Category The Chinese Air Force

In China’s Backyard, the PLAAF’s SAMs Weigh Heavily

In almost any plausible near – to mid-term Sino-U. S. confrontation, China would have home-field advantage, at least relative to the United States. Whether across the Taiwan Strait, over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, or in the South China Sea, Beijing would be able to bring more of its military power to bear than could the United States. This is especially true in the early hours, days, and weeks of a conflict. For the PLAAF, that means that it will at least initially likely enjoy a numerical advantage over U. S. forces, and—depending on the circumstances— perhaps even over the combined forces of the United States and its partners.32

Operating close to China’s shores could also bring the PLAAF’s modern SAMs into the picture. Figure 8-3 shows the ranges of today’s S-300PMU2 (200 kilometers) and tomorrow’s S-400 (400 kilometers) in the context of the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea areas.33

At maximum range these missiles can engage only high-flying targets, but many important U. S. aircraft—the “force multipliers” described above along with high-endurance UASs like Global Hawk—typically operate at pre­cisely those altitudes. Especially after the S-400 enters Chinese service, those U. S. platforms will either have to operate in the face of a much-increased SAM threat or fly farther away from the action and so compromise their perfor – mance.34 U. S. bombers carrying cruise missiles might be compelled to launch farther from the Chinese coast, which would limit the depth into the mainland that the missiles could reach. Closer in, these advanced SAMs could constrain the operation of even high-performance fighter aircraft; nonstealthy, so-called legacy jets—the F-15, F-16, and F/A-18—would be greatly at risk if called upon to fly within the S-300/400’s envelope.

image5Figure 8-3. Range Rings for S-300PMU2 and S-400 Surface-to-Air Missiles

S-300PMU-2 range

Подпись: О S-300PMU-2 = 200 KM range О S-400 = 400 KM range

The Big Picture: The PLAAF Today and Tomorrow

If the PLAAF is not capable of challenging U. S. airpower in a nearby scenario like a Taiwan Strait contingency, its major items of equipment are no longer the main culprits. Its radical downsizing and steady modernization have, since 1995, brought the Chinese air force up to advanced world stan­dards in many regards. Its growing fleet of fourth-generation fighters, stock­piles of advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry, emerging AEW&C and EW capabilities, and up-to-date surface-to-air defenses represent remark­able advances in technology and capacity since 1995.

In the event of a confrontation farther afield—for example, in the Malacca Strait, or closer to home, in the Spratly Islands—the PLAAF’s capabil­ities remain limited. Conducting high-tempo combat operations is much more challenging 1,500 or 2,500 kilometers from home versus 200 or 300 kilome­ters. Under these conditions, the PLAAF would require a much more robust in-flight refueling capability and enough AEW&C assets to compensate for the
absence of ground-based control. Recent years have seen the PLAAF begin to step up to the latter challenge; its intentions regarding tanker aircraft, on the other hand, appear modest. With only a dozen or so H-6Us operational and no known plans to acquire more than the four MIDAS tankers it ordered in 2005, aerial refueling does not appear to be a current priority for the Chinese; this will have to change if the PLAAF is to project significant power more than a few hundred kilometers from Chinese territory.

Looking toward 2020, it seems likely that the PLAAF will continue on the path it has been following since the mid-1990s. This will mean the retire­ment of many J-7s and early model J-8s accompanying the acquisition of addi­tional advanced fighters. It seems unlikely that China will choose to replace its own “legacy” fighters on a one-for-one basis, so the PLAAF will probably con­tinue to shrink, though not at the pace we have witnessed over the last 15 years.

The PLAAF’s decision to “indigenize” the Su-27 as the J-11B rather than build licensed Su-30s suggests a growing confidence in the ability of China’s defense industry to produce complex modern weapons. We might therefore expect to see a larger and larger proportion of Chinese-built hardware filling out the PLAAF’s inventory. We can also expect China to progressively upgrade its fourth-generation inventory to accommodate new weapons, radars, and avi­onics, as it already appears to have done with its Su-27s—to fire R-77/AA-12 MRAAMs—and the J—10, by developing the J-10B.

By 2020, the PLAAF may be operating at least small numbers of J—20 stealth fighters; we should also expect to see the introduction or enhancement of other PLAAF platforms and weapons. These include the following: more, and more advanced, AEW&C capabilities, and improved EW capacities overall; improved air-to-air weapons, including a very long-range AAM to threaten an adversary’s high-value assets like the E-3; the proliferation of “smart” weapons throughout the force; increased use of drones and UASs, likely including ana­logues to the U. S. Predator and Global Hawk aircraft; and continued deploy­ment of the indigenous HQ-9 long-range SAM and acquisition of the S-400.

Although it seems less likely given available evidence, by 2020 China could also be well on the way to equipping the PLAAF with a new long-range strike aircraft to replace its antediluvian H-6s as bombers and cruise missile carriers. The PLAAF might also seek to increase its modest long-range airlift capabilities. Receiving the 34 Il—76 Candids it bought in 2005 would appre­ciably expand its transport fleet, but, as with tankers, the development and/or acquisition of more airlifters beyond those already booked would be needed if the PLAAF sought to support power projection over long distances.

The progress made in recent years by the PLAAF is impressive. Not too long ago, it was an unsophisticated congeries of ancient aircraft and weapons, its pilots poorly trained and poorly supported. As late as the early 1990s, it was likely too weak to have even defended China’s home airspace against a serious, modern adversary. In the early – to mid-1990s, as Chinese doctrine changed from focusing exclusively on territorial defense to contemplating lim­ited power projection campaigns, the PLAAF found itself confronting a num­ber of daunting learning curves that led from where it was to where it needed to be to fulfill its new missions. In terms of major items of equipment, it has successfully climbed many of these curves and appears at least to understand the ones that are left, even if it is not yet poised to climb them.

The revolution in the PLAAF’s order of battle is over. It has made up the four decades separating the MiG-17/MiG-19 generations from the Su – 27SK /Su-30MKK generation in just 15 remarkable years. Whether or not the PLAAF can close the remaining gaps between its capabilities and those of the most advanced air forces remains to be seen. But given how it has transformed itself over the last 15 years, one would be foolish to bet heavily against it.

The System of China’s Aviation Industry: Evolution and Revolution

The origin of China’s aviation industry can be traced back to April 18, 1951, when China established the Bureau of Aviation Industry under the Min­istry of Heavy Industry for the purpose of maintaining military aircraft. In other words, China’s aviation industry started from military applications. At the end of December 1953, the former Soviet Union transferred manufac­turing technology for the Yak-18 trainer (including engine) to China, along with complete technical information and prototypes. In July 1954, the Yak-18 trainer was assembled successfully at China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (CNAMC) under the designation CJ-5. In October of the same year, the former Soviet Union transferred manufacturing technology for the production of MiG-17 fighters to China. In September 1956, Shenyang Air­craft Corporation assembled the MiG-17 fighter successfully, which the PRC named the J-5. These two types of aircraft are milestones in the development of China’s aviation industry. On June 4, 1965, the Q-5 attack aircraft, a vari­ant of the later J-6 that CNAMC produced from copying the MiG-19, made its maiden flight. Mass production of the Q-5 began in 1969. The Q-5 can be regarded as the first military jet developed and manufactured by China.

China’s Bureau of Aviation Industry was reorganized successively into the Third Ministry of Mechanical Industry (1960-1982), the Aviation Ministry of Industry (1982-1988), and the Aviation and Astronautic Ministry of Indus­try (1988-1993). Starting in 1993, China ushered in three waves of organiza­tional transformation in its aviation industry.

The first wave began in 1993, when the PRC restructured the defense indus­tries under its direct administration into large, state-owned enterprise groups including China National Nuclear Corporation, China Aerospace Corporation (CASC), China Aviation Industry Corporation (CAIC), China Shipbuilding Cor­poration, and China Ordnance Industry Corporation. CASC and CAIC were incorporated by splitting the Ministry of Aerospace Industry. It was hoped that through an enterprise-oriented structure, the industry’s manufacture, research and development (R&D), maintenance, and sales could be integrated and better managed so as to enhance its operation and productivity, and the industry could be run and developed from the perspective of enterprise management.

The second wave began in 1998 when China abolished the Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND), which was set up by the PLA in 1982, and created in its place an institution of the same name directly under the State Council. The new COSTIND’s main duties were to supervise production of military products and development of defense industry; study and formulate policies, regulations, and laws on the conver­sion of military technologies and products to civilian use; and administer bid­dings from defense firms. In the same year, the PLA formed the General Arma­ment Department (GAD) to assume the procurement function of the former COSTIND, and integrate equipment-related offices within the General Staff and General Logistics systems and some procurement units under the General Logistics Department. The GAD is responsible for defense procurement, life­cycle management of weapons, and maintenance of the weapons research and testing base of the PLA.

In 1999, China divided each of the big five military conglomerates into two independent companies, forming 10 major defense science and technol­ogy groups. In 2002, China created China Electronics Technology Group Cor­poration (CETC) as the 11th large military enterprise group.2 One of the recon­struction efforts is to split CASC into AVIC I and AVIC II.

It was out of this climate that China embarked on its third wave of defense industrial organizational reform. China’s 2006 defense white paper outlines the development direction of its defense industry and the focuses on “consolidating its foundation, making independent innovation, and speeding up the implemen­tation of the strategy of transition and upgrading, so as to ensure the produc­tion and supply of military equipment and promote the development of national economy"’3 In September 2007, COSTIND, the State Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) jointly issued the “Guiding Opinions on Promoting the Transformation of Defense Industries into Joint-Stock Enterprises.”

This document encourages military enterprises to implement share­holding system reform and structural transformation, while making full use of civilian strengths in national defense building.4 In October of the same year, Hu Jintao revealed in his report to the 17th National Congress of the Com­munist Party of China (CPC) that the country should “adjust and reform the systems of defense-related science, technology and industry and of weapons and equipment procurement,” and “establish a sound system of weapons and equipment research and manufacture that integrate[s] military with civilian purposes and combine[s] military efforts with civilian support.”5 These devel­opments indicated that to facilitate military modernization, China was paving the way for the third wave of reform of the defense industry.

On April 1, 2008, China established a new state agency, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), and reorganized COSTIND into the State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), which is subordinate to the MIIT. The MIIT assumed authority to oversee the 11 major military-industrial enterprise groups origi­nally under COSTIND, basically achieving unified management over the mili­tary and civilian industries.

With regard to the aviation industry, AVIC I and AVIC II were set up with the goal of fostering internal competition and undertaking international outsourcing business as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The two conglomerates produce different lines of products to reduce overlapping busi­nesses. Nonetheless, the split caused resource diversion, redundancy, and low efficiency, and went against the growth-through-merger trend of the leading aviation giants in the world.

Once China decided to undertake the development of large aircraft, COMAC was founded in 2008, and AVIC I and AVIC II were merged to form AVIC. On the surface, the newly established groups look similar to their pre­decessors. However, they have completely new structures and market posi­tioning. The primary duties of COMAC include the design, assembly, sale, maintenance, and after-sale service of large passenger aircraft. AVIC is mainly responsible for the development and production of military aircraft, small to medium civil aircraft, helicopters, and engines, and for carrying out aviation research and flight testing. For its secondary tasks, AVIC also functions as a supplier to COMAC, manufactures airframes, engines, and airborne equip­ment for large passenger aircraft, and undertakes outsourcing business for for­eign civil aircraft companies. In addition, AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine Co., Ltd. (ACAE) was set up in 2009 to be the main contractor producing the engine to be used in the large aircraft project.

Aviation Industry Corporation of China. AVIC has a registered capi­tal of RMB 64 billion, nearly 200 subsidiaries, and about 400,000 employees. The company has total assets reaching RMB 290 billion. The reorganization of AVIC was an endeavor to regroup and adjust each subsidiary according to its specialties, and realign and optimize company resources. After the reor­ganization, AVIC headquarters has 14 divisions directly under it in charge of 10 key business segments.6 At present, the restructuring of AVIC headquar­ters and subsidiaries has been completed, and consolidation of the 10 busi­ness segments is in full swing. After its birth in the wake of the reorganization, AVIC launched a development strategy of “market-oriented reform, center – of-excellence-based integration, capital operation, globalization-based devel­opment, and industrial-scale-based growth,” and “integration into the world aviation industry chain, integration into the regional economic development circles.” According to AVIC, the company is aiming to grow more than 20 per­cent annually and achieve 1 trillion yuan in sales by 2007.

Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) and AVIC Com­mercial Aircraft Engine Corporation (ACAE). COMAC has a registered capital of RMB 19 billion and six primary shareholders—SASAC, AVIC, the Shanghai Guosheng Group (representing the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government), Aluminum Corporation of China (CHINALCO), Shanghai Baosteel Group Corporation, and China Sinochem Group Corporation (Sinochem). COMAC can be regarded as a fully state-owned company of the PRC.7 COMAC leader­ship came from senior government officials; COMAC Chairman Zhang Qing – wei and General Manager Jin Zhuanglong are the former COSTIND Minister and Vice-Minister, respectively. COMAC is the executive body of China’s spe­cial science and technology project for the R&D of large passenger aircraft. It has three centers—the R&D Center, the Final Assembly Center, and the Cus­tomer Service Center, and a consortium of subsidiaries such as AVIC I Com­mercial Aircraft Co., Ltd. (ACAC), Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute, and Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Co., Ltd. COMAC is respon­sible for the overall design, system integration, marketing, airworthiness certi­fication, and service of large passenger aircraft.

Short-term goals proposed by COMAC include the following: through the introduction and absorption of foreign technology and independent inno­vation, making breakthroughs in key technologies concerning the C919, and obtaining airworthiness certification; completing research and development of the ARJ21 regional aircraft, obtaining airworthiness certification, making delivery to customers, establishing mass-production capacities, and expand­ing market shares; and setting up a system of R&D, production, marketing, and customer service for civil aircraft. Long-term goals include achieving the industrialization and series production of civil aircraft; carrying out mainte­nance and repair of civil aircraft, developing financial leasing and other related businesses, and expanding the industry chain of the civil aviation sector; and becoming a civil aircraft manufacturer that owns independent intellectual property rights and enjoys international competitiveness.

With a registered capital of RMB 6 billion, ACAE is invested by its con­trolling shareholder AVIC and shareholders such as Shanghai Electric Group and Shanghai Guosheng Co., Ltd.8 The remaining 30 percent of ACAE shares is planned to be bought by private enterprises. The main function of ACAE is to carry out R&D, production, sales, and maintenance of civil aircraft engines, and to provide technical consultation. Its key tasks include constructing an engine R&D center and a basic technology center, recruiting engine experts at home and from abroad, establishing technical cooperation with foreign engine manufacturers, seeking to build up an international R&D team and hiring pro­fessional organizations for technical advice and marketing consultation.


Given continuing limitations in China’s domestic military aviation indus­try, the PLAAF’s ability to compete on an equal footing with the most advanced air forces will rest on China’s ability to purchase, acquire, or codevelop advanced military aviation technology from foreign sources or partners. This access may be problematic. The United States is likely to continue to ban arms exports to China and to restrict the transfer of advanced military technologies. U. S. pressure on the European Union to maintain its ban on arms sales and on European coun­tries and Israel to restrict the transfer of advanced military technologies will likely continue to restrict Chinese access from these countries. Ukraine has served as an important secondary point of access for Russian military aviation technology in the past, but its military aviation design and production capability lie primar­ily in the area of transport aircraft, limiting its ability to provide state-of-the-art fighter technologies. Ukrainian aerospace cooperation with China in recent years has focused primarily on civilian projects and military transports. The Ukrainian aviation firm Antonov signed an agreement with AVIC II in 1997 to help China develop a large transport aircraft and to assist in the design of light – and medium­sized transport platforms. Antonov has also agreed to improve the PLAAF’s exist­ing fleet of Y-8 turboprop aircraft.164

This leaves Russia as the only plausible source of advanced fighter air­craft and aviation technologies. Military aviation technology transfer is a key component of Sino-Russian relations. As this study has documented, the rela­tive bargaining power of the two countries has shifted over time as a function of economic status, threat perceptions, and shifts in the broader geostrategic landscape. The terms of transfer have been based on a calculus of dependence and risk.

China’s decision to violate the Su-27/J-11 coproduction contract in 2004 was an important factor influencing Russian decisionmaking on military avia­tion transfers to China. The official Chinese explanation, proffered only after Russia discovered that China was developing an indigenized J—11, was that the Su-27 no longer met the needs of the PLAAF. China was clearly aware that its decision to violate the contract with Russia would create strains in the relation­ship and might threaten Russia’s willingness to sell additional fighter aircraft or components, yet it went ahead anyway. This decision may have reflected China’s confidence that its domestic aviation industry could meet current and future aircraft needs of the PLAAF through indigenous development with­out Russian assistance. Alternatively, it may have reflected the belief based on experience that the Russian reaction would be minimal and would not impede future technology cooperation.

China may have miscalculated the scope of Moscow’s reaction to the aborted Flanker deal, possibly due to the belief that Russia was more reliant on China as a buyer than China was on Russia as a seller. There is obviously a much larger dimension to Sino-Russian relations than one failed weapons system deal, but the Russian side has cited repeatedly China’s 2004 contract breach as a reason it is reluctant to enter into another aircraft coproduction agreement with Beijing. It was likely a contributing factor in the stalled deal for China to purchase addi­tional Il-76/ CANDID heavy transports and Il-78/MIDAS tankers to extend the range of its Russian fighters. China’s primary indigenous in-flight refuel­ing platform, the H-6U tanker, has significant limitations in that it holds only 37,000 pounds of transferable fuel (PLAAF analysis calls for a platform capable of holding 80,000-100,000 pounds), and cannot be used to refuel China’s Su-30 fighters.165 On the other hand, Russia has continued to sell China S-300 surface – to-air missile systems and large quantities of advanced turbojet engines. Mos­cow also announced in November 2010 its willingness to sell China the Su-35 fighter, which it bills as “fourth generation plus”: a fourth-generation fighter that incorporates some fifth-generation technologies.166According to Sukhoi, the Su-35 will see a 10-year production run (through 2020) and be available for foreign purchase in 2011. Russia has not expressed interest in a coproduction agreement with China on the aircraft, nor is it likely to. In order to maintain control of its most advanced aviation technologies, Russia will likely offer a watered-down export version of the Su-35, possibly choosing to sell clients like India a more capable variant than China.167

A relationship of mutual advantage still exists, at least for now; each side’s perception of its interests and relative bargaining power will influence how much cooperation occurs and on what terms. A stronger Russian state under Putin has managed to rein in much of the economic chaos that plagued Rus­sia during the Yeltsin years and re-exert centralized control over many issues, including arms sales and technology transfers. The ability of Russian leaders to maintain economic growth and political stability in the face of fluctuating energy prices, systemic corruption, and limited economic reforms will affect Russia’s long-term bargaining power vis-a-vis China.168


The Chinese military aviation industry is now capable of producing two fourth-generation fighters roughly equal to those operated by the most advanced air forces: the J-10 (indigenously developed with Israeli assistance) and the J—11B (based on coproduction and reverse engineering of the Su-27). The J—15 naval fighter (based on reverse engineering of the Su-33), which was successfully test flown in 2009 and is likely to enter serial production in the next 3 to 5 years, will give China a capable fourth-generation fighter that can be operated from aboard aircraft carriers. China also now operates functional AEW&C systems in the KJ-200 and KJ-2000, though the technical sophisti­cation of these systems falls well short of systems fielded by the world’s most advanced air forces. Test flights of the new J-20 stealth fighter prototype dem­onstrate Chinese ambitions to build fifth-generation fighters, though the extent to which the J-20 will match the performance of state-of-the-art Russian and Western fighters is unclear. Significant hurdles in engine design, avionics, and systems integration are likely to delay operational deployment of the J-20 until around 2020. This would be 15 years after the F-22 entered service with the U. S. Air Force, supporting the overall assessment that the Chinese military avi­ation industry remains 15-20 years behind.

Over the last 20 years, China has benefited significantly from “follower’s advantage.” Its military aviation industry has accessed the innovations of oth­ers via coproduction, espionage, and reverse engineering while making limited developments in genuinely new technology. In order to bridge the technology gap, China’s military aviation industry will have to develop the capacity to master dual-use and especially militarily unique technologies that go into state-of – the – art fighter aircraft components. It will also have to develop the competence in systems integration to make the complex components work together. Developed countries with more advanced techno-industrial bases than China, like Japan and Taiwan, have struggled to achieve the systems integration know-how necessary to produce cutting-edge fighter aircraft. The ability to reach the technology fron­tier across a range of related civilian and dual-use modalities (for example, Japan’s space program) is not necessarily transferable to the military aviation realm. Even if the technical knowledge and industrial capacity exist, opportunity costs involved with developing single-use military technologies might prove too great. Further Chinese integration into the global economy will increase its capacity to develop and apply dual-use technologies, but legitimate access to “single-use” military specific technologies will remain problematic.

Restrictions on advanced Western military technologies are likely to remain in place, leaving Russia as the only viable source. China remains depen­dent in the near term on access to Russian engines to power its indigenous fourth-generation fighters,169 Russian spare parts for its inventory of Su-27 and Su-30 fighters, and Russian advanced surface-to-air missiles. The overall state of the Sino-Russian relationship will shape what systems and technologies Rus­sia is willing to transfer to China, and the bargaining power between Russia and China will influence whether transfers take place in the form of sales of aircraft and complete components, coproduction of aircraft and components, or codevelopment of new aircraft and technologies. Russia’s significant con­cerns about China as a potential strategic competitor and rival in the fighter export market suggest that Russia will seek to maintain a degree of control and leverage by supplying complete aircraft and components rather than trans­ferring advanced technologies, which is China’s preference. Paradoxically, the development of China’s aviation industry to the point where it can participate in aviation technology and fighter aircraft codevelopment efforts on a more equal footing will likely make Russia less willing to engage in such cooperation. Russia’s improved bargaining position as the sole source potentially willing to provide China with advanced aviation technology will likely allow Russia to exert more control over the aircraft and technologies it decides to sell.

Advanced technology is a key factor in the performance of state-of-the – art military fighters. Many relevant technologies have equivalent applications in the civilian sector and can be acquired legitimately in the global technol­ogy marketplace. But advanced fighters (especially fifth-generation aircraft) also incorporate a number of unique single-use technologies developed solely for their military applications that are not readily available on the commercial market. The likelihood that China will have no foreign source of advanced mil­itary aviation technology supports two important conclusions. First, the Chi­nese military aviation industry will have to rely primarily on indigenous devel­opment of advanced “single-use” military aviation technologies in the future.

The Chinese government is pursuing a range of “indigenous innovation” and technology development programs, but mastering advanced technologies becomes more difficult and expensive as a country moves closer to the tech­nology frontier. This leads to a second, related conclusion: China will likely rely more heavily on espionage to acquire those critical military aviation technolo­gies it cannot acquire legitimately from foreign suppliers or develop on its own.

Great Power Game

The Great Power Game is the most comprehensive in scope and ranges across the majority of or all military and political spheres. It is therefore the game with the greatest focus on military power. The game’s central focus is on the opposing military, extending across the full spectrum of military actions and not confined to a single issue. Indeed, while conflicts over third parties may occur within this game, they are differentiated from those occurring at the same time as the Game of Influence because they are now primarily viewed as part of the larger competition between the two powers. For this reason, a Battle over a Third Party would have very different implications within the context of this game. In this game, the area of competition is no longer confined but spreads across the global arena.

The stakes in this overall game are largely symmetric, and both powers view all interactions in light of the overall game. As a result, this is a zero-sum game, and some type of response to every move is dictated simply because of the nature of the game. In other words, because all spheres are in play, not to respond to an action within any sphere is to assure some type of loss in the game. As a result, one of the game’s defining features is that it is extremely dif­ficult for a power to disengage from participation once the game begins. This makes the Great Power Game the most dangerous and costly of the games. Just as war termination methods are more crucial in this game because of the stakes, so are game termination strategies. Short of withdrawing and “losing” or of engaging in a decisive conflict, there is no viable way for a power to end the competition. This game is a road with few exit ramps. While there are plau­sible de-escalation routes in the Game of Influence, particularly for the power with the lesser stakes, once the situation escalates to a Great Power Game, a power must be concerned about every conflict or risk a loss in the overall game. This means that the Great Power Game is a superset of the Game of Influence and the Battle over a Third Party. As such, aspects of the two other games will likely occur in the Great Power Game, but they have a different character and a greater significance when played within the Great Power Game.

Despite its largely military focus, there are important political impli­cations to this game as well. One of the most notable is that alliances take on increased importance within the game’s context. Both powers will focus increasingly on building alliances, many of which will be military in nature. It becomes a question of each power attempting to convince nations to side with it over the adversary. The more expansive the coalition, the more influence and power one side will wield. In many ways, the sizes of alliances are viewed as one of the metrics of success.

Rationale/explanation for the game. Major military powers seek to ensure that their military capabilities will be sufficient to counter a wide range of threats from a variety of possible adversaries across the operational spec­trum. Even in an environment where there are no clear military adversaries, a major power will build capabilities as part of a hedging strategy against other powers.9 While a major power would thus develop capabilities to counter other powers, without the impetus of a Great Power Game, it would not predicate the majority of its military strategy and acquisition on the actions of only one potential adversary. But when the choice to engage in a Great Power Game is made, the strategy shifts to one dominated by forces and capabilities to counter the one specific adversary.

Engagement in this game would begin if the United States decided that a power had become an “an adversary capable of challenging U. S. power in all dimensions of modern warfare.”10 Both the “adversary” and “capability” are nec­essary for this decision. The power must be viewed as an adversary, as a threat to at least some substantial national interests, and as having the capability and not just the probable intentions to harm U. S. interests. This Great Power Game drives all other games the powers may play. Every military move by the other side would now require a U. S. reaction because the United States has declared, explicitly or otherwise, that any movement on the other side is detrimental in what is now a zero-sum game. Prior to engaging in this game, the United States could dismiss a wide range of military actions by the other side as unimport­ant to its overall strategic interests. But choosing to play the Great Power Game requires the United States to respond to any military improvement by its adver­sary as a potential threat. Challenges need to be directly countered in some fashion, lest there be a perception of waning strength that would undermine the nation’s position in the larger competition. This may mean building a new weapons system, acquiring more of a particular weapons system or platform, or a force posture move.

During this game, operations on the periphery of the opponent might occur, but they will have a different character because they are occurring within the Great Power Game context. Because of the high stakes of the Great Power Game, a defeat or strategic reversal for either party in a peripheral operation makes it far more plausible that the losing power will escalate in an attempt to reverse its perceived loss. This escalation could include attacks throughout the full strategic depth of the opponent both in terms of area targeted and of the relevant target set. This type of game therefore carries explicit risks of escala­tion for both parties as one side might transition from playing one of the lesser games and suddenly reframe the game in this much broader context. Such an escalation is extremely dangerous for both sides, and it appears to be a distinct possibility, particularly if internal politics drive one side to adopt a stronger stance against its adversary.

What would it look like if the United States and China were engaged in this game? The United States and China have never engaged in this sort of compe­tition. The most antagonistic period between the two powers occurred during the Korean War, and even then China was a secondary concern for the United States relative to the Great Power Game with the Soviet Union. U. S. forces were focused very heavily on the Soviets, and Soviet improvements throughout the spectrum of conflict were met and countered. This has not been the case with China, but a movement by either party to frame its own military improve­ments within the perspective of this type of competition would begin to drive the relationship toward a Great Power Game even in the absence of a clear decision to do so. These types of military moves may have unintended and serious consequences.

Despite the dangers, a Great Power Game remains an approach one or both sides may deliberately pursue. If so, the understanding of changes in the military balance would be dependent on how the participants perceived that competition. Just as the Cold War spurred many technological improvements in forces, a move to play a Great Power Game by the United States and China would likely result in the same type of technological competition. For instance, an improvement in a key intermediate metric, such as exchange ratio of fight­ers, may be sufficient for the other party to embark on a major improvement in its own forces to maintain performance in that area. This response would likely occur even if the opposing force improvement was not particularly relevant to the most likely or serious potential conflicts with the opponent.11 The ratio­nale for the other party would likely be the perceived necessity to improve the performance of its forces in relation to the intermediate metric, either in terms of operating in a neutral space or in terms of a particular conflict where war outcomes would be the focus. An alternative response might involve choos­ing a strategy that emphasizes deep attack and punishment as key elements of operations, which in turn might lead to the selection of new deep attack sys- tems.12 Ultimately, the key is not to focus on specifics, but to understand that if this game is being played, it fundamentally colors perceptions of both par­ties so that any line of operation has a very different level of importance from other games.

While this game is not being played by the United States, there is evi­dence that other nations in the Pacific region fear that this type of game could arise between the powers. In particular, recent defense white papers from Pacific region governments have expressed concern. Australia has been the most explicit. An Australian 2009 Defense White Paper states, “As other pow­ers rise, and the primacy of the United States is increasingly tested, power rela­tions will inevitably change. When this happens there will be the possibility of miscalculation. There is a small but still concerning possibility of growing con­frontation between some of these powers.”13 Other nations, such as Vietnam, express concerns about potential military competitions between “major pow – ers”14 and speak of a shifting balance of power toward “multipolarity.”15 That this concern has made a significant enough impression for these governments to address it in their official documents demonstrates that the possibility of such a game occurring resonates with other nations.

When viewed through the lens of these three games, more than one mil­itary balance must be assessed, as each game will present its own “balance.”16 A move by either side may have one impact in one game and an entirely dif­ferent impact in another, meaning that PLAAF modernization may achieve a variety of results.

Meeting the Challenge of the Upcoming PLAAF Leadership Reshuffle

You Ji

The transformation of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has entered a fast track, as new fourth-generation fighters (third-generation, by Chinese terminology) are introduced to the force. This has placed huge pres­sure on the air force to groom, select, and place talented commanders at vari­ous levels. This is an enormous task, as the service has about 250 posts at or above deputy corps level (major generals or above). The foundation of this large pool of senior officers is in a constantly changing mode, especially for the majority of major generals who come and go due to the PLA age rules. This paper concentrates on officers at the corps level (ШЩШ.), totaling about three dozen commanders. For reasons of space, it does not examine purely political officers. Instead, the emphasis is on professional airmen and those responsible for combat forces.

Today the PLAAF is about to reshuffle its top and regional leadership because of the age requirement and the reshuffling of the Central Military Commission (CMC) in the 18th Party National Congress to be held in 2012. For the top leaders, all PLAAF deputy commanders would step down before the 18th Congress, as they were all born in 1949 and thus—according to regu­lations governing officers at the deputy military region (DMR, ^KgiJ) level— must retire at 63. Among the regional commanders who are also at the DMR rank, two were born in 1947 and two in 1948, which means that they should step down this year or the next. The rest were all born in 1949 and will retire at about the same time with deputy commanders of the PLAAF. Thus, by 2012, over two dozen senior air force commanders at the rank of lieutenant general (including those in the political affairs system) will vacate their positions and make way for the new blood to take over. This changeover of the top PLAAF leadership is unprecedented.1

This paper examines the reshuffle of air force leadership in the context of CMC personnel changes in the 18th Party Congress, which will be equally pro­found. The impact on the PLAAF is significant, particularly if General Xu Qil – iang (#ЯЯ) gets promoted and General Ma Xiaotian (ЦШ^) returns to the air force, a very logical scenario. It argues further that the future PLAAF lead­ership will be made up of three age echelons:

■ Top leaders born at about the same time as the founding of the People’s Republic of China (Xu and Ma)

■ PLAAF deputy commanders and commanders at the military regions (MRs). (These leaders were born in the mid-1950s, with one or two born in the early 1960s.)

■ Younger officers appointed to corps rank, e. g., deputy chief of staff of the air force and deputy commander/chief of staff at the military region air force (MRAF) rank (born in the late 1950s and early 1960s).

Recent Achievements by China’s Aviation Industry

Through its long-term effort on the introduction of foreign technology and independent R&D, China has built a complete aviation research, testing, and manufacturing system. Its aeronautical manufacturing technology is suffi­cient to support the production of airframes and airborne equipment for fourth – generation fighter aircraft. Airborne missiles made by China are close to inter­national standards. China has the capability to research, develop, and produce air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. China has accumulated a certain degree of skill and experience in avionics technology, and is capable of supporting the R&D and manufacture of avionics system for fourth-generation fighters. China has also built up the capability to develop and produce the turbojet engine, the turbofan engine, and the turboshaft engine, and has successfully devel­oped and produced medium-thrust engines. Now China is making an all-out effort to develop high-performance, high-thrust engines.9 The achievements of China’s aviation industry in recent years involve both civil and military avia­tion. Civil aviation programs include the C919 and the ARJ21; military ones include a variety of fighter-bombers and larger aircraft, including the JH-7, J —10, J-11, H-6, airborne early warning and transport projects, and military engines. Each is detailed below.

C919. The C919 is the first large passenger aircraft built by China indige­nously. “C” is the first letter of China as well as COMAC, the acronym for Com­mercial Aircraft Corporation of China. It implies China’s intention to form an A-B-C tripartite competition with Airbus and Boeing in the world’s large pas­senger aircraft market. The number “19” means that the aircraft is designed to accommodate 190 seats. The designation shows that COMAC intends to build a series of larger aircraft. Preliminary design for the 168-seater C919 has been completed. The aircraft is due to make its maiden flight in 2014 and will be available for delivery in 2016. COMAC plans to produce 150 C919s a year and, ultimately, 3,000 aircraft in total.10

ARJ21. The ARJ21 is the first short-to-medium-range regional passen­ger aircraft developed and produced indigenously by China, and the first pas­senger aircraft that is developed and produced in strict accordance with inter­national airworthiness standards. The ARJ21 made its first flight in November 2008. The base model of the aircraft has a maximum range of 3,700 kilometers, and 2,225 kilometers when fully loaded. With a maximum take-off weigh of 40 tons, the ARJ21 has a designed capacity for 78 or 90 seats, and is expected to be sold for U. S. $28 million per aircraft, lower than the price of similar foreign aircraft. COMAC claims that it has received 210 orders for the ARJ21, includ­ing 30 from foreign customers. The first ARJ21 was scheduled to be delivered to its first customer at the end of 2010, but problems in late stages of flight test­ing delayed delivery, which is now expected in late 2012. According to unoffi­cial estimates, the ARJ21 will generate more than U. S. $1 billion for COMAC. Before the C919 can bring in any economic benefits, the ARJ21 will be the only source of revenue for COMAC.11

JH—7. The JH—7 resulted from an indigenous R&D program that China initiated in the 1980s for a new fighter-bomber. Its performance and role are roughly equivalent to those of the early models of the European Tornado fighter-bomber. The JH—7 is outfitted with twin WS—9 turbofan engines, and first entered service in the PLA Navy Air Force (PLANAF) to carry out anti­ship missions. The upgraded JH—7A has also entered service in the PLA Air

Force (PLAAF), and is capable of firing precision-guided weapons such as the KD-88 and YJ-91. The JH-7A is gradually replacing the old Q-5 strike air­craft, to furnish the ground-attack backbone of the PLAAF.

J—10. China started contact with Israel secretly in the 1980s, and intro­duced the technology that was used in the terminated Israeli Lavi fighter for the development of its own new fighter aircraft. The J-10 fighter made its maiden flight in 1998, and was delivered to the military in 2006. The performance of the J-10 is roughly comparable to that of the F-16C/D Block 30/40. Obser­vations on the aircraft in service in the PLAAF suggest that China utilized a phased approach toward the development of the plane. In the early stage, the J-10 had only air superiority capabilities. The J-10B, under development at the moment, will be fitted with the WS-10A turbofan engine, new radars, fire – control systems, and a modified intake. New multipurpose combat capabili­ties will be added to the aircraft including the capability to employ precision – guided weapons.12

J-11. China acquired the Su-27SK fighter in 1992, and secured an agree­ment for licensed production of 200 Su-27SK aircraft under the name of J-11. The assembly of the aircraft in China proceeded very slowly due to the lack of experience and because China intended to make partial improvement to the aircraft to enhance its performance by using its own technology. The J-11B, which China claims to be completely self-made, is outfitted with the indige­nously produced WS-10A engines, new radars, avionics systems, and air-to – air missiles. The J-11B already outperforms the early models of Su-27s.13

J-15. In addition, to pursue the development of an aircraft carrier fleet, China acquired the prototype (the T-10K) of the Su-33 carrier-based fighter from Ukraine earlier in the 21st century, for reverse engineering. In 2009, China produced the J-15 ship-borne fighter prototype based on the J-11B. The prototype is now undergoing testing at Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC).14 At least five J-15 prototypes have been built and are undergoing test­ing. It is expected that early production examples will be introduced into ser­vice in 2012 or 2013.

J-20. China’s new-generation J-20 jet fighter first appeared in December 2010. Estimated J-20 weight is 20 tons, with a maximum takeoff weight of 36 to 38 tons, and an operational radius of more than 2,000 kilometers (over 1,240 miles). The J-20 has frontal stealth with careful fuselage design, but not rear­ward stealth, as its all-moving fins and vertical tailfins, front canards, and noz­zles are not currently compatible with an all-aspect low observable design such as the American F-22. This could change in time with, for example, introduc­tion of 2-D exhausts, and careful attention to incorporating radar absorbent structure, coatings, and edge treatments. The two prototypes are respectively fitted with AL-31 and WS-10 engines. They do not have vectored thrust and supersonic cruise ability, such as that possessed by the F-22. The J-20 fighter is thus still very much an experimental aircraft. Any combat-worthy production derivative can be expected to attain its initial operational combat capability no earlier than 2018 to 2020.

H-6M/K. Until very recently, China did not have the technology neces­sary for the development of new bombers and could not introduce them from abroad. Inspired by the U. S. experience of continuously upgrading the B-52 bomber, China upgraded the H-6 medium-range bomber as an air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) carrier. Fitted with four under-wing pylons, a few of the upgraded H-6Ms are believed to have entered service. China is researching on how to increase the number of H-6 pylons to six, and put in a new digital cock­pit, avionics systems, the D-30 engine (used in the Il-76), and ventral tanks. The new H-6 variant is designated H-6K. Given the H-6K’s combat radius and China’s cruise missile range, for the first time China will have the combat capability, in theory at least, to strike Guam from the air with H-6K-launched subsonic cruise missiles and, given current PRC research interests, perhaps with hypersonic air-launched missiles in the more distant future.15

Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C). In the 1990s, a proposed PLAAF AEW&C deal with Israel was canceled because of U. S. pressure. How­ever, it is possible that through Israeli and Russian technical assistance, China nevertheless developed an airborne active phased-array radar system, subse­quently modifying four of its active Il-76 transports into the KJ-2000 AEW&C aircraft, and thus giving the PLAAF its first long-range airborne early-warn­ing capabilities. Earlier, China had modified the Y-8 turboprop transport (a derivative of the Antonov An-12) to incorporate search radar, generating the KJ-200 AEW&C aircraft. Together, these two types provide an early-warning capability covering both low and high altitudes.

Large transport aircraft. Xi’an Aircraft Industry Group (XAC) is respon­sible for the R&D and manufacture of the transport aircraft, which is projected to enter service in 2016 and will have a maximum take-off weight of 200 tons. According to Ukrainian media reports, China’s development of large military transport aircraft is backed by Ukrainian technical assistance. The Antonov Design Bureau has offered two proposals for modifying either the An-70 or the Il-76. Ukraine’s FED Corporation has proposed to upgrade the Il-76, and hoped to set up a joint venture in China to carry out research, development, and assembly of the new transport aircraft.16

Aircraft engine programs. Though China does not possess the ability to design, develop, and manufacture large civil aircraft engines, it is increasingly active in manufacturing military engines. The WS-9, WS-10 and WS-13 are the best representatives of such engines made by China. The WS-9, a copy of the 1960s-vintage Rolls-Royce Spey afterburning turbofan engine, is one of a few aircraft engines made in China that originated from Western technologies. The engine is used in the JH-7. The WS-10 is a copy of the Russian AL-31, and has been installed in the J-10 and the J-11B since 2009. During test flights, PLAAF test pilots reported abnormal engine vibrations, and thus, for a while, the PLAAF refused to accept new deliveries of the aircraft. The JF-17 fighter aircraft, devel­oped jointly by China and Pakistan, uses Russian RD-93 engines. China has long drawn upon Russian engine technology, but now, to lessen its dependency, it is pursuing a Chinese derivative of the RD-93 under the designation of WS-13. Though China has a certain degree of military engine manufacturing capability, Chinese-made engines in general, compared with similar types of engines made by Western countries, have short overhaul intervals and are slow in acceleration to maximum power following rapid throttle application. This indicates that there is still a significant technical lag in China’s engine development capabilities.

The Employment of Airpower in the Taiwan Strait

Hsi-hua Cheng

Since May 20, 2008, when the new Taiwan administration of Presi­dent Ma Ying-jeou came into office, the cross-strait policies of both the Peo­ple’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan have become more peaceful and friendly.1 Yet, although military tension has decreased, it must be noted that the two sides are still in contention and facing an uncertain future. Unfortu­nately, there is evidence indicating that the PRC still considers military force to be an important tool for potentially solving the Taiwan issue.

First, the PRC has never renounced the use of military force against Tai­wan, and, indeed, as it has steadily modernized its forces, the PRC has contin­ued to maintain an aggressive posture toward Taiwan. For example, a recent report of the United States Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) noted: “By December 2009, the PLA had deployed between 1,050 and 1,150 CSS-6 and CSS-7 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to units opposite Taiwan. It is upgrading the lethality of this force, including by introducing variants of these missiles with improved ranges, accuracies, and payloads [emphasis added].”2 Tai­wan sources indicate that, since 2005, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has annually flown 1,300 to 1,700 fighter sorties that have crossed the center line of the Taiwan Strait.3 In April 2010, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) carried out its annual exercise far from coastal waters, intention­ally conducting those activities without informing Japan, a key neighboring country. Indeed, the PRC held an amphibious exercise along its coastal area during which, pointedly, it practiced a simulated invasion against Taiwan.

Since World War II, airpower has played an ever more important role in almost all military operations. Powerful air strikes have changed the nature of war, exemplified by the first Gulf War, which constituted a revolution in military history. Precision air attack has made airpower a decisive element in war. Allied air forces have operated together in a perfect harmony, and their speed and precision have produced decisive effects much faster. High technol­ogy enables building “stealth” fighters to fly invisibly to radar without losing speed or maneuverability. Precision-guided munitions enable a small number of weapons to produce a vast effect. All of these achievements have demon­strated to the world that a new way of waging war has been created.4

The PLA learned the importance of military technology and the new concept of contemporary warfighting from the Gulf War. The whole world was shocked that Iraq, a nation with the world’s fourth-largest army, became so vulnerable after it had been stripped of its air defenses under air strikes by the U. S-led coalition.

Since then, PLAAF modernization has become the PLA’s paramount undertaking. However, due to the restrictions imposed by limited defense expenditures and insufficient technology of military industry, there had been no significant improvement until the import of the Russian-built Su-27 in 1992.5 By purchasing advanced fighters from Russia, the PRC received access to advanced aviation technology through licensed joint-production with Rus­sian help. Acquisition of the Su-27 pushed PRC aviation industry technology to a new level, accelerated further when the PRC imported the Su-30 multirole fighter, which can perform long-distance air strikes and can reach out from the coast line as far as 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). With these advanced fighters, the airpower of the PLAAF has transformed the PRC’s strategic capabilities. Since then, the cross-strait airpower balance has tended toward the PLAAF’s advantage for the first time since 1949.

Unifying Taiwan with the mainland is the ultimate goal of the PRC, and the use of force is always an option. As with the German air attacks in the Battle of Britain in 1940, the only way to effect the subjugation of Taiwan is to win the battle for air supremacy. Indeed, airpower would be the only way to cross the Taiwan Strait and attack Taiwan immediately. All PLA military action against Taiwan will surely be led by airpower. Thus this paper examines air campaign invasion scenarios, to furnish some useful suggestions for better defending Taiwan.

The Impact of PLAAF Modernization

The highlights of PLAAF modernization are:

■ Aircraft have improved in terms of overall performance, particu­larly in regard to longer-range fighter-bombers, but the total force has shrunk in size.

■ Munitions for air-to-air and air-to-surface operations are greatly improved as less capable air-to-air weapons and ground attack weap­ons such as dumb bombs and cluster bombs are supplanted by mod­ern guided weapons.

■ Electronic attack capabilities have improved.

■ Training and tactics have improved.

■ Supporting systems such as early warning, C4I (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence), and battle manage­ment systems have been improved.

Specific examples of PLAAF improvement include:

■ fourth-generation fighters (the Su-27, J—10, Su-30, and J—11, called third generation in PLAAF doctrine ) that are equipped with modern avionics for targeting and electronic countermeasures and that enable employing precision air-to air and air-to ground munitions17

■ longer-range upgraded variants of the B-6 medium bomber employ­ing long-range cruise missiles

■ new air-to-surface weapons such as long-range land-attack cruise missiles for medium bombers and fighter-bombers, and shorter-range near-precision and precision weapons

■ Modern early warning, surveillance, and battle management systems to facilitate control of forces.

To fully understand the effects of PLAAF modernization, the role of the Second Artillery must also be assessed.18 The Second Artillery’s ability to threaten base operations has continued to grow substantially, meaning that the U. S. ability to reliably generate fighter sorties from close-in bases will be chal­lenged during the period of time that the Second Artillery’s force persists in substantial numbers. This would occur in cases where the conflict is of suffi­cient importance to China to substantially draw down the Second Artillery’s missile forces by firing the missiles and potentially engaging in attacks in sev­eral countries.19 The mere existence of these capabilities in Chinese hands cre­ates a number of challenges, alters the way that all informed parties view oper­ations in the region, and provides a means of challenging the U. S. style of air operations as conducted in the early phases of a serious conflict since the end of the Cold War.

Given these improvements, the potential impact of PLAAF moderniza­tion on the three games can be considered, along with possible actions these improvements cause the United States to take in response to those problems if it is playing that particular game. The ranges of actions are representative of possible U. S. actions within these games and are not exhaustive or reflective of official U. S. policy. The PLAAF’s impact on the Game of Influence is outlined briefly below. Table 14-1 highlights a few of the major impacts of the current PLAAF modernization and the significance within the game, plausible strate­gies the United States might adopt, and concrete steps the United States could take to implement the strategies. This is intended to be illustrative and to pro­vide an overview of the actions the United States could take and of the impli­cations of those actions.

Table 14-1. The Game of Influence

Impact of People’s Liberation Army Air Force Modernization

Significance of Action within the Game

Plausible U. S. Strategic Approach for Counter

Plausible Future U. S. Actions within the Game

Provides extended operational area for fighter aircraft

Introduces People’s Liber­ation Army (PLA) airpower into new regions

Increase the operational area of deployed U. S. forces

Increase area of respon­sibility forces to counter threat [ubiquity of pres­ence]

Provides improved air – to-air and air-to-surface capabilities and effec­tiveness

Changes perceived PLA effectiveness by key ob­servers in military domain

Improve U. S. tactical en­gagement effectiveness to influence opinion

Improve air combat capa­bility; counter munitions’ effectiveness

Serves as a symbolic statement of military competency

Creates a perception of military/technical parity to broader audiences

Be perceived as better than opponent within a military context relevant to key audiences

Create/leverage capabili­ties relevant to key popu­lations

For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the three aspects of the PLAAF modernization that have the most significant consequences for the United States: extended areas of operations and influence, an increase in per­ceived effectiveness of operations, and a statement of military competence by operating the PLAAF as a modern air force.

The PLAAF’s extension of its area of potentially effective operations is significant because of the resulting increase in the PLAAF’s relevance to situa­tions of importance to other nations in the region. PLAAF fighter-bombers can now extend their capabilities to not only Taiwan, but to significant regions in other countries. Fighter-bombers have also begun to extend their reach to sea areas that hold interest for countries including Japan and South Korea, as well as to countries in the South China Sea.20 Observers in Australia, where there are keen concerns over the Northern Territory and approaching sea areas, have noted Chinese air assets’ increased range of influence. Other nations, nota­bly Singapore, also view increased range of Chinese forces with concern. To address other nations’ concerns, the United States may be required to simulta­neously exert influence in more regional areas. When this requirement is com­bined with qualitative changes in the Chinese force, both a larger and more capable U. S. force will be necessary to maintain situational relevance. A force that would operate quite successfully in an array of combat situations is sim­ply not relevant if it is not present when and where the adversary is operating. The presence requirement drives a buy-in force posture for the United States to maintain presence in areas where it retains interests.

The increased effectiveness of the Chinese force also influences how mil­itary technical experts who assess operational implications of Chinese capabili­ties in a narrow military sense perceive the Chinese air force. The effective­ness of the PLAAF in one-versus-one and small “M-v-N” combat engagements forces the United States to allocate more of its own forces and potentially to operate them in a manner acknowledging its opponent’s capabilities.21 This might translate into different numbers of fighters allocated to certain situa­tions, a need to allocate the most capable fighters to the theater (even if bas­ing them forward might expose them to damage or destruction from the Sec­ond Artillery), or, in the longer run, improving key U. S. capabilities to operate under conditions where U. S. assumptions of large-scale conflicts are no longer obtainable.22

Aside from their direct operational impact, these combinations of capa­bilities are also important because they are viewed by outside observers as symbolic of China’s rise to the level of a great military power. Possible U. S. approaches to address these capabilities focus on strategies to maintain the desired equilibrium in theater by stepping up the presence of U. S. forces. This increased presence is intended to be visible to allies and to clearly demon­strate relevant defensive capabilities to both the general populations and to the national decisionmakers. These U. S. capabilities are generally associated with protecting key partners from attack, as the PLAAF represents a force of signifi­cant utility in a variety of coercion campaigns against neighboring states. The U. S. counters to these Chinese capabilities need to be relevant to the observers to have a significant impact. For instance, threats of escalation must not only be viewed by the Chinese as credible and potentially successful, but they also need to be seen as credible and sufficient for protection by the nations seek­ing protection. Defensive postures are probably easier to demonstrate and to have accepted by other nations, provided they are compatible with potential sensitivities about U. S. military presence in the region. In practice, this is a difficult line to walk, and building a useful narrative about when, where, and how U. S. forces would be used requires a careful alignment of strategies, capa­bilities, and operational concepts that can prove difficult and time-consuming to enact. Table 14-2 offers a perspective of impacts and likely fall-outs from the Battle over a Third Party game.23 Because this game is a military problem where the array of forces and strategies is associated with protection of a key party, standard military metrics are relevant.

Table 14-2. The Battle over a Third Party Game

Impact of People’s Liberation Army Air Force Modernization

Significance of Action within the Game

Plausible U. S. Strategic Approach for Counter

Plausible Future U. S. Actions within the Game

Makes U. S. assured air superiority more chal­lenging in key periods of operations

Creates potential for greater damage to third party from air attack

Disrupt sortie generation; engage forces absent general air superiority

Emphasize longer-range forces and munitions, raids, and disruption operations early in the conflict

Makes routine air opera­tions (coercive air opera­tions and intelligence, sur­veillance, and reconnais­sance ) within China’s air­space much more difficult

Creates potential for greater damage from China’s air operations as U. S. counterforce and disruption capabilities are eroded

Shift to operations in area where U. S. advan­tages persist; empha­size easier targets not requiring persistence; emphasize focused deep operations

Engage forces outside most heavily protected areas; configure forces to have a total capacity and rate of target servicing to meet defense objectives

Renders effective opera­tions by the third party military much more difficult

Creates greater demand for U. S. contribution

Have U. S. forces take over the missions from the third party

Deploy more forces or deliver capabilities that compensate for loss of friendly sorties

The key PLAAF improvements focus on three elements: significant air- to-air capability improvements that make air superiority operations signif­icantly more difficult (especially in cases where force ratios might be unfa­vorable because of airfield suppression by the PLAAF); increased overall effectiveness resulting in a decrease in the U. S. ability to operate in contested airspace which makes deep attacks and intelligence, surveillance, and recon­naissance (ISR) operations more difficult and costly; and greater PLAAF offen­sive impact that is largely directed at the third party military which prevents it from effectively waging a defense. Although the area where the PLAAF can operate extends the battlespace, the focus of the Battle over a Third Party oper­ation is still most likely to be within areas where other Chinese forces can play a substantial role. The cases where the PLAAF is the only military arm play­ing are degenerate cases where the Chinese would be forgoing much of their advantage.24

Improving PLAAF capabilities manifest themselves as an erosion of U. S. capabilities to prevent PLAAF operations from inflicting damage both on the third party military and on U. S. forces. The detrimental impact of PLAAF operations on the third party air forces and air defense assets also increases the demands on U. S. forces. The PLAAF’s ability to challenge opponents in the air-to-air arena and the addition of better munitions and improved tactics for air-to-surface operations mean that the force is much more capable in opera­tions where relatively simple tactics and operational concepts can be employed to facilitate actions by other forces. The PLAAF thus becomes an enabler for other operations, rather than strictly a supporting force. The PLAAF defen­sive improvements mean that its opponents’ offensively focused air operations reliant on relatively free access to airspace over some or all of the key battle areas become problematic. The great difficulty of maintaining loitering ISR in a modern air defense environment, as well as the difficulty in engaging mobile forces such as mobile rocket and missile forces that are themselves enablers of air operations, creates a problem for U. S. planners.

The potential paths that the United States might take to counter these improvements are quite distinct, and the underlying logic is predicated on very different strategies. For instance, the United States might shift attention from a comprehensive protection strategy to operations that seek to defeat a cer­tain class of attack such as a land or sea invasion, deeming acceptable a some­what higher degree of damage from early air attacks. The United States might likewise emphasize operations against fixed targets supporting a set of com­bat operations. It might also consider strategies that punish the adversary for attack by engaging in either vertical or horizontal escalation, employing force in a manner to its relative advantage.25

Each of these notional approaches requires a different emphasis on force types. Some approaches may focus on destroying certain classes of targets (such as land forces), while others may focus on fixed targets supporting com­bat operations.26 Improving this capability with strictly shorter-range forces requires an extremely robust (i. e., hard and redundant) basing posture with forces close to the defended areas to minimize logistical vulnerabilities. Absent that type of posture, forces capable of longer-range combat operations (air-to – air and air-to-surface) are required since they might minimize the threat from Second Artillery units and still retain some combat capability in both domains during the period of greatest Second Artillery threat.27

The Great Power Game is particularly interesting because of the compe­tition’s comprehensive nature and the scope of the competition that locks the participants into a fundamentally antagonistic relationship across all aspects of the competition. When viewed from this game perspective, PLAAF changes in the quality/quantity mix of forces, area of influence, and rate of develop­ment become the central issues of its modernization. The Great Power Game is also the least desirable of the games because, as table 14-3 reveals, it tends to lock parties into adversarial relationships and is more prone to drive arms race dynamics because of the pervasive nature of the competition and the strong and broad military character of many interactions.28

Table 14-3. The Great Power Game

Impact of People’s Liberation Army Air Force Modernization

Significance of Action within the Game

Plausible U. S. Strategic Approach for Counter

Plausible Future U. S. Actions within the Game

Produces challenges to the U. S. within the region because of quality/quan – tity mix of forces

In 1-v-1 and M-v-N engagements, U. S. domi­nance is not assured

Increase number and quality of forces; focus on robust operations near enemy homeland; redefine the game

Shift U. S. forces from other regions; secure more bases and harden posture in region; invest in new long-range forces that operate without tactical air dominance

Results in increased area of influence because of expansion of effective air operations

Increase of adversary’s influence results in a de­crease of U. S. influence

Increase presence

Create more robust force postures; focus on long – range projection missions into area; emphasize in­creased naval operations

Results in a rate of change in improvements and a slope greater than the U. S. response

Potential allies make pro­jections based on visible trends

Increase visible U. S. actions to have trend­lines shift in U. S. favor; have allies committed to operations to decrease aggregate change; lock-in allies to prevent sudden shifts in relations

Engage in tit-for-tat programs and operations; focus on combined allied and U. S. operations; forge formal security relationships

The quantity/quality improvement of the PLAAF (along with improve­ments in munitions) means that it has evolved into a modern force that is capable of challenging in many dimensions the ability of the United States to conduct the sort of dominating combat operations it desires. The challenge to the balance may not be per se about engaging in combat in a specific area, but about the perceptions of dominance and perceived changes in capabili­ties across the broad spectrum. For instance, the assessment of the changes in the few vs. few and one-on-one combat outcomes become significant because these outcomes, whether favorable or unfavorable, are widely viewed as sur­rogates for engagements between the powers at a variety of levels. But sim­ple superiority may not be adequate given either the plausible employment scenarios or the narrative used to describe the situation. In order to address this, the United States might alter the deployment of its forces, alter the qual – ity/quantity mix of its forces, or even redefine the game as to render moot the specific discussion of force performance. This could be accomplished by con­centrating on Chinese homeland targets or forces outside of China without emphasizing the U. S. forces that are being matched. Such an approach might mean that the United States would accept a decrease in tactical air dominance by utilizing different strike options, focusing on secure strike against targets at all depths, building more robust basing, and allocating more forces. This approach also might build new combat systems to reestablish superiority in the air-to-air arena and build the basing infrastructure for those cases. The United States also might go in a completely new direction by trying to redefine the game it is playing.

Another challenge to the United States is the number of potential states that feel they may be forced to deal with the PLA threat as the effective range of PLAAF operations increases. To allay these concerns, the United States might need to aid in the defense of a wider geographic area. The purpose for the United States is not only to defend that area in wartime; it is to provide reassurance in peacetime to prevent erosion of confidence in U. S. abilities. Defense of the rel­evant areas needs to be plausible to the interested parties and must cope with the problem of third parties wanting to be supported by the United States while simultaneously not wanting to be antagonistic to China. Increasing U. S. pres­ence in several ways would be a reasonable top-level description of U. S. actions here. This increased presence might be manifested in a host of operations that demonstrate the U. S. ability and willingness to commit forces to the area. To more demanding allies, the ability of the United States to commit forces in the face of the substantial Chinese challenge as well as the U. S. ability to defend the assets that the supported country deems important might be required. The specifics would need to be tailored based on the nature of the perceived chal­lenge, but could include long-range operations, maritime operations, and dem­onstrated robustness of the regional force posture in the face of attack.

The rate of change and acceleration of the change in relative capabilities define another aspect of the Great Power Game. These measures are an assess­ment of the projected capabilities of the two forces some number of years down the road. In a Great Power Game, this assessment defines the research and development (R&D), force development, and force planning futures of each side. In turn, potential allies look at the projected paths of the major powers in order to make their own investments and strategic decisions well in advance of the possible outcomes. These projections are arguably the most interesting and contentious aspect of the game, since it is about what might be and is not bound to current reality.

High rates of change and significant accelerations of that rate of change that are adverse to the United States are potentially alarming for allies, who will seek to make their way through a future based on extrapolations from near­term actions. Australia, which frames its own strategic arguments about future plans in terms of how situations might change in response to U. S. actions, is an example of a nation that is forward looking in its defense policy.29 An absence of a U. S. response to alter the changes in apparent airpower capabilities might necessitate changes in Australia’s own defense policies years before the imme­diate balance has been affected. The United States cares about these actions by allies because the overall assessment of the balance in this game is heav­ily influenced by allies whose association with the United States has not been effectively locked in by factors such as shared existential threats, and/or stand­ing alliance arrangements like the relationships typified by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) arrangements for mutual defense.30

For the United States, the implications of this sensitivity to projections are quite striking because it has significant incentives to take actions across several levels to address the revealed changes. One possible U. S. action is an essentially symmetric response of improving U. S. capabilities such that the apparent improvements in basic combat effectiveness of the opposing forces are largely reversed. However, this might initiate an ongoing arms competi­tion that can degenerate into a type of arms race if left unconstrained by other forces. Another action might be to pursue and then exercise military opera­tions with allies to demonstrate commitments in the wake of PLAAF improve­ments. Exercising forces that might be effective in combat operations tends to undercut perceived gains of the opposite side and also improves the prospect of basing and cooperation of allies in situations where the United States might need support for defense of other nations. Finally, the United States might seek to negate any Chinese gain by pursuing stronger formal arrangements to bind allies together. This binding would buffer to a certain extent the need to respond to deficiencies created by increased PLAAF capabilities by giving the United States more basing options, adding the contributions of partner mili­tary and logistical capabilities to those of the United States, and making it less likely allies will question U. S. commitments to a region.

The Duumvirate of Xu and Ma: The Top Echelon

There is no doubt that the career path of Generals Xu and Ma presents a very useful case for the study of PLAAF leadership. Their past experience exposes broadly how the PLA top command selects top brass, trains them with various difficult tasks, and finally realizes their potential to be the highest-level leaders. More significantly, the study of Xu and Ma is integral to that of the 18th CMC. Therefore, in studying them, research of the emerging PLAAF leader­ship is linked to that of the future PLA leadership as a whole.

In the make-up of the current CMC, the age structure of its members may lead to retirement of all but Xu and Chang Wanquan (^Л^), director of the General Armament Department (GAD), in the Party’s 18th National Con­gress in 2012.2 Being the youngest CMC member and with the highest senior­ity (Xu became divisional, corps, and service commander much earlier than Chang), it is likely Xu would be promoted further. Yet there are only two posi­tions for him at this level of power: either deputy CMC chair, or minister of defense.3 In this case he would vacate his current position of PLAAF com­mander. Ma would likely be the first in line to succeed Xu, following Xu’s own path from the PLAAF Headquarters to the General Staff Department (GSD), and thence to the CMC as the PLAAF representative.

If this occurs, it would constitute a groundbreaking development within the elite politics of the PLA and its service relationships. First, since the ouster of Wu Faxian (^;i^) in 1971, the PLAAF has not had another person in the second rank of CMC. Secondly, for the first time since the founding of the air force, it would now have two officers, Xu and Ma, at the apex of power. This is conducive to the PLAs efforts to erode the “army-first” mentality (Лй¥±Ю affecting its overall strategic orientation.4 Given Mas background—previously he was the deputy commander of Lanzhou and Guangzhou Military Regions; pres­ident of the National Defense University; currently, most senior deputy chief of staff; and most importantly, a member of the Party’s Central Committee (CC) since 2002—his further promotion is a perfect fit to PLA personnel advancement patterns.5 Failure to promote Xu and Ma would be regarded as unfair and dis­criminatory according to PLA norms and standards (¥ФШ1). If this is indeed the case, both of them would take a veritable great leap forward in their politi­cal and military careers. As CMC deputy chair, Xu would acquire the Party rank of Standing Committee member in the Politburo; if he is made defense minister he would hold the rank of State Council counselor. Ma would hold the rank of a Politburo member as a CMC member. And as such they would both enjoy the prestige of Party and state leaders.

Certainly there are high odds against such a dual PLAAF membership in the CMC. Today, service representation in the CMC is basically functional. This is especially true of specialized, highly technical services, such as the air force, the navy, and the strategic missile force (z®). The initial concept in 2004 of absorbing service commanders into the CMC was to turn it into the top body for commanding joint warfare, increasingly seen as the primary type of warfare for the PLA in the decades to come.6 It drew upon the example of the U. S. joint chiefs of staff system in integrating service functions as part the PLA’s preparation for war, the central theme of China’s defense policy since 1999.7

As the PLAAF contemplates its future, it faces a number of intriguing questions. Would the potential dual air force representation upset the func­tional balance among the different services? Would this dual representation be viewed as fair by other services? The perception of fairness in the PLA is an important concept in maintaining factional and service equilibrium, some­thing that may impact force stability. The navy, for instance, would be jeal­ous; its current CMC representative, Admiral Wu Shengli (^Й^) will be over 65 years of age in 2012 and will likely retire.8 Admiral Sun Jianguo is 3 years younger than Ma Xiaotoan and would be the primary choice to replace Wu, but the naval headquarters does not have a figure comparable to Ma.9 The situ­ation with the leadership of the strategic missile force (Second Artillery Corps) is similar.

Ma’s future is tangled up with Xu’s in that if Xu is not promoted, there is no vacancy for Ma in the CMC, unless Ma would be made chief of the general staff or a director of either GAD or the General Logistics Department (GLD), both rela­tively unlikely. If Ma does not advance, it is a loss not only for the air force, but the PLA as a whole. In the GSD he has been praised as the most competent deputy chief of staff, evidenced by his being given a wider range of duties than his GSD colleagues, including war preparation and training; strategic planning; foreign affairs (a euphemism for intelligence); the air force; and the PLA professional mili­tary education (PME) institutions. In particular, Ma has impressed his colleagues and others (including the present author) with his ability to grasp and analyze even casually presented information in briefings and during various conferences.10

It is possible that the CMC would regard the issue of two PLAAF CMC members not strictly from the viewpoint of service representation. This is to say that one of the two would be functional, representing the air force, but the other would be regarded simply as a competent top leader who can make great con­tribution to PLA transformation, regardless of whether he is a seaman, airman, or foot soldier. Both are well qualified for either position. Mas experience at the National Defense University (NDU) and as the executive deputy chief of GSD in the lead-up to General Ge Zhenfeng’s (ВД1#) retirement testified that the CMC had great expectations of him. The NDU experience was meant to broaden his strategic vision and theoretical depth in the “ivory tower” of ideas. It also famil­iarized Ma with key candidates (then at corps rank) for future top PLA leader­ship positions. His position as executive deputy chief of the GSD furnished a rare opportunity to grasp the overall military situation, from the nuclear button, foreign military exchanges and joint exercises, weapons research and develop­ment, operations and training, and the PLAs domestic missions to budgetary allocations among services and interservice coordination.

Observations on the Development of China’s Aviation Industry

Airpower strategy and the aviation industry have advanced together. Observations on the evolution of the PLAAF’s strategic objectives and the reform of the aviation industry since the 1980s suggest that China has man­aged to keep them up to speed. After Den Xiaoping put forward the guideline of “building an armed forces with quantity and quality” in 1985, the PLAAF started to study its strategic role. After the Gulf War in 1991, the PLA real­ized that a modernized air force is the key to victory in battle, and thus estab­lished CAIC. In 1999, China restructured AVIC I and AVIC II. In November of the same year, the PLAAF’s commander outlined on the 50th anniversary of the PLA the idea of shifting the air force from “territorial air defense” to “both offense and defense.”17 In 2004 and 2007, the PLAAF Party Congress passed resolutions on building a “strategic air force” and “an air force that matches the status of a great power.”18 In 2008, China once again restructured AVIC. It is believed that these developments are not coincidental. Instead, they are calcu­lated measures adopted after comprehensive considerations on the two major objectives of strengthening airpower and developing the aviation industry.

The aviation industry has been selected as a key development project. The Outline of the National Program for the Medium – and Long-Term Development of Defense-Related Science, Technology and Industry (2006-2020), released by COSTIND in 2006, stipulates clearly that by 2020, defense-related science and technology must be able to meet basically the needs of the independent R&D, as well as the manufacture and information-based development of mod­ern weapons and equipment.19 According to the Outline, China will step up research on basic aviation science, and develop advanced aviation technology. Moreover, the development of the aviation industry should be unaffected by the government’s macroeconomic control measures. On the whole, the PLA’s effort to develop new-type fighter-bombers, AEW&C aircraft, air-launched missiles, aircraft engines, and large passenger aircraft, to which the govern­ment has committed significant resources, are all concrete manifestations of the Outline.

However, the biggest problem of China’s aviation industry is that its ability of independent innovation and invention needs to be enhanced, since Chinese-made fighter aircraft, guided missiles, engines, and other systems are more or less the results of suspected piracy and some are even exact reproduc­tions of foreign inventions. If China is unable to acquire advanced products from foreign countries, the development of its aviation industry will be limited. Furthermore, internal R&D expenditure by China’s aircraft manufacturing industry in 2007 amounted to merely RMB 3,722.68 million,20 far behind that of its European and American counterparts. Inadequate investment in R&D is another factor constraining the development of China’s aviation industry.

Foreign assistance is needed if China is to develop advanced technology. Though it has built up some measure of strength, China’s aviation industry still lags behind advanced countries to a great extent. According to the Stock­holm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the U. S. Department of State, China belongs to the “third-tier” states in terms of military-industrial strength. The strength of the military industry in Russia, which ranks no. 1 in the second-tier states, is about one-sixth of the military-industrial strength of the United States.21 For a long time, China has used procurement to boost its own technological capabilities. Nonetheless, in the face of U. S. high-tech export controls, the European Union arms embargo, and Russia’s growing wariness of Chinese piracy, China’s attempt to acquire high-end technologies from foreign countries has run into a severe challenge.

Recent measures adopted by China’s aviation industry are worthy of attention. In December 2009, AVIC XAC acquired a 90 percent stake in Aus­tria’s Future Advanced Composite Component (FACC).22 FACC is a company specializing in the development and production of aviation composite mate – rials.23 The acquisition was the first of its kind that China had made in a for­eign aviation industry. AVIC will use FACC as an R&D and test center for avi­ation composite materials. Relevant technologies will be transferred to China for production, assisting considerably the R&D and manufacture of advanced composite materials in China. AVIC and ACAE have devoted about 4,000 peo­ple to research and develop the C919 and its engine. To drive forward follow-up works in each stage, both companies have launched a global talent recruitment program. The management personnel AVIC hired initially in August 2009 have been appointed senior managers at five subsidiaries. AVIC’s goal is to recruit 3,000 people of various talents in 5 to 8 years. This indicates that lack of tal­ent has constrained China’s ability to make breakthroughs in key technologies. Therefore, China wishes to acquire foreign technology through the recruit­ment of international specialists.24

Blazing a path of development with military and civilian integration. PRC research suggests that the United States has created a matchless military by harnessing the infinite power of the civilian sector and that the separated civil – military research systems in China are one of the factors causing China to trail behind. Hu Jintao stressed at the 17th Party Congress that China would “estab­lish sound systems of weapons and equipment research and manufacture that integrate military with civilian purposes and combine military efforts with civilian support, and blaze a path of development with Chinese characteristics featuring military and civilian integration.”25 Take the development of China’s aviation industry, for instance. The strategy adopted to develop large civil pas­senger aircraft and large military transport aircraft is based on the principle of “1 project, 2 models, civil-military coordination, and series development.” Technologies acquired from international cooperation—such as structural designs for airframes, composite materials, aircraft engines, and automatic control systems—can be used in the R&D and manufacture of military aircraft in China, making it difficult for foreign countries to implement effective con­trols. In Western countries, most AEW&C, electronic warfare, and command and control aircraft use civil passenger aircraft as the basic platform to build upon. The C919 also has the same potential. China will be able to produce a synergistic effect for the development of its military power if it can promote the “civil-military integration” strategy effectively.

Export and domestic demand: the prospects for China’s aviation industry. There is no doubt that the primary mission of China’s aviation industry is to support the development of the PLA. With regard to the export market, China has found a niche in the arms markets of some Asian and African coun­tries through the sales of the J-7, Q-5 and K-8. If the production agreement between China and Pakistan on 150 JF-17s is taken into account, China will become the world’s third-largest exporter of military aircraft, behind only the United States and Russia.26 Two Pakistan JF—17 aircraft were displayed for the first time at the 2010 Farnborough International Air Show in London. During the air show, China and Pakistan discussed matters relating to possibly export­ing JF—17 fighters to eight countries: Congo, Egypt, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, and Venezuela. In addition, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, and others have expressed high levels of interest in the Chinese-made

J—10. If China can avoid Russian control over engine production, the global export of Chinese-made military aircraft would seem to have a bright future.

Airbus predicted in 2006 that China would need to add more than 2,800 passenger aircraft and freighters in the next 20 years. Moreover, an AVIC market forecast for the period up to 2028, released at the Beijing Air Show in 2009, pre­dicts that China will need 2,922 large and 874 short-to-medium-range aircraft.27 From these data, it seems that China’s domestic market will be able to shore up the sales of the C919 and its follow-up models. However, to form a complete civil aviation industry, China will have to face up to the competition from Boeing and Airbus, and the key is whether China can obtain Federal Aviation Administra­tion and European Aviation Safety Agency airworthiness certifications. If China fails to get the certifications, then large civil aircraft made by China could only fly in the sky in China and in a few other countries.


Since its founding in 1949, the People’s Republic of China has weathered many troubles at home and from abroad. Driven by the goal of a modern mili­tary, China has listed the development of its aviation industry as a key project from the beginning. After 60 years of development and reform, the aviation industry in China, though growing slowly with limited transformation, has achieved some results. For a long time, China has sought to enhance the stan­dards of its aviation industry by copying finished products that are acquired from abroad or through OEM production. Initial results generated from this approach include the key technologies that China lacked but has now learned, and the improvement of foreign products with some innovations. In general, China already has a considerable capacity for indigenous production. Once reaching a certain level, China’s indigenous production capacity will begin to transform quantitatively and qualitatively, ultimately allowing China to achieve its aspiration toward independent innovation and invention. China’s aviation industry still faces many unsolved problems and lags far behind advanced countries. Despite that, in time, the standards of China’s aviation industry may progress to an extent unimaginable to the outside world.