Category The Chinese Air Force

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.

Key Factors Concerning Airpower over the Taiwan Strait

“Airpower,” Sir Winston Churchill once stated, “is the most difficult of all forms of military force to measure or even to express in precise terms”; defi­nitions abound, one of the most succinct being: “The ability to project power from the air and space to influence the behavior of people or the course of events.”6 In this regard, the key factors affecting airpower in the Taiwan Strait would include weapons technology such as aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, bal­listic missiles, cruise missiles, airfields and runway availability, and unmanned aerial systems; crisis circumstances such as military intimidation, blockade, and employment of limited force or coercive options; and full-scale military action such as air and missile strikes, the dispatch of an amphibious invasion force, and landing assault. All of the latter can be expected to be accompanied by a fierce battle to control the airspace over the Taiwan Strait. Each of these is subsequently discussed in detail.


According to a January 2010 U. S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report,7

Although Taiwan has nearly 400 combat aircraft in service, far fewer of these are operationally capable. Taiwan’s F-5 fighters have reached the end of their operational service life, and while the indigenously pro­duced F-CK-1 A/B Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) is a large compo­nent of Taiwan’s active fighter force, it lacks the capability for sustained sorties. Taiwan’s Mirage 2000-5 aircraft are technologically advanced, but they require frequent, expensive maintenance that adversely affects their operational readiness rate.

This U. S. DIA report may exaggerate the facts, but undoubtedly it reveals some of challenges that Taiwan’s airmen face. A U. S.-Taiwan Business Council study concluded that same year as follows:8

In qualitative terms, Taiwan’s F-16A/Bs and Mirage 2000-5s are roughly comparable to Chinese Su-30s, Su-27/J-11s, and J-10s in performance and combat capability. The F-CK-IA/Bs are generally considered supe­rior to J-8s, but lack the aerodynamic performance of some of the newer PLA aircraft types, while the F-5E/Fs should be a match for the J-7s.

Table 13-1. Principal Taiwan Combat Aircraft





Multirole fighter


Mirage 2000-5

Air defense fighter



Multirole fighter



Multirole fighter


Source: U. S-Taiwan Business Council, The Balance of Air Power in the Taiwan Strait, 17, available at: <www. us-taiwan. org/reports/2010_may11_balance_of_air_power_taiwan_strait. pdf>.

That same year, the U. S. Department of Defense concluded the following:9

The PLAAF and the PLA Navy have approximately 2,300 operational combat aircraft. These consist of air defense and multi-role fighters, ground attack aircraft, fighter-bombers, and bombers. An additional 1,450 older fighters, bombers and trainers are employed for training and R&D. The two air arms also possess approximately 450 transports and over 100 surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft with intelligence, surface search, and airborne early warning capabilities. The majority of PLAAF and PLA Navy aircraft are based in the eastern half of the coun­try. Currently, 490 aircraft could conduct combat operations against Taiwan without refueling. However, this number could be significantly increased through any combination of aircraft forward deployment, decreased ordnance loads, or altered mission profiles.

Table 13-2. Principal PLA Combat Aircraft





Multirole fighter



Multirole fighter



Multirole fighter



Air defense fighter



Air defense fighter



Ground attack fighter



Ground attack fighter





Concluding Thoughts on the Games

Given these three possible games, it is clear the implications of PLAAF modernization for the United States vary between the games. In both the Game of Influence and within the Battle over a Third Party, the types of adap­tations are essentially incremental, with force additions tailored to fairly spe­cific problems. In the Great Power Game, the types of U. S. responses encom­pass much bolder moves to bolster regional positions and improve symmetric combat capabilities to maintain relative superiority. These differences affect how the balance is perceived and also frame the type of actions that might be taken within the game.

In both the Game of Influence and the Battle over a Third Party, the shifting of existing forces, as well as tailored responses focused on localized problems, appears adequate. In these cases, the focus is on crafting a strat­egy to solve specific problems created by the PLAAF and on ascertaining the steps necessary for solving them. The changes in the PLAAF make some oper­ational concepts more difficult than in the past and undercut current assump­tions as to how the United States could operate at will with airpower in almost any region of the world. However, the moves to counter these elements can be fairly well tailored and manageable in terms of what might be required for new operational concepts, munitions, and, perhaps most importantly, the level of engagement with other countries in the region. Dispersal and remote basing of forces, selective hardening and defense, a greater use of longer-range sys­tems, and changing the threshold for success (defeating certain types of mili­tary attacks and accepting damage from others) can all help address the imme­diate problem of creating the broader perception of an effective U. S. response as well as help address specific issues in regard to problems associated with defense of third parties. Therefore, to the extent PLAAF modernization drives game changes, they will be relatively focused and bounded.

The balance in the Great Power Game is more sensitive than those in the other games in terms of the U. S. need to maintain relative position through such actions as addressing perceived rates of change and rate of acceleration of change for a variety of reasons that are not directly related to the security situation in the particular geographic region. Even if marginal improvements such as a force shift might address the immediate security problem, they would not address the broader aspect of the military competition that is integral to the game itself. It is not only the qualitative improvements of the PLAAF that are significant; after all, they are essentially only matching earlier generations of U. S. force capabilities. Instead, the dynamic of the broader region is driven by the twin problems of U. S. forces operating at a distance (the United States is acting as a global power and is expected by many to be anywhere a threat occurs) and the fear of what China’s rapid rise in capability might presage. The balance in the Great Power Game incorporates elements of predictions and wagers about the future that are not dominant in the other games. This is par­tially due to the fact that in some narratives the immediate influence of the United States in the game is discounted and thereby diminished if the United States is not seen as actively addressing a possible negative future.

Implications for the United States

This paper provides the framework for how the United States should view and assess the impact of PLAAF modernization. This framework also yields important insights for U. S. decisionmaking within the overarching game structure. Most significantly, the United States must make a deliberate choice as to what game or combination of games it wants to play and how it will respond (force structure, political stances, etc.) within the games it chooses. This will allow the United States to best utilize its military and political tools to achieve its national interests and to avoid being forced into a nonoptimal decision.

When the United States is choosing which game to play, it will of course be influenced by Chinese military choices (one being continued PLAAF mod­ernization) and political moves. There will also be other factors influencing the United States, and the choice between games will be predicated on the strategic importance assigned to the situation, relevant political considerations, fiscal constraints, and other factors. But whatever game it chooses to play, the United States must always be aware of the range of possible Chinese countermoves and be careful not to lock itself into a course of action that may prove detrimental if and when the game being played changes. And, of course, it is necessary for the United States to both recognize that China is not obligated to play the same game the United States chooses and to understand that such a situation would lead to potential disconnects that would need to addressed. Furthermore, once a game is chosen and is being played, the United States will continue to face choices about its specific set of actions. These choices will require the United States to prioritize different aspects of its power. Given these uncertainties, it will be prudent for the United States to hedge.

The United States and China have largely confined themselves to Game 2—The Battle over a Third Party—and the impact of PLAAF modernization has been widely evaluated through this lens. PLAAF modernization does have a direct impact on this game—and a negative impact for the United States if it does not take steps to counteract it—but the only way that modernization shifts the overall military balance across the spectrum of possible games is if the United States holds all other factors in its relationship with China constant. There is no reason for the United States to do so. The United States can define which game it is going to play by what it chooses to address as important. And in that context, the United States has a wide range of options that do not neces­sarily require a new force structure or more defense expenditures, but instead may call for an altered military and political emphasis.

The bottom line for the Chinese is that PLAAF modernization is con­tributing to conditions that compel a reaction from the United States. If the United States chooses to continue to play the same game in the same way it has since the end of the Cold War, the results may be to China’s advantage. But if the United States chooses to play another game where its significant military and political assets can be more fully utilized, PLAAF modernization may lead to a Pyrrhic victory for the Chinese.31

The U. S. bottom line is the recognition that there is no compelling rea­son for it to maintain its current game. Instead, it is extremely prudent for the Nation’s policy and military planners to assess the current situation and deter­mine if another course should be pursued. This is because once the current equilibrium with China is interrupted, as it inevitably will be, the situation will shift and it is difficult to predict the course that events will take from that point.

If the United States does not then already have a plan in place or if the issue has not already been extensively discussed, the Nation’s leaders could be pushed by the domestic political climate, fiscal constraints, or a variety of other factors to make a choice they would not have otherwise made. This type of sit­uation would be metastable, and because of that lack of stability, it is a situa­tion that could be significantly impacted by small military changes on the Chi­nese side. The United States must be aware that it will be necessary to make a decision before it reaches any such tipping point. Otherwise, the United States could be forced into making not only a nonoptimal decision as to which game it is going to play and how it is going to play it, but a nonsatisfactory one as well.

Xu and Ma: Two Remarkable Careers

Xu and Ma are believed to share similar career advancement paths. They both joined the air force and became jet pilots in the mid-1960s (Ma in 1965 and Xu in 1967) and have a very similar and impeccable track record in mili­tary service. They both enjoy sports, particularly basketball.

Xu has enjoyed good fortune while in the air force. After graduation from the 8th Aviation Academy in 1969 he became a fighter pilot in the Inde­pendent Detachment of Air Force (AF) Division 4. This detachment was a bat­talion unit, but had regiment rank. As a result, Xu skipped the conventional regiment step on his way up. He was made commander of the 26th Division at 33 years of age and deputy corps commander of the 4th Corps (later reorganized as the PLAAF’s Shanghai Commanding Headquarters) at just age 34 in 1984, becoming the youngest army-level commander of the PLA at the time. He became commander of the new 8th Corps (deployed in Fujian for Taiwan mis­sions) at the age of 40 in 1990, still holding the record of youngest corps com­mander to this day. In 1994, he became chief of staff of the air force, achieving the crucial deputy MR rank. In 1999 the PLA leadership transferred him to the Shenyang MR as deputy commander. In 2004, he was made the PLAs deputy chief of general staff, a full MR rank post. Three years later, he became air force commander, the fourth youngest PLAAF commander following Liu Yalou, Wu Faxian, and Ma Ning (Ц’т), and thus a member of the CMC as well.11

Ma was born in 1949 and quickly proved a model officer. In 1972, because of his birth date, he was selected to appear in a documentary film As the Same Age of the Republic, representing the PLA. Thereafter he entered the fast track of promotion. He became commander of the 72d Regiment in 1973, at the age of 23(!), and then, a decade later, was promoted to deputy com­mander of the 24th Air Force Division, part of the 6th Corps, at 34. In 1995, he became commander of the 10th Corps, and then, just 2 years later, the PLA leadership promoted him to deputy chief of staff for the PLAAF. Only a year later, he was transferred to be chief of staff of Guangzhou Air Force Region.12

The Guangzhou transfer was unusual, in that he moved at the same rank. Seldom is a transfer from the center to the region at this level made with­out a promotion. But even this reflected his favored status, for the underlying reason was to broaden Ma’s command experience and familiarity with opera­tional combat units in different war zones. Two years later, in 1999, he was pro­moted to the position of deputy commander of Lanzhou MR, and commander of Lanzhou Air Force Region, making the crucial climb into the deputy MR rank. Within 2 years he was transferred to be deputy commander of Nan­jing MR and commander of PLAAF Nanjing Region. In 2003 he became dep­uty PLAAF commander. In 2006 he assumed the presidency of the National Defense University, thus entering the full MR rank. The following year he was given his current position as the PLAs executive deputy chief of general staff.

It is very interesting to compare Xu and Ma’s career paths, something that can shed a lot of light on PLA elite selection, advancement, and career termination. From the information mentioned above, it is clear that both Xu and Ma were identified early by the air force and the CMC as candidates for top leadership. They had excellent performance qualifications, were top-grade fighter pilots тЮ, and were well respected by their peers and subor­

dinates. Both Xu and Ma piloted J-10s, Su-27s, and Su-30s to gain first-hand experience with these aircraft.

Yet, in this invisible race, Ma was left behind, virtually from the starting point. There are some clues why. First, Xu served in one of the PLAAF’s elite fighter divisions, while Ma’s was a relatively less prestigious one. This gave Xu an advantage in attracting the attention of the PLA/PLAAF leadership. Later his 8th Corps was deployed in a key strategic location—Fujian, near the Taiwan Strait—where it was on constant combat readiness, while Ma’s corps was based in more distant Hebei with more routine service. Second, Xu’s skip of the regi­mental step in the upward ladder allowed him to enter the cadre reserve list of the military region earlier than Ma. Therefore, once there was an opportunity for promotion, Xu was the first to be considered. Third, Xu served in the 4th Corps (later the Air Force Shanghai Commanding Headquarters (±ЖЙЩн№ W) as its chief of staff. This corps historically produced many more key PLAAF leaders (for example, Gao Houliang [ЛЩЙ], Qao Qingchen [^>ій], and Han

Decai [ШШШ]) than Ma’s 6th and 10th Corps. These leaders naturally favored subordinates following the same career track. Fourth, Xu was younger than Ma by 1 year, a seemingly small difference, but one that could be a key cut-off fac­tor in Chinese Communist Party (CCP)/PLA succession politics.13

Thus, Xu accelerated ahead of Ma as early as the late 1980s, even though Ma’s own upward progression was a veritable “helicopter” compared with his peers. Xu acquired deputy corps rank about a decade earlier than Ma (1983 versus 1993). When Xu became the PLAAF chief of staff in 1994, Ma was only chief of staff of the 10th Corps. This was a crucial difference, as Xu entered the CMC cadre management list while Ma stayed in the air force list. The gap was finally closed on the eve of the 16th National Party Congress as both were at the same military rank: Ma was then Nanjing MR deputy commander and its air force chief, and Xu held the same ranks in Shenyang. At the congress, they were both elected to be CC members, and thus equal to the parallel third – most-important personages in the air force (the first two CC members being the commander and political commissar of the PLAAF).

But when the selection of the PLAAF commander came down to Xu and Ma, Xu’s early seniority over Ma played a crucial role in his promotion. This dif­ference is a huge one, because Xu as a CMC member is ranked as the leader of the PLA (¥S^#), while Ma can only be dubbed the leader of a headquarters (йнШЮ. It is interesting to watch if Ma can again match up with Xu in the forthcoming PLA leadership reshuffle. Certainly in no aspect is Ma inferior in ability and performance to Xu. Their relative career progression is evidence, yet again, that sometimes the factor of luck is more important than anything else.

China’s Quest for Advanced Aviation Technologies

Phillip C. Saunders and Joshua K. Wiseman

Although China continues to lag approximately two decades behind the world’s most sophisticated air forces in terms of its ability to develop and pro­duce fighter aircraft and other complex aerospace systems, it has moved over time from absolute reliance on other countries for military aviation technol­ogy procurement to a position where a more diverse array of strategies can be pursued. Steps taken in the late 1990s to reform China’s military aviation sector demonstrated an understanding of the problems inherent in high-tech­nology acquisition, and an effort to move forward.1 However, a decade later it remains unclear how effective these reforms have been. Where are the Peo­ple’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and China’s military aviation indus­try headed? What obstacles must be overcome for China to join the exclusive ranks of those nations possessing sophisticated air forces and aviation indus­tries capable of producing world-class aircraft? Answering these and related questions is at the heart of this study. Because advanced fighter aircraft exem­plify the most sophisticated level of aerospace technology, are important for air force combat capabilities, and present unique design and fabrication chal­lenges for a military aviation industry, the authors’ analysis focuses primarily on China’s efforts to acquire, produce, and develop fighter aircraft and related technology. It also includes some discussion of bombers, transports, and air­borne early warning aircraft where relevant to Chinese technology develop­ment and acquisition efforts.