Category The Chinese Air Force

Education and Training in the PLAAF

Kevin Lanzit

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAAF Technology Procurement Strategies: Past, Present, and Future

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

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


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

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

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

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

Table 12-2. Five Periods of Chinese Technological Development






Sino-Soviet defense cooperation

Chinese isolation

Window of access to Western technologies

West cuts access, Russia reopens; diversification of strategies

Russian reluctance; increased indige­nous capacity

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

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

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




MiG-17 Fresco-As (early 1950s)

II-28 bomber (early 1950s)


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

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

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


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

CJ-6 fighter trainer (1960)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limited Force or Coercive Operations

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

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

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

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

Development and Evolution of PLAAF Training and Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


50 Spey fan-jet engines from Britain (1975)

SA-321 Super Frelon helicopter from France (1977)


Chengdu J—5A: Chinese MiG—17PF (1964)

Spey fan-jet engine



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



Harbin H-5: Chinese IL-28



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

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


Shenyang/Tianjin JJ-6 (1970)

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

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

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

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

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

Aerospace Coercion

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

Today’s In-service Education and Technical Training

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

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


As previously mentioned, the Shenyang Aircraft Factory refused Soviet assistance on the J-6A and set out to manufacture the required tooling domes­tically.61 These efforts were not particularly successful; production was halted at various times as the result of poor quality manufacturing and the PLAAF refused to fly the J-6A until improvements were made.62 Under the guidance of SAF vice general secretary Wang Qigong and vice chief technician Luo Shida, a document was drafted outlining 10 standards to follow in the second series of J-6 prototype production.63 With better quality control procedures in place, SAF was able to finally produce a J-6 prototype which met state standards for mass production in 1963. Once mass production was approved, the Nanchang

Aircraft Factory (NAF) began manufacturing the J-6. This required NAF to convert from a propeller aircraft factory to one that produced jet fighters.64

Improvements to J-6 production quickly eroded with the onset of the Cultural Revolution. Aircraft designers and engineers were among the group of “intellectuals” targeted in the mass movement, and their marginalization along with a number of other technical issues plagued China’s defense indus­tries.65 By the early 1970s, hundreds of substandard J-6s had to be dismantled and rebuilt (to the tune of millions of yuan).66 Though the J-6 and J-7 repre­sent the height of Chinese advancement in terms of the serial production of military aircraft during this time period, efforts continued to improve upon previous J-5, J-5A, and JJ-5 designs. These improvements were for the most part cosmetic (the lengthening of a fuselage, relocation of components, etc.) and though Chinese writings are sanguine about the progress made, there was very little in the way of actual innovation.

Bomber production made some modest advances during this period, with a domestically manufactured Xian H-6 medium bomber taking to the air on December 24, 1968, and serial production beginning shortly thereaf­ter.67 Efforts to produce the H-6 were delayed significantly by the withdrawal of Soviet advisors, but Chinese engineers were eventually able to use the plans and tooling to successfully produce the bomber. Chinese serial production of the H-6 was a notable achievement for the military aviation industry, but the aircraft was based on the Tupolev Tu-16 Badger, which had been in service with the Soviet air force since 1954.68 The H-6 has remained China’s mainstay bomber over the decades with modified versions of the aircraft comprising the bulk of the PLAAF bomber fleet even today.

Invasion: The Ultimate Threat

A full-scale amphibious invasion is obviously the most serious form of military action the PRC could undertake against Taiwan, and would constitute a military “culminating point” in the relationship between the two entities. For the PLA, full-scale invasion constitutes an ultimate solution if the PRC per­ceives its unification goal and territory threatened, or the ongoing dispute is deemed impossible to be solved in any other way. From a military perspective, it will involve neighboring countries, a sensitive interregional area, and will necessarily greatly change the international political climate and global politi­cal affairs. From a financial standpoint, an invasion would obviously affect the global economy. From a military perspective, the PRC would have to expect that Taiwan would likely be assisted by a coalition of strong enemies acting to prohibit the PRC from unifying Taiwan by force, with a high probability that PRC forces would have to fight multiple enemies, not just the forces of Taiwan.37 Under these circumstances, the PLA may employ the Second Artil­lery to undertake sustained missile bombardment, with the objective of forcing Taiwan to plead for peace before possible foreign powers can intervene, and thus creating an irreversible fait accompli before international intervention can work to thwart the PRC’s aggressive plans.38

Former Taiwan Deputy Minister of National Defense Lin Chong-pin, in an interview during a visit to London in 2009, told a Central News Agency journalist that using military force to attack Taiwan is the PRC’s final choice. To fight quickly and win quickly, he believed, the PLA will not resort to blockade, since blockades take time and provoke international outrage and intervention. Rather, he said, since 1990, the PLA has stressed quick and decisive military action, embodied in the slogan “First battle decides the war”; the PLA, he believed, would seek to launch and win an amphibious action “probably within one week”39

Since ancient times, amphibious operations have historically been extremely difficult to prosecute. Even for highly trained forces possessing asymmetric advantages in power projection, landing in the face of opposition has proven costly, even if ultimate victory has been secured. Such landings are recognized by military experts from the PRC, Taiwan, and the United States as among the most demanding and risky of all military operations.40 The U. S. Department of Defense has noted the following:41

Large-scale amphibious invasion is one of the most complicated and difficult military maneuvers. Success depends upon air and sea supe­riority, rapid buildup and sustainment of supplies on shore, and unin­terrupted support. An attempt to invade Taiwan would strain China’s untested armed forces and invite international intervention. These stresses, combined with China’s combat force attrition and the complex­ity of urban warfare and counterinsurgency (assuming a successful land­ing and breakout), make amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk. Taiwan’s investments to harden infrastructure and strengthen defensive capabilities could also decrease Beijing’s ability to achieve its objectives.

An island landing invasion would involve joint operations by the PLA Ground Force, PLAN, PLAAF, and Second Artillery, supported by the Peo­ple’s Armed Police (PAP), PLA Reserve Force, and Militia, all acting in accor­dance with a unified joint campaign plan and command structure.42 It would involve most, and potentially all, aspects of land, sea, air, and electronic war­fare, including use of space-based assets and cyber attack. The crucial PLA challenge, obviously, would be circumventing or breaching Taiwan’s shore defenses, establishing and building a beachhead, transporting personnel and materiel to designated landing sites along Taiwan’s western coastline, and launching attacks to seize and occupy key targets or the entire island.43

PLA amphibious doctrine logically sets forth the progression of an amphibious operation in three phases: preliminary operations, embarkation and movement, and assaulting and establishing the beach-head. Each of these is addressed below, based upon Zhang Yuliang’s Science of Campaigns.44

Preliminary Operations are undertaken to paralyze an enemy’s oper­ational system, to seize the initiative in the battle, and to set the conditions for amphibious landing operations. The missions in this phase include seizing information dominance via electronic combat and cyber warfare, and air and sea dominance via a comprehensive opening air and missile strike. Informa­tion dominance of the landing battle is the critical element of seizing air and sea dominance and the initiative of battle. The purpose is to greatly reduce the opponent’s capability of electronic equipment and secure the PRC’s own elec­tronic warfare efficiency. Generally, it will start before the comprehensive fire assault, or at the same time, and will be proceeding throughout the whole battle process. Besides using airborne electronic countermeasures against Taiwan’s air defense equipment, the PLA is likely to use precisely targeted special oper­ations forces against Taiwan’s electronic infrastructures, since use of broader – effect attacks, such as electromagnetic pulse weapons (EMP) or broad-area cyber attacks, might affect the PRC as much as Taiwan.

A preliminary comprehensive raid would employ missiles and other air­borne fires to strike essential targets like command structures, air and naval bases, missile sites, and air defense systems in a sudden, massive, overwhelm­ing manner. The purpose would be to paralyze Taiwan’s military operations, incapacitate its warfighting abilities, and thereby set up favorable conditions for seizing information, air, and sea dominance. In general, this action would consist of a primary raid, and follow-up raids.45 The first raid is the most criti­cal, involving joint force attack by missiles and the service air components, par­ticularly Second Artillery and the PLAAF.

Considering likely risk, efficiency, penetration, and costs, the PLA would probably choose SRBMs to execute the first raid. The high-priority tar­gets of the raid might be SAMs, air defense radars, and fighter bases, because these targets, if untouched, could inflict heavy losses on PRC follow-on air and surface forces. The follow-on raids would be based on the result of the first raid. If the first raid degraded Taiwan’s air defenses sufficiently so that PLAAF attack aircraft could operate with relative safety, then following raids would likely use aircraft primarily. Otherwise, follow-on attacks might continue to employ SRBMs until conditions favorable for PRC air dominance over Taiwan were achieved. Once Taiwan’s integrated air defense system (IADS) had been destroyed or seriously degraded by SRBMs, the PRC’s aircraft would become more active, furnishing a more precise, flexible, functional, and efficient means to apply military force in support of PRC campaign objectives.

Thus, the type, frequency, and interval of follow-on raids depend on the assessed battle damage and recovery time of Taiwan’s air defense ability. This is, it might be noted, a very different form of air attack from that employed by coalition forces during the opening hours of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In that case, there was essentially no pause for assessment between the first and fol­low-on strikes. Rather, following the first paralyzing strike by stealth aircraft and cruise missiles, a follow-on “gorilla package” strike was immediately undertaken.

This strike, enhanced by UAS systems mimicking manned aircraft, intimidated the surviving elements of Iraq’s air defense network into revealing themselves so that they could be jammed by EW and destroyed by coalition SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) strikes. After this second strike, Iraq had essentially lost any hope of maintaining any semblance of air control over its own territory. Non­stealthy coalition aircraft could then fly with relative impunity across Iraq for the next 6 weeks of war.46 In contrast, the PLAs writings imply a longer assessment period between the initial opening strike and follow-on attacks.

According to a RAND study, about 60-200 submunition-equipped SRBMs could temporarily neutralize most of Taiwan’s fighter bases. They could effectively suppress Taiwan air defense operations, allowing follow-on PLAAF strike aircraft to attack air bases and other targets with modern preci­sion weapons.47

Seizing air dominance by conducting surprising, fierce, continuing, and precision strikes is thus a crucial prerequisite for any landing force’s grouping, embarkation, navigation, assault, and landing. Operations would be mainly conducted by the PLAAF, and joined by the Ground Force, PLAN, and Sec­ond Artillery, suppressing the enemy on the ground or jointly destroying the enemy in the air.48 Unless Taiwan’s air defense assets are mobile, bombproof, invisible, quickly recoverable, redundant, and numerous, the result can only get worse when the PLAAF is able to strike freely across the island. Seiz­ing sea dominance would primarily involve the PLAN, joined by the PLAAF, ground forces, and Second Artillery, working together to control the area of the anticipated naval campaign, securing the landing force’s abilities to undertake embarkation, seaborne transportation (coupled with defensive mine sweeping), and the assault landing.49 The naval campaign poses chal­lenges for both sides. Given the profusion and range of the antiship weap­ons available to both sides, it is difficult for both the PLAN and Taiwan naval forces to hide and survive in the Taiwan Strait because of its limited and con­strained operational space.

Preparatory attacks against Taiwan’s coastal defenses prior to an amphib­ious landing invasion would be mainly conducted by the PLAAF, joined by ground forces, PLAN, and Second Artillery forces. Depending upon the results of the previous missile and air attacks, PRC forces would seek to destroy enemy coastal defense facilities, artillery positions, missiles, radar sites, com­mand structures, communication nodes, and other key targets. Through these, the PRC would seek to reduce enemy defense capability, stop enemy move­ments, isolate the landing area, and create favorable conditions for landing PLA ground forces.50

Embarkation and movement would proceed upon the basis of success­ful preliminary operations. The mission of embarkation is organizing land­ing forces, with their attendant logistical requirements, and loading them for transportation. Movement means all formation of landing forces en route to the respective staging area from the rendezvous area. According to a James­town Foundation study by Dennis Blasko, the PLAN lacks strategic sealift capacity, and thus cannot meet the requirements of a full-scale amphibious landing invasion against Taiwan, at least in the short term.51 If this is the case, the PLA should employ more than one wave of amphibious fleets in a secured environment when it intends to invade Taiwan directly. The embarkation point must be a short distance from landing beaches to reduce time spent at sea. This is quite risky, for PLAN forces would be under near-constant Taiwan counter­sea attacks. Since, as Blasko notes, “Naval units from the South Sea Fleet would have to travel at least 500 nautical miles and those from the North Sea Fleet would have to travel at least 700 nautical miles to reach Taiwan,” the employ­ment of fires against PLAN forces would be near-constant, and grow ever more deadly as forces came within reach of increasingly numerous shorter – range weapons, such as aircraft, sea – or-land-based antiship missiles, coastal gun fire, and battlefield rocket artillery such as the multiple-launch rocket sys­tem (MLRS).52

Assaulting and establishing the beach-head is primarily conducted by landing groups and assisted by other services to fight and assure the joint oper­ation’s success. In the view of PLA analysts, it is the most critical of any of the invasion’s operational phases, the time of greatest stress, intensity, difficulty, and decisiveness. It is incumbent upon the invasion commander to assure the landing operations are successful by all means. The landing beach must be as swiftly established as possible after the first echelon of landing forces have assaulted and secured the beach front, and then developed rapidly in depth so that follow-on landing forces can exploit it. All these operations must be assisted by on-call, persistent, close air support, which would be provided pri­marily by the PLAAF.53

Officer Education and Training

Air forces are unique among the military services in that it is the offi­cers who do the fighting and therefore the bulk of the education and training focus is aimed at their development and proficiency. This axiom holds espe­cially true in the PLAAF because technical officers continue to play a critical hands-on role in the maintenance and repair of aircraft and other weapons sys­tems. Consequently, PLAAF education and training programs are principally focused on officer development across all branches and specialties and sec­ondarily aimed at raising the skill levels of NCOs.27 Airmen, on the other hand, may only receive rudimentary training while serving in their first 2-year enlist­ment, as they are essentially on probationary status awaiting determination of their suitability for potential development into NCOs or officers.28

As with other air forces, the PLAAF has established a comprehen­sive military education structure which focuses on four common objectives: schools and institutes must strive to achieve compatibility between force devel­opment requirements, force composition and career specialties, and the cat­egories of schools, training allocations, and levels of education and training; officer development capacity of air force schools and institutes must be bal­anced against and consistent with the requirements of peacetime replacement rates; division levels within the air force training structure must be consistent with officer development regulations; and, the structure must combine officer academic education with military specialty training and integrate pre-assign­ment coursework with post-assignment advanced studies.29

Estimates by Western PLA military experts suggest that the PLAAF com­missions approximately 4,000-6,000 new officers each year, of whom approx­imately 1,000 are aviators.30 Until recently, the PLAAF has relied on its own colleges and academies to educate and develop new officers (cadres), but that paradigm changed in May 2000 under a new policy document issued j ointly by the State Council and the CMC entitled “Decision on Establishing a Military Cadre Training System that Relies on Civilian Higher Education й®Л^Йй±п#¥РАТнРФ1ЙЙ^&£]."31 The “decision" was announced follow­ing an initial trial program conducted at 22 of China’s top universities—includ­ing Beijing, Qinghua, and Fudan—beginning in 1999.32 The new policy opened up three new commissioning channels to a civilian university inclined toward a national defense direction (НКЙЙ). First, the new program permits the direct recruitment of university students for direct entry into one of the PLAAF mili­tary colleges. Second, it provides a path of direct accession to college graduates, although they may be required to complete a full year of military training prior to commissioning. And third, it established the National Defense Student (S |5fr£) program which operates similarly to the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) in the United States.33 The PLAAF has established National Defense Student programs on multiple campuses throughout China and detailed air force officers to the faculty to instruct military courses as part of the academic load. Additionally, National Defense Students participate in drills at assigned units during summer academic breaks. Following graduation, National Defense Students receive an additional 3 months of military skills training and political education prior to commissioning. Operating on the campuses of leading uni­versities throughout China, this program has become a common gateway for many of today’s new PLAAF officers.34

While the induction of civilian college graduates into the PLAAF repre­sents a monumental adjustment to the military education and training struc­ture, the PLAAF continues to rely on its own command academies and techni­cal schools to recruit and develop over half of its new officers. These academies accept graduates of public high schools and qualified airmen from the ranks with high school equivalency-level education. Officer accession schools pro­vide either a 3-year vocational education (ftWMM) leading to a technical degree (^ft) or 4-year academic education (¥ШШЖ) leading to an undergrad­uate degree (^ft). Specialty programs have been established at the flight acad­emies, the Guilin Air Force College, and the First Aviation Academy, develop­ing officers for various air force branch specialties (aviation, communications, radar, SAM, etc.). The PLAAF Engineering University, the PLAAF Aviation University, and the Xuzhou Air Force Academy are 4-year institutions which confer undergraduate degrees. PLAAF Aviation University cadets receive an abbreviated academic curriculum that includes 30 months of academics, 6 months of aviation theory, and 12 months of basic flight training. Depend­ing on the school and specialty, the PLAAF appoints graduates of 3-year and 4-year schools as either a commanding officer or technical officer, with some technical officers holding civilian rank (^Щ).35 With the exception of aviators who receive their undergraduate education through the PLAAF Aviation Uni­versity or civilian university before reporting to one of the flying academies, the foundational education for PLAAF officers in other career fields is nor­mally completed through attendance at a single college or school.36

PLAAF command academies are organized into a three-level structure providing pre-accession education and training at the foundational level, and professional military education (PME) at the intermediate and senior levels.37 Mid-level command colleges, such as the PLAAF Command College, are tar­geted at active duty officers who have attended a foundational command college and possess a senior technical degree or higher. The mid-level school curricu­lum varies from 6 months to 1 year and prepares graduates to perform work in operational, political, logistical, or equipment sections at the regimental and divi­sion levels. PME for senior air force officers is conducted through the National Defense University (NDU) for those who have completed a mid-level command course and possess a senior technical degree or higher. Graduates are prepared to assume responsibilities at Group Army – or Military Region-level command positions. In recent years, the PLAAF has gradually improved its PME courses through efforts to increase the contact and coordination between its faculty and operations. Air force officers—whether in operational, political, logistical, or equipment branches—are offered various opportunities for attendance at PME and graduate degree programs during their careers.38

The PLAAF graduate education program consists of master’s candi­dates, Ph. D. candidates, and military specialty master’s candidates, with pro­grams lasting 2-1/2 years, 3 years, and 2 years, respectively. The graduate stud­ies program is implemented to address the full spectrum of knowledge required within the service, and now includes programs in military professional studies.

In addition to the in-residence formal education programs offered to officers and NCOs, in 2008 the PLAAF established the Air Force Military Pro­fessional University, offering service personnel opportunities for study through correspondence courses, mini-courses, seminars, and study at civilian colleges. This new program appears to operate as a virtual university to promote the individual development of officers and NCOs in various career fields.