30 This indi­cates that Ma has distinguished himself in the race to the apex of power. He is now in a unique position to succeed either Jia Yongsheng, his current superior, or to be transferred to another MRAF as commander. It is worth noting that by March 2010 the PLA had only eight post-1960s major generals at the corps level, the youngest being Yang Hui (ШЩ), director of the 2d Department of the GSD.31 Mao Xinyu (^ff^) (Mao Zedong’s grandson) is the only one born in the 1970s. So far, apart from Ma, no other post-1960s corps level officer is found in the PLAAF.

Ma earned his fast promotion after proving himself as a top-grade fighter pilot, an outstanding fighter division commander, and a keen proponent of training. Instead of emphasizing routine technical training, Ma emphasized tactical combat training. When he commanded the 2d Fighter Division, it was rated as having displayed the most proficiency in training for three successive years. He also won three PLA science and technology awards.32

In 2007 Ma was promoted from commander of the 2d Fighter Division to deputy chief of staff of the Guangzhou MRAF, when he was 43. Two years later, he was promoted to deputy commander of the Jinan MRAF (a full corps rank) and again within 1 year he was transferred to his current position. The frequent transfers clearly reflect the air force leadership’s confidence in Ma and their crafting a succession plan for him involving gaining intimate familiarity with various MRAFs and combat units.

Major General Ding Laihong (Т#Ю was born in 1957 and is the sec­ond youngest senior officer among the seven PLAAF MRs (at the full corps rank). He became regimental commander of Regiment 71 of Fighter Division 24 while in his early 30s. From the position of division deputy commander he moved to command of a training base in the Beijing MRAF, a divisional unit.

Like Ma, he emphasized combat-realistic “Red versus Blue” training. In 2001 he was swiftly promoted to chief of staff of the 8th Corps, deployed on the Tai­wan Front, reaching the deputy corps level at the age of 44. When the 8th Corps was reorganized down to the Fuzhou Forward Commanding Post in 2003, Ding remained its foundational head. In 2007 he was promoted to be presi­dent of the Air Force Command Academy. One year later he was transferred to the Chengdu MRAF as its chief of staff. Looking back, Ding has been at the corps-command level for almost a decade. In terms of seniority or in terms of the PLAAF’s demand for a large pool of candidates to complete the forthcom­ing reshuffle, Ding is certainly at the front in the queue.

Major General Zheng Qunliang (ЙЙЙ), born in 1954, is older than Ding, but is still a valid candidate to “catch the last train” to reach deputy MR rank. Previously he was a corps commander who would have had to retire at the age of 55 if he could not advance further; but now, his active service can be extended, perhaps to age 58.33 Zheng, as commander of the PLAAF’s elite 1st Fighter Division, was selected to participate in a PLA senior officers’ delegation to visit the United States in July 2000, a sign of the PLA having identified him as a future PLAAF leader.

After his trip, he wrote a widely distributed article recounting his expe­riences visiting various U. S. Air Force bases.34 For instance, he noticed it took only 15 minutes for an F-15 wing to change munitions, as compared with his division’s 3 hours. He was highly impressed that USAF F-15 Eagle fighter pilots took off in formation, even under heavy clouds below 200 meters (some­thing his own pilots could only do individually under the same conditions) and landed out of steep, descending turns.

At one base in California, he was particularly surprised to find Air Force male and female personnel working together and was impressed with the orderly and systematic airfield operations. He was surprised to find non­commissioned officers supervising flight operations (a task performed only by commanders in a PLAAF fighter division). Zheng concluded that if his com­manders could be freed from such duties, they could devote their attention to more important tasks. He concluded that the more the PLA understood the U. S. military, the more the PLA would know its own shortcomings and be motivated to catch up.

Zheng is a top-grade jet fighter pilot. When he reached the PLAAF’s compulsory nonflight age of 47, he had accumulated 2,200 flying hours. He became commander of Regiment 3 of the 1st Division in 1992, then divisional commander in 1997. In a transregional combat drill under no pre-set flying conditions, he led the division to a deployment at another air base, breaking PLA records for the largest number of aircraft moved on a single mission, traveling the longest distance, and the longest flying time under instrument – only (blind flying) flight conditions. In 1999 he was the in-flight commander for the Air Force National Day Military Parade. The review formation was 7 kilometers (4.34 miles) long, and passed the review stand at Tiananmen Square exactly on time, to the second. This exhibition won him high praise from PLAAF leaders.35 In 2002 he was promoted to commander of the Wuhan base and concurrently deputy commander and chief of staff of the Shenyang MRAF. Clearly, if age is not an obstacle for his advancement, he will receive a more senior post in the PLAAF’s leadership reshuffle.

Major General Zhuang Kezhu (ЙИЙ), chief of staff of the Lanzhou MRAF. He was born in 1955 and rose quickly in his early career. He was com­mander of the 33d Fighter Division, the top division in Southwest China and always the first combat unit to equip with new generation aircraft in that region. He was promoted to commander of the Kunming Forward Headquar­ters in 1999. In 2005 he was transferred to Beijing to serve as assistant chief of staff of the PLAAF, in charge of combat plans and training of air force units in the southwest. He has thus gained valuable access to the top AF leadership on the one hand and had rich commanding experience at the basic campaign units on the other. His future upward movement is certain.

Major General Xu Anxiang (1£Ш¥) is chief of staff of the Nanjing MRAF. In his early 50s, Xu has already acquired valuable experience in com­manding divisional and corps-level operations and training. In 2002 he was commander of the 14th Fighter Division, a unit on constant combat duty in the Nanjing War Zone. He was in charge of the MR’s air force units in the Wenchuan operation when he was deputy chief of the staff. He personally oversaw preparation of aircraft in the Special Rescue Regiment that received emergency mobilization orders at 10:30 p. m. on the night of the earthquake, departing 3 hours later with all necessary materials.36 In 2007 Xu was front­line commander for PLAAF fighters deployed to the Sino-Russian joint mili­tary exercise Peace Mission 2007. This was the first time that PLAAF aircraft had entered a foreign country for combat drills. Xu directed 24 sorties of eight Chinese J-7s and Il-76s within a short period of time. Xu’s division achieved its tactical objectives, even though in a strange location, against unfamiliar tar­gets, and under uncertain circumstances.37 Given the fact that the PLAAF top leadership always selects the most competent commanders to command trans­national military missions, Xu’s experience in the mission was a telling proof of how the PLAAF leadership regarded him. As a richly experienced commander in charge of operations and training in an important air force war zone, he held heavy responsibilities, a contributing factor likely to influence his promotion to higher command in future years.

Major General Sun Herong (ї’Мп®) is chief of staff of the Jinan MRAF (2009). He was deputy chief of staff of Shenyang MRAF (2003-2006) and com­mander of the Dalian Forward Headquarters (2007). His seniority is about the same as that of Ding, Zheng, and Xu, and he is a clear candidate for more important positions. In 2003 he coauthored with Yi Xiaoguang (Z, K^) a book entitled The Stealth Aircraft: A Difficult Adversary (ШШАЖ&М’&Ш-). This highly acclaimed work subsequently proved popular with the PLAAF, then in the midst of examining high-tech warfare.

Clearly, there are many promising commanders among this cluster of relatively young major generals at the MRAF level. A number of other officers are also potential candidates; however, due to limited space, they can only be briefly noted:

Major General Chang Baolin (^S#), deputy commander of the Nan­jing MRAF, was chief of staff of the 1st Corps in 2000 at the age of 44 and then the Guangzhou MRAF’s chief of staff and deputy commander (2005). He is a candidate for commander for one of the MRAFs.

Major General Yang Weidong (Й!^), commander of PLAAF Wuhan Base, was commander of the 31st Fighter Division and deputy chief of staff of the Jinan MRAF. He served briefly as assistant chief of staff of the PLAAF, which gave him close access to top PLAAF leaders. His current job is meant to increase his experience in regional command and campaign level units. He is poised to become chief of staff of one of the MRAFs.

Major General Wang Tieyi (И£Щ). Born in 1959, Wang is deputy chief of staff of the Shenyang MRAF. He was commander of the 9th Fighter Division, which is one of the top divisions in the air force, in 2000. He was selected to study at National Defense University in 2005 and was a deputy leader in the 54th Base of the Strategic Missile Force under the PLA senior officer exchange program of different services. In his capacity of deputy chief of staff of the Shenyang MRAF, Wang was the first-line commander of PLAAF units in the 2009 Sino-Russian Peace Mission joint exercise.

Major General Li Xiangmin (^ЙВД). Born in 1959, Li became com­mander of the PLAAF Nanning Forward Headquarters in 2004 at the age of 45, younger than Ding Laihang (Fuzhou) and Zheng Qunliang (Wuhan) who held the same rank at the same time.


This chapter’s research tentatively reveals a few commonalities in PLAAF leadership politics, especially in regard to the patterns of elite selection and promotion.

First, the leadership selection process is increasingly based upon meritoc­racy and even “expertocracy’ The candidates for top leadership are inevitably well-trained, learned, and internationally exposed. The level of professionalism is very high, both in terms of their careers as airmen and their experience as com­manders. Mediocre officers simply do not make it to the top, given the extremely tough competition among peers. The officers in the CMC and PLAAF cadre reserve lists have to go through several rounds of performance tests, through var­ious commanding posts and at different levels of command. In this regard, the PLAAF is much like professional air forces in other parts of the world.

Second, fighter pilots have dominated the PLAAF leadership from its formative years to the present day. Virtually all top service leaders and lead­ers at the region level are fighter pilots. Partly this is due to the PLAAF force structure that gives numerical advantages to fighter divisions and partly to a tradition dating to the earliest years of the service. Functionally, fighter jets undertake a proportionally higher responsibility for homeland air defense. It is interesting to watch how this tradition will evolve and change, as the air force increasingly emphasizes power projection missions away from home, which will require other types of aircraft to play a larger role. In terms of personal net­works, it is logical and commonplace for the incumbent fighter-pilots turned AF leaders to groom their subordinates into commanding positions. This situ­ation is unlikely to change much any time soon.

Third, the age of the PLAAF’s current leadership will soon force a mas­sive leadership reshuffle at the service and MRAF levels. The generational suc­cession can be expected to be orderly, as an array of candidates is already in place to take over key positions as they become available. This chapter lists a number of them, although it is not an exhaustive examination. If there is no substantial intervening surprise, they will become the next generation of air force leaders. They are younger, better educated, with more flying hours, and more capable of piloting various types of third-generation (fourth-generation in Western terminology) fighter aircraft.

Fourth, the PLA as a whole and the PLAAF in particular have developed a sophisticated, institutionalized, and comprehensive personnel selection and promotion system. It is multi-layered, with a CMC reserve list, a PLAAF list, an MRAF list, a corps list, and a divisional list. Each list normally has 1.5 times the number of personnel who can be promoted to the next level to guarantee that the best make it through the selection filter.38 Different tiers are mutually supportive, as a promising PLAAF candidate can enter the CMC list simultane­ously, to be groomed with a variety of opportunities, as takes place in the other services. As far as the air force is concerned, a pattern of upward mobility is thus clearly visible for those lucky enough to be screened as future top leaders.

They are identified early compared with those in other PLA services, thanks to the service age regulations for combat pilots, whose flying career ends at age 47. In their early 30s they become regimental commanders, get to the divisional rank in their mid to late 30s, and then to corps level posts before age 50. From there they are transferred frequently to gain familiarity with central affairs and different MRAFs, normally staying in one place no more than 2 years. A top air force leader is thus tempered with as much necessary experience as possible.

To stress yet again, meritocracy and expert knowledge of one’s profes­sional career field are now the core defining qualities for the deepening pro­fessionalization of the PLAAF’s top elites. This is seen by the following facts:

■ They are all top-grade pilots, typically rated in several kinds of high-per­formance aircraft (typically fighters), or other aerospace professionals.

■ By the time a commander is selected for a corps-level command, he has gone at least three times to advanced training in military acade­mies (for a deputy MR commander, at least four times).

■ PLAAF officers are given special missions to test their ability in the process of being selected and promoted, such as joint combat drills with foreign military services and large-scale military operations other than war (MOOTW) experience.

■ The selection of future leaders is increasingly open and competitive, using measures such as a satisfactory graduation thesis, peer opinion survey, and examination marks on technological tests (for instance, computer knowledge and skills). All these and others heavily impact subsequent personnel selection. Thus, the scope of arbitrary nomina­tion of favored candidates by individual leaders is markedly decreasing.

In conclusion, the PLAAF is capable of identifying potential leaders and giving them the experience and skills needed to undertake the complicated and tough transformation of turning the air force from a purely defensive force to one with reasonable long-range offensive and defensive power-projection capabilities. The next years will bring about a major reshaping of the PLAAF leadership as those born in the late 1940s and early 1950s give way to younger officers. This will take place in an orderly fashion, though some disruption is likely to occur, with gaps between the right people in the right posts being nar­rowed and bridged only in a gradual manner.

By December 2011 the reshuffle of the military region air force leader­ship had seen five new MRAF commanders: Jiang Jianzeng (>ІЙн), Beijing MR, transferred from the Nanjing MR; Zhang Jianping (ЖШТ), Guangzhou MR; Zhuang Kezhu (SWfi), Lanzhou MR; Yi Xiaoguang (Z, K^), Nanjing

MR; and Zheng Qunliang Jinan MR. Two other air force military

region commanders Fang Dianrong (^)^®),Chengdu MR and Zhou Laiqiang (Ml#®), Shenyang MR have not been changed.

Coproduction and Codevelopment

The terms coproduction and codevelopment are sometimes used inter­changeably. For the purposes of this paper, coproduction refers to a contract where the supplying country sells the purchaser the right to produce copies of a com­plete aircraft or key components. Coproduction deals can range from assembly of imported complete knock-down (CKD) kits with all necessary components to transfer of blueprints, machines, technical assistance, and relevant production technologies that give the purchaser an independent capability to build complete aircraft from scratch. Codevelopment refers to cooperation in the design stage of aircraft development where two or more countries work as partners.

Technology transfer and how expensive research and development costs are allocated are the principal issues in coproduction or codevelopment projects. The country with the more advanced industry has the motivation to withhold technical details from partners to protect its competitive advantage; the country with the less developed aviation industry typically has to agree to pay a premium price in order to gain access to relevant production (in the case of coproduction) or design/systems integration expertise (in the case of codevelopment).

Developing countries often seek coproduction arrangements as a means of starting an aviation industry or improving the technological capacity of their existing industry. The developing country typically seeks the maximum pos­sible transfer of design information and production technology to allow fully independent production. Unless suppliers have a strategic reason for wanting to build up the recipient country’s defense industry, they typically seek to retain control over key design information and production technology and prefer to supply components for assembly rather than give the purchasing country an independent production capability. The exact nature of the deal is often a func­tion of the relative bargaining power of the parties involved. Coproduction usually involves a licensing agreement stipulating the number of systems the producer country can build at an agreed upon cost.

As a technology procurement strategy, coproduction is basically a combi­nation of “buy” and “build.” The developing country typically assembles aircraft from imported parts (often in the form of a complete knockdown kit) rather than producing them from scratch, at least initially. Contracts sometimes allow replac­ing imported components with indigenously produced components as the pur­chasing country’s aviation industry gains the ability to successfully produce them.

Developing countries sometimes evade contractual restrictions by using knowl­edge gained in the production process to design compatible subsystems or com­ponents that can either be integrated into an existing aircraft or that can be part of an improved variant of an existing aircraft. Because the supplier often provides knowledge about how to assemble the aircraft rather than complete design infor­mation, the buyer country still has a fair amount of work to do if the goal is to reverse engineer an exact clone or to develop an improved variant incorporating indigenous subsystems.

The nature of defense cooperation between countries is a good indi­cator of the overall political relationship. Coproduction agreements imply a basic level of political trust between partner countries. A supplier country will not enter into an agreement to sell a developing country the rights to build a fighter aircraft if there is a fundamental divergence of strategic interests or if the purchasing country poses a significant security threat. Coproduction is less of a risk than codevelopment to the supplier country from a technology pro­curement perspective because it does not usually grant the purchaser access to state-of-the-art aircraft or subsystems. As the next section will detail, China relied on coproduction with the Soviet Union in the 1950s to launch its mili­tary aviation industry and on coproduction deals with Russia in the 1990s to improve its capability to build advanced fighter aircraft.

Codevelopment in aircraft design implies that both partners possess a relatively well developed aviation industry. The partners typically share the costs of R&D efforts; partners with less advanced aviation industries typically pay a premium price or commit to purchase significant quantities of the fin­ished aircraft in order to gain access to advanced technologies, design pro­cesses, and systems integration expertise. In some cases, codevelopment will produce new technologies and intellectual property that will be shared by the partners.

A good recent example of codevelopment involves the joint venture between Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to develop a fifth-generation fighter.13 The work is split on a 75-25 percent basis, with Russia contributing the larger share.14 “Codevelopment” is also sometimes used to describe projects where parties contribute to development costs without participating in the actual work. From a technology procurement standpoint, this is much closer to the “buy” avenue than to coproduction or codevelopment.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is an example of an unequal codevelopment partnership where a number of countries contributed finan­cial support and committed to purchasing the aircraft without any involve­ment in development work.15 The United States and Britain have carried out the vast majority of technical development work, with Italy making minor con­tributions.16 The other six partners (Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Canada, Denmark, and Norway) have bought into the project by contributing develop­ment funds and agreeing to purchase a specific number of F-35s. True code­velopment implies not just cost-sharing, but shared ownership of the intellec­tual property generated by the project.

The decision to codevelop a fighter aircraft can be motivated by differ­ent circumstances, but the logic in forming joint partnerships is the same: both countries benefit more through codevelopment than they would by working alone. Defense industries can share the substantial burden of R&D costs while bringing their technological comparative advantages to the fore. Perceived eco­nomic, political, and strategic benefits drive the decisionmaking process, with the relative importance of each depending on the relationship, political situa­tion, and threat perceptions of the partner countries.

The UAC/HAL joint venture between Russia and India illustrates the complex economic and geopolitical pressures that drive defense technology decisionmaking. India was an end user and coproducer of Soviet military aircraft since a cooperative defense relationship was established in the early 1960s.17 The relationship persisted throughout the Cold War, and after the Soviet Union dissolved, India helped Russia’s defense industry stay afloat in the 1990s.18 The plan to codevelop a fifth-generation fighter was hatched at a time (2000) when the dire Russian economic situation gave India a significant degree of bargaining power.19 If not for economic necessity, Russia might never have proposed a codevelopment deal given the major step forward it provides the Indian aerospace industry.20 Some Russian defense industry experts have been skeptical about the value India will bring to the project, citing Russia’s half century of experience designing award-winning fighter aircraft.21 Indian media reports have highlighted HAL’s potential contributions in aircraft body design through its work on composites gained during the design of its indig­enous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).22 Russia has designed mostly metal aircraft and thus lacks experience with composites. HAL will also design the mission computer, navigation, and countermeasure dispensing systems, and critical software.


Though traditionally thought of in naval terms, military blockade can take many forms. During World War II, for example, the U. S. Fifth Air Force effectively established an air blockade on New Guinea, routinely denying Jap­anese relief and supply forces from reaching the island. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense recognized this when it issued its Quadrennial Defense Review in 2009, noting:30

The PLA may use its Second Artillery, navy, and air force to conduct blockades against Taiwan’s ports, offshore islands, and routes connect­ing to outside world, and blockade or seize Taiwan’s offshore or remote islands, in order to shatter the will and morale of the populace, cripple the economic lifeline, depress the internal and external environment and force a peace negotiation on their terms.

In the event of a PRC blockade of Taiwan, it could be expected that the PLAs airpower forces will be employed to: establish and enforce a “no-fly zone” (NFZ); seize and maintain air dominance over the battlespace; establish defen­sive air caps and protect PLA forces from Taiwan air and missile strikes; prosecute electronic warfare and cyber warfare against Taiwan’s forces; support the PLAN’s sea blockade of Taiwan; support PLA littoral actions such as seizing the islands of Kinmen and Matsu; and, finally, conduct antiaccess operations against Taiwan’s forces and their potential allies or coalition partners.31 PLA airpower forces would prosecute these missions by attacking Taiwan’s airfields, air bases, and important installations; seizing air dominance via air-to-air combat; conducting aerial min­ing operations; providing routine combat air patrols and air reconnaissance over the battlespace; and conducting air defense operations in coastal areas.32

Education and Training in the PLAAF

Kevin Lanzit

Strengthened military education and training programs are fundamen­tal to Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) efforts toward “air force building” and are essential to China’s efforts to construct a modern 21st century military.1 The PLAAF recognizes that its modernization goals cannot be fully realized merely through the acquisition of advanced weapons and revi­sion of military doctrine; it will also require the institutionalization of strong education and training programs capable of developing personnel with the requisite knowledge and skills to operate effectively in today’s increasingly complex operational environment.2 To that end, the PLAAF announced the following at the beginning of 2009:3

Taking into full account preparations for combat and its own transfor­mation and development, the Air Force is exploring training systems and methods tailored to the development of the latest generation of weaponry and equipment. It stresses technical and tactical training in complex environments, combined training of different arms and aircraft types, and joint training; conducts mission-oriented and confrontational training; and is increasing on-base, simulated and web-based training.

It is working to optimize the tripartite pilot training system composed of flying colleges, training bases and combat units, and intensifying the training of aviation units in counter-air operations, air-to-ground attacks and joint operations. It is deepening reforms and innovations in insti­tutional education by improving the system of discipline, and making innovations in teaching programs, means and methods. It is strengthen­ing on-the-job training, and exploring a new model of personnel devel­opment, namely the triad of institutional education, training in units and professional military education. For this purpose, the Air Force Military Professional University was established in July 2008.

The principal target of air force education and training programs is the officer corps (cadre), whose members serve as the primary warfighters; sec­ondarily, the focus is on the noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps, which is beginning to take on additional responsibilities in logistics and mission sup­port. Education provides the officers and NCOs with the intellectual founda­tion needed to master the typical entry-level jobs in today’s military and to advance to jobs of increasing complexity as technology evolves and they grow in rank and responsibility. Training provides technical knowledge and hands – on skills to achieve proficiency and perform consistently under the stress of uncertain and dynamic operational conditions. Together, education and train­ing underpin the disciplined and agile combat forces that China seeks to build.

To fully harness the potential of its new arsenal—including aircraft, sen­sors, munitions, and space-based systems—China’s air force must resolve long­term deficiencies in education and training that have stood in the path of its advancement. Over the years, PLAAF education and training programs have been influenced and molded by a variety of factors, including Marxist-Lenin – ist thinking and the influences of Mao Zedong, continuous comprehensive air force building and operational training experience, and the selective adop­tion of foreign operational practices. Although education and training pro­grams of the PLAAF remain highly influenced by their early course of devel­opment, today’s training structure has undergone a number of recent reforms and adjustments which are now reaching maturity and show signs of produc­ing solid results.

The ongoing modernization drive that encompasses the whole of the PLAAF education and training infrastructure is part of a much broader Peo­ple’s Liberation Army (PLA) effort to transform its legacy mechanized force into a force that will be capable of fighting and winning in modern, informa – tized conditions.4 Promoted by President Hu Jintao in his capacity as Chair­man of the Central Military Commission (CMC), this strategic policy direction provides the basis for the advancements and developments that are reshaping air force education and training programs. The PLAAF recognizes that this effort entails a long-term commitment and has established achievable goals for the path forward. This chapter will examine the historical development of PLAAF education and training programs, look at the features of current pro­grams, assess the effectiveness of these programs, and consider how the pro­grams are likely to evolve in the future. It will not attempt to assess sufficiency and quality of tactical or operational training. Rather, it will focus on the edu­cation and training structure and programs of the PLAAF.

PLAAF Technology Procurement Strategies: Past, Present, and Future

How have the pros and cons of the potential methods of building or acquiring military aircraft and aviation technology described above affected Chinese decisions about whether to “Buy, Build, or Steal”? This section briefly develops a concise model of a developing country’s decision calculus, and then applies that model to explain Chinese choices over the period from 1949 to the
present. We organize the analysis into five distinct periods defined by Chinese economic and technological capacity and the sources of foreign aircraft and aviation technology available to China at a given time.

The model we develop involves four factors. (See table 12-1.) The first is the level of development of the overall Chinese economy, which defines China’s general technological capability. The level of overall development constrains the indigenous technological capacity of China’s aviation industry and defines the potential for China to “spin on” technologies from the civilian sector to the military sector. The second factor is the technological capacity of the aviation sector. The level of development of the overall economy constrains the indig­enous capacity of the aviation sector, but it is possible to use foreign assistance and imported technology to build advanced capabilities in the aviation sector that surpass those in the broader civilian economy. To the extent that advanced fighter aircraft require technologies that do not have civilian applications (“sin­gle-use technologies”), the military aviation sector must be ahead of the over­all economy in some specific areas if indigenous production is to be an option.


Подпись: Development level of overall Chinese economy Подпись: Technological capacity of Chinese aviation sector Подпись: Chinese relative bargaining power vis-a-vis foreign suppliers

Table 12-1. Four Factors in Chinese Military Aviation Technology Procurement Calculus

The third factor is the willingness of foreign countries to sell advanced military aircraft, key components and armaments, and related production tech­nology. Who is willing to sell to China and what aircraft and aviation technolo­gies they are willing to sell define the available options in terms of purchasing (“buy”), coproduction, and codevelopment. The fourth and final factor is Chi­na’s bargaining power vis-a-vis potential sellers of aircraft and aviation tech­nology. This can be influenced by ideological and security factors (including the seller’s calculus about whether China represents a potential ally or a poten­tial threat), the health of the potential seller’s overall economy and defense sec­tor, and supply and demand within the broader military aviation market (for example, whether it is a “buyer’s market” or a “seller’s market”). Bargaining power influences whether potential sellers are willing to sell their most sophis­ticated fighters and whether they are willing to transfer production technol­ogy or consider coproduction or codevelopment deals. Sellers generally prefer to sell complete aircraft and spare parts (to maximize profits, maintain control
of the supply chain, and limit potential competition) while buyers often want technology transfer and coproduction arrangements which provide employ­ment opportunities and reduce their dependence on the seller.

We divide the time under examination into five periods. (See table 12-2.) The first, from 1950 to 1960, is the period of Sino-Soviet defense cooperation. The Soviet Union’s willingness to sell aircraft, designs, and production technol­ogy provided the foundation for Chinas modern defense aviation industry. At the same time, the United States and Western countries used a trade embargo and export controls to ban the sale of military aircraft and military technology. The second period is marked by the Sino-Soviet split and the withdrawal of Soviet advisors and technicians from China. With the Western embargo continuing, China was essentially cut off from legitimate access to military aircraft and related technology from 1960 to 1977. The third period, from 1977 to 1989, was marked by increasing Chinese access to Western commercial technology, including selected military systems, components, and technologies. Access to Eastern bloc technologies, which lagged behind Western systems but were more compatible with Chinas existing industrial base, remained very limited. China’s cooperation with Israel on fighter aircraft began during this time.23 The fourth period, from 1989 to 2004, is characterized by the U. S. and European ban on military sales to China following the Tiananmen incident in June 1989 and the gradual opening of the window for arms sales and technology transfers from the Soviet Union and its successor states. Western countries sought to limit the transfer of military and dual-use technologies to the Chinese defense industry, but the Chinese commer­cial sector gradually gained access to increasingly sophisticated civilian and dual­use technologies for commercial applications. Despite efforts to use end-use cer­tificates and inspections to monitor where dual-use technologies were employed, many of these technologies could eventually be “spun on” to defense production.

Table 12-2. Five Periods of Chinese Technological Development






Sino-Soviet defense cooperation

Chinese isolation

Window of access to Western technologies

West cuts access, Russia reopens; diversification of strategies

Russian reluctance; increased indige­nous capacity

The fifth period, from roughly 2004 to the present, is marked by Rus­sia’s growing reluctance to provide China access to its most advanced mil­itary fighters and production technology as Russian economic recovery increased Moscow’s bargaining power and control over the Russian defense industry. Despite China’s efforts to persuade the European Union to lift its arms embargo, access to Western military aircraft remained denied. How­ever, some European countries did sell China components and technologies that could be employed in military aircraft.24At this time, Israel, under heavy U. S. pressure, cancelled a deal to upgrade unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) it had previously sold to China (having cancelled an earlier project to upgrade Chinese airborne early warning aircraft in 2000).25 Although Chinese access to state-of – the-art military technology remains limited, the Chinese aviation industry made significant strides in absorbing foreign technology and dem­onstrated the ability to reverse engineer the Su-27 Flanker (as the J-11B) and to serially produce its own fourth-generation fighter (the J-10). It was also recently discovered that China is farther ahead in the development of its fifth – generation stealth fighter (the J-20) than many foreign sources anticipated.26 Overall, China’s level of economic development has advanced significantly, and its civilian industry has enjoyed significant access to state-of-the-art commer­cial (and sometimes dual-use) technology.

The Era of Sino-Soviet Defense Cooperation (1950-1960)

Table 12-3. The Era of Sino-Soviet Defense Cooperation (1950-1960)




MiG-17 Fresco-As (early 1950s)

II-28 bomber (early 1950s)


4 Core Aviation En­terprises established with Soviet assistance (1952-1954)

Shenyang J-5: Chinese MiG-17F (1956)

J-6 rejected by PLAAF due to poor quality workmanship (1959-1960)


JJ-1 trainer: first indigenously devel­oped military aircraft (1958)

CJ-6 fighter trainer (1960)

In the aftermath of the Communist takeover and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the Chinese economy’s level of devel­opment was relatively backward. Some pockets of industry employed modern technologies, but China was still predominantly a rural economy with limited industrial capacity. Given its limited technological base, China essentially had no ability to indigenously produce military aircraft. The first armed air contin­gent (and precursor to the PLAAF), the Nanyuan Flying Group, operated an assorted collection of around forty aircraft captured from the Nationalist air force.27 There is no sourced record of the fighters operated by the short-lived Nanyuan Group, but they likely included U. S.-built Curtiss-Wright aircraft like the Hawk 75M, 75A-5, and CW-21, as well as the Soviet Polikarpov I—15bis and I-16, all operated by the Nationalist air force in the war against Japan. It is estimated that at the time the PLAAF was officially founded in late 1949, it had approximately 115 ex-Nationalist aircraft, though some sources place its strength approximately 40 percent higher.28 Several dozen of these were not obtained until near the end of the Chinese civil war, when the Nationalist air force began to experience frequent uprisings and pilots defected to the Com­munist side along with their aircraft.29 The Soviet Union soon augmented Chi­na’s air force with an additional 434 aircraft and sent 878 experts to seven flight schools that had recently been approved by the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the People’s Liberation Army.30 Chinese involvement in the Korean War led to the rapid expansion of the PLAAF in terms of both equipment and capable personnel. By 1953, the last year of the war, there were 13 air force schools which had trained nearly 6,000 flight crew members and 24,000 main­tenance personnel to service 28 PLAAF air divisions (around 3,000 aircraft).31

From the outset of Sino-Soviet defense cooperation, Moscow had con­siderable bargaining power vis-a-vis China, which had no alternative source for advanced military technology. Trade agreements that allowed for the transfer of technology boiled down to what Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai described as “sell­ing agricultural products to buy machines.”32 In a conversation with Indonesian President Sukarno, Mao Zedong gave a candid assessment of the Chinese econ­omy circa 1953 saying, “Frankly speaking, we haven’t got a lot of things to export apart from some apples, peanuts, pig bristles, soy beans.”33 Despite this imbalance, the Soviet perception of China as a fellow Communist state and natural ally led Moscow to view a Chinese capacity to produce military aircraft as an asset in the Cold War against the West. As a result, the Soviet Union did not fully employ its potential leverage and provided the PLA Air Force with its first jet fighters and the Chinese aviation industry with its first capacity to produce modern jet fighters. So keen, in fact, were the Soviets to bring China online that some Chinese arma­ment producing plants were turning out sophisticated weaponry before the Soviet defense industry itself could.34 The decision to allow China to coproduce sophis­ticated fighter aircraft was part of the larger effort to transform it quickly into a capable, self-sufficient defense partner.

Archives maintained by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Cen­tral Committee (CPSU CC) assert that ten thousand “specialists” were sent to China in the 1950s, but there is no corresponding record of who these spe­cialists were, where they went, or how long they stayed.35 It is clear that from the early 1950s the Soviet Union committed a massive amount of resources to build up Chinese industrial enterprises, with special attention given to the defense industry. The initial agreement pertaining to military aviation, signed by Stalin and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in October 1951, laid out the terms under which the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) would render technical and repair assistance as well as construct new factories for the man­ufacture of aircraft.36 This agreement was reached against the backdrop of the Korean War. In 1954, Moscow issued another memorandum to the People’s Republic of China outlining cooperation on 15 new defense enterprises.37 The Soviets agreed to perform design work, deliver equipment, and provide techni­cal support for the fledgling enterprises. It is no exaggeration to say the Soviets helped China build a military aviation industry essentially from the ground up.

After a protracted civil war, which resumed after 7 years of Japanese occupation, China was left with almost no means to produce military air­craft indigenously. Several years after the founding of the PRC, China’s nascent defense industry lacked the capability to produce advanced Western designs, or even to absorb Western technology into its Soviet-designed fighters, making the steal option impractical even if China could gain access to controlled West­ern designs and technologies. Initial purchases of Soviet fighters and aggres­sive pursuit of coproduction arrangements were logical responses to this set of constraints and opportunities, despite the implicit dependence on continu­ing access to Soviet designs, spare parts, and technical assistance. The mas­sive infusion of Soviet personnel and equipment enabled China to design and produce several prototypes of its own fighter trainer (based largely on Soviet designs) by 1960, and to coproduce Soviet fighters, bombers, and transport air­craft throughout the 1950s.

China’s leadership assessed the technical challenges implicit in licensed coproduction of Soviet aircraft and incorporated conclusions in the first five – year plan for the development of the aviation industry. The plan anticipated China’s heavy reliance on the USSR to get the core enterprises that would form the backbone of military aviation up and running, but the end goal was for China to independently manufacture advanced Soviet aircraft within 3 to 5 years of facilities coming online. Four main production plants were established in the early to mid 1950s: the Nanchang Aircraft Factory, Shenyang Aircraft Factory, Zhuzhou Aero Engine Factory, and the Shenyang Aero Engine Fac­tory.38 Once these core enterprises were established, the emphasis shifted to manufacturing components. Construction of the Xian Aircraft Accessory Fac­tory, Xinping Aviation Electronic and Wheel Brake Factory, and the Baoji Avi­ation Instrument Factory began in 1956. During the era of Sino-Soviet coop­eration, these seven enterprises formed the core of China’s military aviation industry. Though the degree of direct Soviet assistance varied by factory, the USSR was instrumental in the development of each.

Metallurgy in China prior to the 1950s was not suitably advanced for the production of advanced aero engine materials, which rely on the mastery of high temperature alloys including steel-titanium and aluminum-magnesium alloys. The PRC government made the development of high temperature alloys a priority for the Ministry of Metallurgical Industry.39 Joint efforts of the avia­tion and metallurgical industries led to development of China’s first high tem­perature alloy in 1956. A great deal of labor resources was devoted to this task, enabling the PRC to produce its first turbojet engine, the WP5.40 Conversion from the WP5 to the next generation WP6 turbojet proved difficult, first due to technical differences—the WP6 had 2,521 parts, 46 percent more than its predecessor41—making it impossible to use the same production lines, and sec­ond, due to the chaotic work conditions resulting from the Great Leap For­ward. Performance standards were not met when the WP6 underwent initial testing in 1958. It was not until 1963 that the engine was finally approved and paired with the J6.

China’s first indigenously produced military aircraft, the CJ-5 trainer manufactured at the Nanchang Aircraft Factory, made its first successful test flight on July 11, 1954. The CJ-5, which was built around the M-11 power – plant produced by the Zhuzhou Aero Engine Factory, was a nearly exact copy of the Soviet Yakovlev Yak-18 fighter trainer. Based on ambitions laid out by China’s military leadership to transition from repairing aircraft to manufac­turing complete designs in 3 to 5 years, domestic production of the CJ-5 was ahead of schedule. The Shenyang Aircraft Factory was also able to produce its copy of the MiG-17 ahead of schedule. Originally slated for completion at the end of 1957, the J-5 fighter, powered by the domestically produced WP5 engine, made a successful test flight on July 19, 1956.42 Coproduction of the J-5 went relatively smoothly, with the Soviet Union providing two MiG-17 pattern aircraft, manufacturing documentation, and 15 complete knock-down kits to the Shenyang Aircraft Factory. Over its 14-year production run from 1955 to 1969, the Chinese military aviation industry produced 767 J-5/J-5A fighters, first at the Shenyang Aircraft Factory (SAF) and later at Chengdu State Aircraft Factory No.132 (later Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group), which was established with the help of Soviet technicians in 1958. Around the time China successfully tested the J-5, preparations were underway for the first Chinese – designed and -produced fighter aircraft. This project culminated in the JJ-1 jet fighter trainer, which was test-flown in the summer of 1958. Although the JJ-1 met PLAAF inspection standards, it was not serially produced. Military plan­ners opted for an alternate Chinese-designed fighter trainer, the CJ-6, which was tested successfully in 1960 and serially produced up until the mid 1980s.43 Indigenous modifications made to the CJ-6 were meant to improve upon its predecessor, the CJ-5, itself a copy of the Yakovlev Yak-18 fighter trainer.

The J-6, based on the more sophisticated MiG-19P,44 was the first Chi­nese-produced supersonic fighter.45 Manufacturing rights for the MiG-19P were transferred in 1957, and in 1959 Moscow agreed to license coproduc­tion of the MiG-19PM and S. As the Great Leap Forward began to affect Chi­na’s industrial enterprises, the production quality of the J-6 rapidly declined. Rules and regulations adapted from the Soviet model were cast aside and “an unhealthy tendency of neglecting quality while pursuing quantity” appeared.46 Soviet assistance was still available during initial production of the J-6 but China chose to manufacture the necessary tooling and assemble the aircraft without outside help. The end result was a large number of J-6 fighters pro­duced in the period 1958-61 that were of such poor quality that they were not delivered to the PLAAF and PLA Navy Air Force. Performance appraisals of the J-6 that appear in the Chinese literature for this time period are unduly optimistic given SAF’s inconsistent production record.47 Although it had yet to master independent MiG-19 (J-6) production, China nevertheless sought access to more advanced Soviet fighters. In the last deal before the Sino-Soviet split ended all defense cooperation, Moscow licensed production of the MiG – 21F-13 to China in 1961.48 China received three pattern aircraft, as well as 20 kits, but did not take possession of all relevant technical information before defense cooperation ended in 1962. The MiG-21 served as the template for China’s long running J-7 fighter program which began in the early 1960s.

Moscow also provided the PLAAF with a fleet of modern bomber aircraft. China took delivery of the Ilyushin Il-28 tactical bomber beginning in the early 1950s. A repair shop to service the Il-28 was set up in Harbin, but China did not receive licensing rights to coproduce the bomber before Soviet advisors were withdrawn in July 1960. China later reverse engineered the Il-28 and produced it as the It-5.49 The Soviet Union licensed production of its state-of-the-art Tupolev Tu-16 Badger bomber in 1957, supplying China with two production aircraft, a semi knock-down kit, and a complete knock-down kit.50 Soviet technicians and engineers were on hand to set up serial production of the aircraft the Chinese des­ignated H-6 (or B-6) at factories in Harbin and Xian. The Xian factory was built specifically for production of the H-6 and was facilitated with help from over 1,500 skilled industry workers transferred from the Shenyang Aircraft Factory. H-5 repairs were already being made at the Harbin location, but serial produc­tion of the H-6 required a doubling of floor space and an expansion of the work force with experienced Shenyang workers.51 Although Moscow granted China access to the latest fighter and bomber technologies—even allowing Beijing to produce copies of the MiG-17’s Klimov VK-1F and Tumansky R-9BF-811 turbojet engines—the Soviets withheld the transfer of key technologies that would have allowed China to build a long – range strategic missile force.

While it had access to Soviet assistance, China’s military aviation indus­try made steady, quantifiable progress on almost every front. In addition to mastering production of several fighters and bombers, the PRC also began to form a research and development infrastructure meant to advance the end goal of self-reliance. In 1956, Mao Zedong called for a “march towards modern sci­ence,” which was embodied in a 12-year development plan directed by Zhou Enlai, Chen Yi, Li Fuchun, and Nie Rongzhen.52 Advancing military aviation technology, particularly fighter technology, was one of five objectives in the plan. To this end, Chinese technicians constructed a transonic wind tunnel for test­ing jet body designs based on the Soviet AT-1. The Shenyang Aircraft Factory began construction in September of 1958 and completed the tunnel in March 1960.53 Design and research institutes were established to build China’s knowl­edge base in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, and avionics development, with a total of 19 research and design departments employing approximately ten thou­sand employees operating at the end of 1960.54 Overall, military aviation in the 1950s was technologically advanced compared to most of the Chinese economy. Of the handful of countries able to produce modern fighters and bombers, China was the poorest and most backward in terms of other scientific development. This situation was indicative of the importance Mao placed on strengthening China’s defensive capabilities (at great cost to other areas of development) as well as Soviet willingness to transfer the necessary set of technologies and know-how.

Limited Force or Coercive Operations

The PRC might use various disruptive, punitive, or lethal military actions in a limited campaign against Taiwan, and the means could include computer network, special operations force, and kinetic attacks against Taiwan’s political, military, and economic infrastructure to induce fear and degrade the popu­lace’s confidence in the leadership.33

One possible form of coercion would involve amphibious operations short of the full-scale occupation of Taiwan itself. Looking at the possibility of such coercive amphibious operations, the U. S. Department of Defense noted that:34

The PLA is capable of accomplishing various amphibious operations short of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan. With few overt military preparations beyond routine training, China could launch an invasion of small Taiwan – held islands such as the Pratas or Itu Aba. A PLA invasion of a medium­sized, defended offshore island such as Mazu or Jinmen is within Chinas capabilities. Such an invasion would demonstrate military capability and political resolve while achieving tangible territorial gain and simultane­ously showing some measure of restraint. However, this kind of operation includes significant, if not prohibitive, political risk because it could galva­nize the Taiwan populace and generate international opposition.

For the limited force and coercive options, airpower can provide preci­sion bombing, air strike, or support special operations force transportation by airdrop. The airpower employed in a punitive or lethal strike mission would be similar to an air strike as described below.

Development and Evolution of PLAAF Training and Education

PLAAF education and training exist in a historical background that pre-dates the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the establishment of the nation’s air force. In fact, China’s earliest experience with aviation dates back to 1905, when Zhang Zhidong (izfi), the governor of Guangdong-Guangxi and Hubei-Hunan Provinces, imported two Japanese reconnaissance balloons to set up China’s first military aviation unit.5 In March 1909, the Qing govern­ment sent a delegation to England and France to investigate European aircraft construction and flight technology. By August 1910 a Chinese team success­fully assembled and tested an aircraft at Nanyuan, to the south of Beijing. The Qing government fell in 1911, leaving it up to its successor, the Beiyang gov­ernment, to open China’s first “aviation school for the development of army and naval aviation personnel and the institute for research and development of aircraft manufacturing technology,” at Nanyuan Field in September 1913.6

The Nanyuan Aviation School (Й^ЖЙ^Й) provided aviation academ­ics as well as technical training. Academics included flight theory, mechan­ics, meteorology, military tactics and military history, and foreign languages. Technical instruction was primarily flight training, with supplemental train­ing in engine installation and aircraft maintenance. The students were princi­pally recruited from graduates of army schools. Initially, the curriculum was achieved during a year-long course that was divided into primary and advanced phases of flight training. Subsequently, the curriculum was extended to 2 years to incorporate instruction in reconnaissance, bombing, and air patrolling dur­ing the advanced training stages.

Nanyuan Aviation School operated 15 years and produced 158 avia­tors. These graduates became the backbone of the Nationalist Army’s aviation units as well as other military forces operating in the provinces. By May 1928, the Beiyang government had fallen and the Nanyuan Aviation School was dis­banded. Yet, the establishment of the Nanyuan Aviation School represented a significant step in China’s endeavor toward aviation education; it ended China’s complete reliance on foreign training and laid the foundation for what would eventually develop as the PLAAF’s aviation and military education programs. Nanyuan not only produced a group of Chinese pilots and flight mechanics, it also provided China with a significant source of experience in the conduct of flight instruction as well as aircraft production, repair, and logistical support. The military significance of aviation was not lost on the provincial warlords during this turbulent period in Chinese history and additional flying schools and units were eventually established by the Northeast, Guangdong, Guangxi, Sichuan, and Yunnan armies. Of particular note was the early lead taken in China’s Northeast and in Guangdong to establish schools to support military flight training and aircraft maintenance.

In 1920, 10 of Nanyuan Aviation School’s aircraft along with support equipment and personnel were dispatched to Fengtian, Shenyang Province, to establish a military aviation training base in the Northeast. On April 1, 1921, Northeast Flight Division was established, with the standup of

the Northeast Aviation School at Dongta Airfield coming a year later in Sep­tember 1922.7 The new school conducted a 2 to 2-1/2 year curriculum stressing flight technology with courses in aircraft manufacturing, aircraft engines, avia­tion, aeronautics, and meteorology. In order to accelerate the pace of develop­ment, Zhang Xueliang sent three groups of faculty abroad to France and Japan to pursue advanced studies in flight techniques, tactics, and aviation equip­ment, as well as obtaining expertise on tactical theory, air reconnaissance, air combat, and aerial bombardment. In July 1930, the Northeast Aviation Head­quarters Department selected 16 cadres to form an air command training class, thus establishing the first air tactics training course in China.8

Early steps were also undertaken to promote military aviation in south­ern China. In November 1911, the Guangdong Military Government estab­lished a military flying unit under the direction of Feng Ru, an aviation pio­neer who returned to China after receiving flight training in the United States.9 Although Feng’s career was cut short—he died while staging a flight demon­stration over Guangzhou in 1912—his legacy lived on as flight operations con­tinued to develop in China’s south and President Sun Yat-sen ultimately turned to military aviation to help establish control over the divided nation. In 1924, President Sun established the Guangdong Military Aviation School (ГЯ. Щ under the Aviation Bureau of the Nationalist Government.10 The Guangdong school offered curriculum for both aviators and aircraft mechan­ics. The flying course included instruction in flight theory, aeronautics, avia­tion mechanics, meteorology, wireless communications, cartography, politics, and music, while providing foundational, intermediate, and advanced flight training. The aviation mechanics curriculum stressed engine, aircraft, and equipment maintenance.

The first class of the Guangdong Military Aviation School entered in the fall of 1924 and graduated the next fall after completing the 1-year course. The actual flight training for this class was relatively limited because the faculty and aircraft were frequently transferred to the war efforts. In order to accel­erate personnel development, in August 1925 the Guangdong Military Gov­ernment sent an initial group of six Chinese exchange students to the Soviet Union to study aviation and aviation technology. In June 1926 and February 1927, the government sent additional student groups to Russia for flight train­ing and coursework in aviation engineering.11 Altogether, the former Soviet Union trained 37 Guangdong students, including 24 pilots, 8 aviation mechan­ics, and 5 others in related studies.12

In December 1928, after the Nationalist Government had largely consol­idated its power over China, it established the Aviation Bureau ДОЙ§) under the Ministry of War and set up the Aviation Section within the Cen­

tral Army Officer School to conduct flight training and develop aviation per­sonnel. In April 1929, the Nationalist forces established separate army, navy, and air force commands, with an air headquarters that signified its status as an independent branch.

By 1936, the Nationalist Chinese Air Force had established nine air groups, five directly subordinate squadrons, and four air transports units, with 314 fighter aircraft and over 300 air transport and trainer aircraft, operated by 620 aviators flying from 262 airfields.13 To accelerate development of person­nel, the Nationalist Air Force set up an Air Force Officer School, Air Force Mechanics School, Air Force Air Defense School, Air Force Noncommissioned Officer School, Air Force Youth School, Air Force Communications School, and Air Force Staff School, as well as several additional training courses for specialized technical personnel. Although these schools were hastily set up in a war-torn China—with rudimentary equipment, inferior facilities, evolv­ing courseware, and frequent relocations—confronting Japanese occupation forces, these schools nevertheless produced large groups of trained personnel in a variety of specialties.

Underacknowledged in PLA renderings of their historical development is the significant boost Chinese military aviation programs received from Soviet and U. S. military aid from the 1930s through the 1940s. Although the assistance was directed primarily toward building up the Chinese Nationalist air forces of Chiang Kai-shek, arguably these efforts ultimately laid the founda­tion for the PLAAF’s development after Nationalist forces departed mainland China in 1949. For example, between 1937 and June 1941, the Soviet Union supplied China with 900 military aircraft and 31,600 aerial bombs.14 During that same period, 1937-1940, the United States supplied China with 279 mili­tary aircraft.15 Although the Soviets ceased military aid in 1941, U. S. aid con­tinued and by the end of World War II, the United States had supplied China with nearly 1,400 combat and transport aircraft and trained over 1,300 aviators and 320 aviation technicians.16

Although the PLAAF was not formally established until 1949, after the Chinese Communist Party fully consolidated its control over the Chinese mainland, the earliest foundations of the PLAAF’s education and training pro­grams began shortly following the termination of World War II. Upon Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, the Central Committee of the Chinese Com­munist Party (CCP) sent personnel to Jilin Province in China’s northeast to take possession of the Japanese aviation materials and set up an aviation school at Tonghua Field. In March 1946, the CCP’s Northeast Field Army formally announced the establishment of the Aviation School of the Northeast Demo­cratic United Army (^4Ь К±К¥^Й^Й) and began training aviators.17 This was the first aviation school established under the authority of the CCP and it served as the initial foundation for the PLAAF military education system. In

March 1949, the school relocated to Changchun and the name was officially changed to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Aviation School. The Chang­chun school closed in December 1949, after graduating 560 personnel, includ­ing 126 pilots, 322 technicians, 26 navigators, and 88 airfield operations and communications staff.18

Formally established in 1949, the PLAAF was thrown immediately into battle conducting air operations in the Korean War, defending the nation’s air space, and suppressing rebellions in the west. This forced the PLAAF to develop its education policies, procedures, and operational training programs while fighting. In February 1951, it was formally announced at the conclusion of an expanded meeting of the air force party committee that “Air Force con­struction was to be based on the Army” (Йй¥вЙ±Ш®Й¥).19 In addition to adopting the “structure and fine traditions of the Army,” this declaration also reaffirmed the commitment to Marxist-Leninist ideals and Mao Zedong thought.

Following the formal establishment of the PLAAF in November 1949, the PLAAF successively set up seven aviation schools—numbered simply as the 1st through the 7th Aviation Schools—adopting accelerated training pro­grams for air service (ЙЖі) and ground support (ШШ) personnel. These seven schools represented the PLAAF’s initial steps at establishing an air force mili­tary education and training structure, and provided the basis for subsequent regularization of the PLAAF. Within a few years, over 20 schools were hastily set up, graduating over 31,300 aviators and ground personnel prior to China’s entry into the Korean War.20

On September 15, 1950, following the eruption of the Korean War, the PLAAF Party Committee quickly established a Volunteer Army Air Force.21 At the time, many of the aviation units were transitioning to new aircraft and had not yet fully completed training in basic flying skills or combat skills. In order to speed up the technical and tactical training of the forces, the PLAAF Party Committee adopted the principle of “study warfare through warfare”(MK# Ф^^К#), a term that continues to resonate with the PLA during national emergencies.22 The PLAAF set upon applying this dictum to develop military education and training programs that would speed the building of aviation and maintenance skills. In other words, the PLAAF’s focus was on operational expediency to the exclusion of other longer term development needs during this early stage of PLAAF growth.

After the termination of the Korean War, the PLAAF Party Committee’s focus shifted to regularization and modernization of the forces. This new stress on education and training led to the establishment of specialized schools for each professional specialty. By the mid-1960s the PLAAF had set up schools and academies for the command, political, logistics, weather, communications, navi­gation, surface-to-air missile (SAM), and health fields. Additionally, the service established advanced air defense schools for air defense artillery and radar.

The period of the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 was par­ticularly turbulent for PLA schools with serious disruptions in military edu­cation and training. Large numbers of PLAAF schools simply closed and dis­banded classes. The PLAAF education infrastructure collapsed with losses in experienced teaching staff, collapses in academic standards, cutbacks in cur­ricula, and an overall erosion of teaching capacity. This 10-year period was a major setback for the academic program development, nullifying the progress that had been achieved during the first 15 years of PLAAF history.23

In 1978, based on guidance promulgated by the CMC, the PLAAF entered a new era of educational development with the reconstitution of a large number of schools that had been disbanded during the Cultural Revolution.24 At this juncture, in order to speed up personnel development, the PLAAF resolved to selectively develop education and training curriculum based on the particular needs of individuals and various training responsibilities and tar­gets of the units and schools. Military units were to primarily support doctrine education in professional knowledge, operational knowledge and military psy­chology, military hygiene, and foreign military studies; schools were respon­sible for determining curriculum content based on the educational develop­ment objectives. For example, education in command academies and schools primarily covers the principles of military theory and the foundations of orga­nizational command. Within these schools, entry-level command schools are responsible for comprehensive and systematic military foundational educa­tion, mid-level command schools engage in advanced studies education, and senior-level command schools conduct comprehensive education at high lev­els. Education at professional technical academies and schools is primarily basic systems theory, professional theory, and professional technical training. These reforms in educational methods and content, along with improved man­agement, are credited with enhancing the capability of military education pro­grams to meet the PLAAF’s development needs.

In June 1986, in response to the CMC’s promulgation of the “Resolution Concerning Military Educational Reform,” PLAAF military education took further steps to rationalize its training structure, reform training content, and improve conditions and standards, through the adoption of multilevel, multi­channel personnel development. To accomplish this goal, seven of the PLAAF academies—Air Force Engineering Academy, Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) Academy, Weather Academy, Command Academy, Political Academy, Radar Academy, and Communications Academy—began offering master’s studies, moving these schools beyond run-of-the-mill to more modernized educa­tional institutions offering advanced technical degrees. The development of PLAAF advanced studies programs represents a significant milestone in the development of the education and training system, providing the PLAAF with the capability to develop personnel with higher competencies in professional and technical areas.

During the 1980s, in order to improve the caliber and capability of its aviation personnel, the PLAAF raised aviation training standards, requiring aviators to attain higher education (Л^ЙШ). Subsequently, in the 1990s, the PLAAF education and training programs entered a stage of “planned overall development,” whereupon academies and schools established new personnel development goals, restructured curricula, and specialized training programs. Regarding officer personnel, emphasis was placed on recruiting college grad­uates with baccalaureate degrees, strengthening graduate-level research pro­grams, and developing high-caliber military commanders and technical staff.25 The 1990s also represented a period in which the PLAAF invested consider­able resources toward the rethinking of its strategic vision and air doctrine, while simultaneously introducing new, advanced weapons into the force.

Sino-Soviet Split to the Reform Era (1960-1977)

Table 12-4. Sino-Soviet Split to the Reform Era (1960-1977)


50 Spey fan-jet engines from Britain (1975)

SA-321 Super Frelon helicopter from France (1977)


Chengdu J—5A: Chinese MiG—17PF (1964)

Spey fan-jet engine



Harbin H-6: Chinese Tu-16 bomber (1968)



Harbin H-5: Chinese IL-28



Shenyang J-7: from incom­plete MiG-21 production documents (1966)

Shenyang J-8: based on MiG-21 airframe (1969)


Shenyang/Tianjin JJ-6 (1970)

At the time of the Sino-Soviet split, China possessed a military aviation industry with fully operational production facilities, almost a decade of experi­ence manufacturing advanced fighter and bomber systems, and a reasonably well-equipped air force modeled along Soviet lines. However the withdrawal of Soviet advisors and technical assistance in July 1960 and the intensification of the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s had major consequences for the PLAAF and the Chinese aviation industry.55 As relations between China and the Soviet Union deteriorated, the PLAAF lost the option of buying new and updated Soviet fighters and the Chinese aviation industry lost access to technical support from Soviet advisors to help improve aircraft production and master key tech­nologies. The Chinese defense industry would spend much of this period strug­gling to absorb and extend the technology it had acquired from its coproduction deals with the Soviet Union or reverse engineered from its Soviet aircraft.

In the wake of the Sino-Soviet split, China lacked a relationship with another advanced country to acquire cutting-edge military hardware. Western export controls focused on preventing exports of militarily relevant technolo­gies to the Eastern bloc foreclosed the “buy” option. Even after China’s rap­prochement with the United States in 1971, it took a number of years before the United States and European countries were prepared to ease export con­trols on military technology, pursue arms sales, or engage in defense indus­trial cooperation. The one noteworthy exception was a 1975 agreement (nego­tiations began in 1972) whereby Britain supplied China with 50 Spey fan-jet engines, the powerplant used in British versions of the multirole F-4 Phantom (the RN F-4K and RAF F-4M), as well as the Vought A-7 Corsair light attack aircraft.56 China was given full production rights and began trial manufactur­ing the Spey RB-168-25R as the WS9 at its plant in Xi’an. Under the terms of the agreement, Rolls Royce provided both manufacturing facilities and tech­nical expertise involved with testing the Chinese-produced Speys. To date, the Xian JH-7 fighter bomber is the only PLAAF aircraft powered by a variant of the original Rolls Royce Spey or the Chinese-manufactured WS9.57 While the Spey arrangement was not a direct transfer of weaponry per se, it involved a single-use technology applicable only to combat aircraft and should thus be considered a transfer of military equipment.

Political restrictions on importing military hardware from the West were further aggravated by the fact that very few Chinese citizens were permitted to go abroad (even Chinese diplomatic missions were withdrawn from most countries during the Cultural Revolution), making it difficult to access the sorts of restricted technologies worth stealing. Obtaining access to informa­tion about improvements in Soviet weapons systems from other members of the Eastern bloc and developing country customers would have been a logical approach, but little information is available about the extent to which China pursued this direction and what success it might have had.

These challenges were compounded by the massive social upheavals and the cumulative impact of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolu­tion, which stymied development of the Chinese economy for a decade, lim­iting the ability of the Chinese civilian economy to produce technologies that the military could incorporate into weapons systems. Industrial output not related to the defense sector was severely affected by the Cultural Revolution as capable individuals with managerial and planning roles in key enterprises were branded bourgeoisie reactionaries and removed from their positions. The damage done in this respect had long-term consequences for many sectors of the Chinese economy. Despite efforts to protect scientists and engineers work­ing on high-priority defense projects, chaos in the wider economy inevitably had a negative impact on China’s aviation industry.58

Although the Central Military Commission ordered the aviation minis­try to commence R&D programs on some 27 new types of aircraft in 1971,59 in reality China’s aviation industry had its hands full mastering production and extending the designs of Soviet fighters and bombers designed in the late 1950s. For example, the design of the J-7 (China’s MiG-21 variant) was not finalized until more than a decade after its initial flight test in 1966 and it was not approved for serial production until 1979.60 China’s aviation industry even­tually proved capable of absorbing 1950s Soviet aviation technology and by the end of this period had developed some limited design innovations (for exam­ple on the J-7/F-7) via reverse engineering efforts that went a step beyond copying. However, by the time the Chinese industry reached this point, both Western and Soviet air forces had moved on to more advanced fourth-gener­ation aircraft that made China’s most advanced aircraft effectively obsolete as soon as they rolled off the production line.

Aerospace Coercion

Aerospace coercion is a possible form of PRC action against Taiwan. As noted by the U. S. Department of Defense, the PLA may use ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and precision-guided weapons to strike Taiwan’s air defense systems, including air bases, radar sites, missiles, space assets, and communi­cations facilities, so as to degrade Taiwan’s defenses, neutralize Taiwan’s leader­ship, and break the Taiwan people’s will to fight. As well, the PLA could employ airpower and some of its ground forces, to target Taiwan’s surface, under­ground, sea-going, and underwater military targets and infrastructure.35 Mod­ern airpower has the ability to seize the initiative and decide a war’s outcome swiftly and irrevocably. In the case of a PLA move against Taiwan, only by massive air and missile operations can the PLA ensure its ability to land forces and secure a lodgment area. Air strikes, which in the precision era can result in swift degradation of an opponent’s military strength and potential, could include attacks targeting Taiwan’s air assets, to prevent them from attacking PLA forces; Taiwan’s command and control facilities; naval and army forces that could counter a PLA amphibious assault; and Taiwan’s overall warfighting potential and the morale of the populace.36

Today’s In-service Education and Technical Training

PLAAF military education emphasizes integration of systematic and specialized, stressing the promotion of personnel development based on PLAAF development needs. Basic level command schools empha­size the complete development of student technical skills and knowl­edge, promoting military specialty education with particular stress on foundational theory, knowledge, and skills for the specialty. Mid-level command schools promote occupational education, stressing essential education and innovative abilities to develop suitable command talents.26

Historically, PLAAF education and training programs have focused on providing military job skills training and this remains true today, although there is evidence that PLAAF is committed to broadening the educational experiences of its officers and NCOs. The quote above, from the 2007 publica­tion The Science of Air Force Military Education and Training, stresses that the emphasis is on “development based on PLAAF development needs” and “devel­opment of student technical skills and knowledge, promoting military specialty education.” This principle reflects the operational and developmental consid­erations of a service that was born during the Korean War, when the urgent task was to recruit young men with enough education to rapidly assimilate the training before launching off to war. PLAAF military schools continue in this tradition today—although new programs encouraging broader and deeper lev­els of academic education are beginning to emerge.