Category The Chinese Air Force

Airpower Thought and Employment Since Desert Storm

The dramatic effectiveness of coalition operations in Desert Storm set off a heated debate between U. S. military professionals as to which element of the plan was most responsible for the triumph. The Air Force was ebullient, its sen­timent captured by the U. S. Air Force Historian Richard P Hallion who wrote “Simply (if boldly) stated, airpower won the Gulf war”68 Army leaders, on the other hand, argued that airpower alone had failed to achieve coalition objec­tives—after 38 days of concentrated bombing, Iraqi forces remained in Kuwait until rooted out by ground forces. Even within the Air Force, officers debated whether the war’s successful outcome resulted more from the application of air – power against strategic targets or in support of coalition ground forces before and after the ground offensive began.69 Some maintained that Desert Storm sig­naled the onset of a “military-technical revolution” or “revolution in military affairs” (later simply called, “transformation”), while others argued it was just another benchmark in the evolutionary advance of U. S. military technologi­cal capabilities. But wherever individual airmen stood in the debate, the one thing on which nearly all of them agreed was that airpower had been instru­mental in winning the Gulf War and was destined to be the decisive force in all future conflicts. Afterward, two coercive air operations in the troubled Balkans not only reinforced airmen’s conviction that airpower had become the premier expression of American military might, but also convinced some U. S. politi­cal leaders, for the first time since the Vietnam War, that airpower could be wielded as a potent and convenient instrument of political coercion.

From August 30 to September 14, 1994, NATO carried out Operation Deliberate Force, the air campaign against Serbian forces in the Bosnian civil war. This operation was NATO’s response to a series of Serbian atrocities over the preceding months, which included attacks on UN peacekeepers and the sacking of Srebrenica, and culminated with the August 28 shelling of a Sara­jevo marketplace, killing 37 civilians and wounding 85 others.70 Over the next two weeks U. S. and allied aircraft struck Serbian military positions, allowing a combined ground force of Croatians, Bosnian Croats, and Bosnian Muslims to make territorial advances against the Serbs and ultimately compelling Ser­bian leaders to accept a NATO-brokered partition plan and enter formal peace negotiations in Dayton, Ohio.71 In this case, airpower was applied against oper­ational military forces in a way that created strategic effects.

Four and a half years later, NATO carried out another coercive air cam­paign, Operation Allied Force, in response to Serbia’s refusal to accept UN accords regarding the treatment of Albanian Muslim citizens in Kosovo. In this operation, running from March 24 to June 10, 1999, NATO air forces began by bombing Serbian army units in the province of Kosovo and then, as more strike aircraft arrived in theater, escalated the campaign in intensity and target selec­tion, moving to industrial and infrastructure targets in Serbia proper. After 78 days of bombing, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic withdrew his army and paramilitary forces from Kosovo and agreed to NATO terms. Although Milosevic’s capitulation was undoubtedly influenced by factors in addition to the bombing, airmen were quick to point out that, unlike prior cases, in this episode, conventional airpower had brought an adversary to terms before ground forces were engaged in the fight.72 Here, airpower was applied as an independent instrument, and it only achieved its effect after being redirected from tactical military targets to those historically categorized as “strategic.”

The consistency with which U. S. airpower was successfully employed in the 1990s only added to a growing confidence fostered by advances in technol­ogy during that period, resulting in acceleration in the development of war­fighting theory. The dramatic outcome of the Gulf War had already convinced many analysts that the combined effects of stealth technology and precision weapons had placed the United States on the cusp of a military transforma­tion. In the several years following the Gulf War, the United States crossed additional technological thresholds, adding even more to its military capabili­ties. The global positioning system (GPS) satellite constellation achieved full operational capability in 1995, providing precise position, navigation, and tim­ing data everywhere in the world and empowering a new generation of all­weather precision-guided munitions. Conventional forces were granted much more access to near real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data, providing them greater situational awareness than most adversar­ies they expected to encounter in future wars. And advances in computer net­working, supported by a worldwide, omni-present backbone of satellite com­munications, enabled an ever-increasing ability to network operational forces together to share situational awareness and coordinate their actions in high­speed maneuver warfare. All of this fed a new generation of transformation theory based on concepts of network-centric warfare (later called net-centric warfare or NCW) in which every platform would be a sensor and all operators would share information in near real-time.

Network-centric warfare marked a further convergence of airpower thought. It was theorized that command-and-control hierarchies would flat­ten to accelerate decisionmaking and flexibility, thereby maximizing the abil­ity to respond to rapid changes in the operational environment.73 Whether this is so, advocates and critics alike have since argued that such flattening would also effectively erase the lines between the operational and strategic levels of war. Strike aircraft directly supporting surface forces would create strate­gic effects. Aircraft striking strategic targets, such as command-and-control nodes, would often do so to inhibit the enemy’s ability to coordinate its mili­tary forces, thereby creating operational effects. All the while, networked sen­sors and communications would empower command authorities to monitor tactical operations in real-time and govern them directly whenever they chose to do so.74

These ideas had profound implications for the concept of airpower. As airpower is the most flexible, responsive, and far-ranging means of applying kinetic force, it would constitute the primary strike element of NCW in all applications across the breadth and depth of the battlespace. Airpower is fun­gible in target selection—strike assets tasked to service operational targets can be re-tasked against high-priority strategic targets en route when network sen­sors detect perishable intelligence on their whereabouts. In fact, strikers can be tasked against operational and strategic targets in the same sortie and can even launch before tasking and take target direction en route or while loitering in the battlespace. In the NCW concept, operational and strategic applications of airpower converge as one. Airpower as a concept was finally approaching unity… at least in theory.

Personnel Management System, Mobilization, and Reserve Forces

The PLAAF’s personnel management system (A#®l) consists of sepa­rate organizations for the officer (cadre) corps and the enlisted force. The Polit­ical Department’s Cadre Department down to the regiment level is responsible for managing officer records, promotions, and appointments.121 Meanwhile, the Headquarters Department’s Military Affairs Department is responsible for managing the enlisted force records and appointments, while the political offi­cer system is responsible for gathering information on the enlisted personnel, and the Party Committee system is responsible for their promotions. One key point is that the PLAAF does not have a central promotions board. Instead, the Party Committee at the corps to regiment levels is responsible for promoting all officers and enlisted personnel at the next lower level.122 One of the reasons for this is that most personnel remain in the same unit most of their career.

The Air Force Encyclopedia has several entries for the PLAAF’s mobiliza­tion system (ййІФФО reserve forces (й^ЛИШ).123 The PLAAF’s mobiliza­tion system consists of an air force mobilization organization and reserve forces, which support the air force’s reserve power transition from peacetime to wartime, and for its personnel, materials, and financial power to serve operations.124 In the 1950s, the PLAAF created a Mobilization Division (^M&) within the Head­quarters Department and a similar organization in each Headquarters Depart­ment down to the regiment level. In 1998, however, the PLAAF abolished all of these organizations and placed the mobilization responsibility under the Military Affairs Department within the Headquarters Department. In 2002, the Mobiliza­tion Department created an Air Force National Defense Mobilization Committee Comprehensive Office (^¥ВК^М©М#Іт^&&Й) to manage mobilization issues. This office coordinated with the air forces Military Affairs Departments, as well as local governments and army units from the military district level down.125 PLAAF mobilization includes expanding the size of units, as well as mobilizing troops and their equipment, furnishing logistics support, and providing technical service support.126 It is not clear how much the PLAAF has been involved in mobi­lization work. Shortly after a new National Defense Mobilization Law became effective in July 2010, however, the PLAAF conducted its first-ever mobilization exercise involving militia using construction equipment to repair a “damaged air­field following a surprise enemy attack.”127

The concept of PLAAF reserve forces is fairly new. The PLAAF translates the terms houbei (й#) andyubeiyi ffiWix) as “reserve,” causing confusion when using only the English term. Houbei is a generic term for reserve forces includ­ing personnel, equipment, technology, civilian aircraft, and materials. Various definitions imply that PLAAF yubeiyi reserve personnel are part of the houbei system.128 In 2004, the PLAAF began developing reserve forces in three particu­lar areas: field station flight support personnel, surface-to-air missile regiments, and radar battalions. In January 2010, the PLAAF issued “Air Force Reserve Unit Work Regulations” codifying the changes in its organizational structure.129

Implications of the PLAAF Organizational Structure upon Its Future Development

As has been explicated, the PLAAF’s organizational structure has multiple components and layers, many of which overlap, generating redundancies. From an overall perspective, the structure has not changed appreciably over the past 30 years. While some organizations and departments have been abolished or merged as a result of force reductions, the remaining ones have stayed largely intact, serv­ing the needs of the service even as the world around it has changed dramatically.

Perhaps because of this unchanging quality, it is invariably significant— and thus important to note—when a change does occur. For example, when the PLAAF downgraded all the corps leader-grade headquarters in 2004 to either corps deputy leader-grade or division leader-grade CPs, it altered the com­mand structure vertically within the PLAAF and horizontally with the other services. Specifically, under the new structure, the division leader-grade CPs cannot command an air division, which is at the same level, or interact as an equal with a group army, which is a corps-level organization. Even the corps deputy leader-grade CPs are still not at the same level as the group armies. The PLAAF is still working out the mechanics of this major change.

Unsubstantiated reports out of Hong Kong have indicated the PLA may undergo a major restructuring to replace the seven MR Headquarters with four theater commands.130 In addition, since the PLA has already had 10 major force restructurings since the early 1950s, the last of which occurred in 2004, there is a good possibility another downsizing will occur before or shortly after the 18th Party Congress in 2012. Either or both of these events will most likely alter the PLAAF’s force structure, especially the MRAF Headquarters, with major implications for the PLAAF’s overall command and control structure.

In terms of its air order of battle, the PLAAF has reduced the num­ber of air divisions from a high of 50 in the late 1980s to 29 today. This reduction occurred in conjunction with a drop in the total number of aircraft, the incorporation of newer models, and establishing a transition training base in each of the seven MRAFs in 1986. While some air divisions today field more than one type of combat aircraft, most regiments have only one type so as to simplify logis­tics and maintenance. The new units are still in the early stages of conducting dis­similar aircraft training, but the diverse organizational structure within each air division has made it easier to do. Given the current distribution of air divisions among the seven MRAFs, the number of divisions will probably remain the same over the next decade, but the composition and number of subordinate regiments will probably change as older aircraft are taken out of the inventory and replaced by a fewer number of modern multirole aircraft.

It is not clear how many SAM units, especially long-range SAMs, the PLAAF has, but the number is apparently growing and the units are being deployed in more MRAFs.

Another important example of change is that the PLAAF has gradually incorporated its electronic countermeasures mission and organizational struc­ture with the radar forces. Significantly, the PLAAF Headquarters merged man­agement of the two types of specialty forces into an Electronic Countermeasures and Radar Department subordinate to the Headquarters Depart­

ment and combined research for them into the Air Force Radar and Electronic Countermeasures Research Institute under the Air

Force Equipment Research Academy. In addition, the Air Force Radar College has an Electronic Countermeasures Academic Department that provides

education and training for officers and NCOs assigned to operational unit elec­tronic countermeasures billets. Besides merging radar and ECM administrative and research functions as noted above, the PLAAF began merging several radar regiments into brigades during the 2003-2004 force restructuring. Although it is now easier to command more company-level radar sites as a result of information technology, the PLAAF is still concerned about span of control from a geographic perspective. Restructuring of the Equipment Department in 1998 and creation of the Equipment Research Academy in 2004 have had important implications for consolidating and managing all of the PLAAF’s equipment and weapons systems. No significant organizational changes are anticipated to these two organizations in the next 5 years. That said, however, the biggest change within this system will be the inclusion of new officers and enlisted personnel who received their undergrad­uate education at civilian academic institutions rather than PLAAF institutions.

The education and training system will most likely undergo some more restructuring over the next decade. The Air Force Engineering University was created in 1999 and the Air Force Aviation University was created in 2004 with the goal of consolidating basic education for cadets in specific fields and then providing specialty training at subordinate colleges. In addition, the Guilin Air Force College, which had always trained AAA cadets, began educating and training the PLAAF’s airborne officer cadets in 1999. Given that the goal was to have 60 percent of all new PLAAF officers in 2010 graduate from civilian colleges, including from the Defense Student Program, and that the PLA most likely did not meet this goal, the PLAAF’s academic institutions will most likely undergo some more restructuring as the number of cadets is reduced to meet the 60 percent goal.131

Finally, the PLAAF does not have an extensive reserve program, a cir­cumstance which most likely will not change over the next few years. However, following the implementation of the new National Defense Mobilization Law in July 2010, the PLAAF most likely will become more involved in mobilizing civilian organizations to support it. At the same time, however, the PLA has implemented some personnel changes that have allowed PLAAF flag officers to assume a few key national-level leadership positions as shown in table 4-7.

Table 4-7. PLAAF Officers in Key Joint Billets During the 2000s


PLAAF Officer

PLAAF Officer

CMC Member

Qiao Qingchen [2004-2007]

Xu Qiliang [2007-Present]


Xu Qiliang [2004-2007]

Ma Xiaotian [2007-Present]

Deputy, GPD

Liu Zhenqi [2006-Present]

Deputy, GLD

Li Maifu [2006-2009]

Deputy, GAD


AMS Commandant

Zheng Shenxia [2003-2007]

Liu Chengjun [2007-Present]

NDU Commandant

Ma Xiaotian [2006-2007]

NDU Political Commissar

Liu Yazhou [2010-Present]

AMS: Academy of Military Science GAD: General Armament Department

CMC: Central Military Commission GLD: General Logistics department

DCGS: Deputy Chief of the General Staff GPD: General Political Department

National Defense University


To put narrative to these data points, in 2003, the CMC appointed Lieu­tenant General Zheng Shenxia to become the first air force commandant of the PLA Academy of Military Science (AMS).132 He received his third star in 2004. Upon his retirement in 2007, another PLAAF flag officer, Lieutenant General Liu Chengjun, assumed his position, receiving his own third star in 2010. Since 2004, the commander of the PLAAF (along with the commander of the PLA Navy and Second Artillery) has been a member of the CMC—the national command authority for the PRC. General Qiao Qingchen was appointed in 2004 and was replaced by Xu Qiliang in 2007. Only two PLAAF officers, Liu Yalou (1956-1965) and Zhang Tingfa (1977-1982), had previously served as CMC members. Since 2006, the CMC has assigned the first PLAAF offi­cers as commandant and political commissar at the National Defense Uni­versity. In 2006, the CMC appointed Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian as the first PLAAF officer to serve as commandant.133 In 2007, Ma became one of the Deputy Chiefs of the General Staff with the important portfolio of intelligence and foreign affairs for the entire PLA. He received his third star in 2010 and will most likely have to retire in 2012. In 2010, the CMC appointed Lieutenant General Liu Yazhou as the first PLAAF officer to serve as NDU political com­missar. Prior to that, he was one of the PLAAF’s deputy political commissars.

Since 2006 (and as shown in table 4-7), the CMC has appointed PLAAF flag officers as one of the three or four deputy directors in the GPD and one of the four or five deputies in the GLD.134 As a result, the PLAAF is increasingly involved in developing PLA-wide policies to a greater degree than in the past; however, these do not appear to be permanent air force billets. For example, in 2006, Lieutenant General Li Maifu became the first PLAAF deputy director of the GLD. However, when he retired in late 2009 or early 2010, it does not appear that he was replaced by a PLAAF officer.135 No PLAAF (or PLAN) officers have served as a deputy in the GAD, which implies that the GAD is less “joint” than the other three general departments. Each MR Headquarters has an average of five deputy commanders. Since 1988, each MRAF commander and fleet commander has served concurrently as an MR deputy commander; however, no PLAAF offi­cers have served as the director of an MR first-level department and only a few PLAAF personnel apparently hold positions in any of the departments.136

Based on this history, if the PLA does restructure its Military Region system into strategic theaters, there is a high probability army officers will still dominate the leadership positions in the Central Military Commission, Gen­eral Departments, and Theater Headquarters, while PLAAF officers will rotate in and out as the head of the Adademy of Military Science and the National Defense University. The PLAAF will make its way onward into the 21st cen­tury, aided—and encumbered—by its unique and ever-fascinating organiza­tional structure and culture.

Sensor Architecture for Surveillance and Integrated Aerospace Defense

Over the short term, the PLA’s ability to conduct strategic and opera­tional strike missions is likely to be restricted by the limited range of its persis­tent surveillance assets. Thus, to expand its battlespace awareness, the PLA is investing in four key capabilities enabling it to monitor activities in the western Pacific, the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean:

■ near-space flight vehicles

■ space-based orbital platforms

■ airborne platforms

■ land-based over-the-horizon (OTH) and other radar systems.

The PRC has placed a relatively high priority on developing sensors for persistent surveillance from near-space. However, coverage from platforms simi­lar to satellites in low Earth orbit could offer significant improvements in resolu­tion. Duration of flight for near-space vehicles far exceeds that of unmanned aer­ial vehicles (UAVs), and their small radar and thermal cross-sections make them difficult to track and target. Powered in part by high-efficiency solar cells, near­space vehicles are viewed by PLA advocates as a relatively inexpensive means of furnishing persistent broad-area surveillance.104 Thus, over the next decade, near­space flight vehicles may emerge as a dominant PLA platform for

a persistent region-wide surveillance capability during crisis situations.105 In sum, despite the significant technical challenges that exist, the PLA and China’s de­fense R&D community have become increasingly interested in near-space flight vehicles for reconnaissance, communications relay, and electronic countermea – sures.106 For reconnaissance missions, synthetic aperture radar surveillance and electronic intelligence appear to be priorities.107

In order to overcome technical challenges, CASIC established a new re­search institute in 2005 dedicated to the design, development, and manufac­turing of near-space, lighter-than-air flight vehicles for surveillance purposes. Known as the the “068 Base Near-space Flight Vehicle R&D Center” and locat­ed in Hunan Province, its initial projects include the JK-5, JK-12, and JKZ-20 airships. The 068 Base has a cooperative R&D program with Russian counter­parts for upper atmospheric airship control systems.108

Increasingly sophisticated, space-based surveillance systems would ex­pand PLA battlespace awareness and support strike operations farther from

Chinese shores.109 Space assets enable the monitoring of naval activities in sur­rounding waters and the tracking of potentially hostile air force deployments into the region. Space-based reconnaissance systems also provide imagery nec­essary for mission planning functions, such as navigation and terminal target­ing and guidance for land attack cruise missiles (LACMs). Satellite communi­cations also offer a survivable means of communication that will become par­ticularly important as the PLA operates farther from its territory.

The PRC has embarked on a major dual-use, civil-military space pro­gram that is predominantly driven by the desire to stand among equals in the international community.110 However, as in most space programs, there is a military stake. A number of authoritative journals have advocated accelerating and expanding China’s space-based surveillance system, including the need for a “space-based theater electronic information system” covering an area of 3,000 square kilometers.111 Unverified sources indicate that a strategic cueing network for long-range precision-strike missions relies on a dual-use satellite architecture that is being implemented ahead of schedule.112

Integrated aerospace operations assume fusion of multiple sensors, in­cluding high resolution, dual-use space-based SAR, electro-optical (EO), and possibly electronic intelligence (ELINT) satellites for surveillance and target­ing. China’s space industry is reportedly nearing completion of its second-gen­eration SAR satellite, and its EO capabilities have been steadily progressing. As Chinese engineers have noted, SAR imagery is key for automated target recog­nition of ships at sea.113

While information is sparse, indications exist pointing to at least some PLA investment into developing a space-based ELINT capability.114 Prudence would suggest at least a rudimentary space-based electronic intelligence capa­bility already exists, perhaps as a package onboard a communications satellite or other space system. At least one design under evaluation is a constellation of small electronic reconnaissance satellites which can ensure precise location data and survivability. In a crisis situation, China may have the option of aug­menting existing space-based assets with microsatellites launched on solid-fu­eled launch vehicles. A new CASIC business division dedicated to microsatel – lites—the CASIC First Academy—was established in 2002. Existing and future data relay satellites and other beyond-line-of-sight communications systems could transmit targeting data to and from the theater command elements.115

Not surprisingly, radar systems constitute the foundational underpin­ning of China’s early warning network.116 The general trend is for PLA ra­dar coverage to expand upward into space and outward not just in the region but to global coverage. Chinese R&D is particularly focused on countering stealthy flight vehicles. Senior Colonel Liu Yongjian, a key air force acquisition authority responsible for technical radar requirements development, noted five priorities for radar development:

■ expansion of the radar frequency range from “microwave” frequencies toward a broader portion of the frequency spectrum

■ integration of space-based, airborne, ground-based, and maritime sensors

■ integration of infrared and laser-related sensors with passive and ac­tive radars

■ integration of radar functions, such as linking early warning and sur­veillance with seekers on strike assets

■ fusion of sensor data into an integrated network.117

The PLAAF appears to operate high-frequency (HF) skywave-exploit – ing OTH radar systems as a central element of an extended-range air defense and maritime surveillance architecture.118 Skywave OTH radar systems emit a pulse in the lower range of the frequency spectrum (3-30 MHz), which bounc­es off the ionosphere to illuminate a target—either air or surface—from the top down.119 As a result, detection ranges for wide area surveillance can extend out to 1,000 to 4,000 kilometers (620-2,480 miles).120 Able to detect stealthy air­craft, cruise missiles, and maritime surface targets, a skywave-exploiting OTH radar system could define the effective range of China’s strategic strike capa­bilities. A PLAAF unit known as the “skywave brigade” mans a watch center south of Hubei city in Xiangfan. The brigade operates transmitter and receiver sites and ionosphere measuring stations along China’s southeast coast.121

In addition to OTH systems, the PLA acquisition and technology and defense industry authorities have been examining other means to reduce the effectiveness of stealthy, low observable aircraft and other flight vehicles for at least 20 years. Technologies being developed include ultrawideband and bi – and multistatic radar systems, as well as synthetic aperture ladar systems.122

While GAD has a well-established space-tracking and control network, the PLA appears to still be working on radar systems capable of providing target queuing quality data for ballistic missile and satellite intercepts. However, a pro­totype long-range, large, phased-array radar has been used to support missile de­fense and ASAT testing over the last several years. One space surveillance radar R&D study indicated a requirement for detecting and tracking targets as small as 10 centimeters (3.93 inches) at an altitude of 500 kilometers (310 miles).123

In sum, the PLAAF, while technologically behind the U. S. Air Force and others, is nevertheless evolving into a force capable of dominating the skies around its periphery with support from the Second Artillery and information warfare assets. An aerospace campaign intended to coerce an adversary would emphasize preemption, surprise, and concentration of its most advanced assets to achieve a measure of shock. In order to effectively guide such a campaign, command and control would be centrally planned and executed by the Joint Theater Command, and supported by other joint command systems, including a joint Firepower Command Center, as well as command centers that would oversee component operations of the PLAAF and the Second Artillery.

Current PLAAF Doctrine

Chinese military doctrine is codified in “campaign guidance” and “com­bat regulation” ($-4^"Ф) documents, equivalent to the U. S. Department of Defense’s Joint Publication (JP) doctrinal series. China’s Central Military Com­mission issues campaign guidance documents for each of its services, including the PLAAF, as well as a joint campaign guidance document. The PLAAF thus does not have the freedom of doctrinal development that, for example, the U. S. Air Force does with its Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) series. The PLA – rooted PLAAF campaign guidance includes “standard military guidelines for PLAAF campaign operations” and is the “fundamental basis for the Air Force campaign group to organize campaign operations and exercises.”59 Signed in 1999 by China’s top military leadership, its contents are said to include the nature of air force campaigns, basic campaign types, and campaign principles; air force campaign organization for command and coordination mechanisms; the campaign guiding thought, operational tasks, and operational methods for air force offensive campaigns, defensive campaigns, air blockade campaigns, and coordination with ground, naval, and Second Artillery Force campaign operations; campaign electronic countermeasures; campaign airborne duties and demands; and requirements and basic methods of campaign operational support: logistic support, armament support, and political support.60

In addition to its overall campaign guidance, the PLAAF has combat regulations for “composite force combat” (£^і&4^Ф) and for fighter avia­tion, attack aviation, bomber aviation, reconnaissance aviation, transport avia­tion, SAM, AAA, airborne, electronic warfare (EW), radar, communications, chemical warfare defense, and technical reconnaissance force combat.61 Like the campaign guidance, however, the combat regulation documents are clas­sified. Any information on the PLAAF’s doctrine, therefore, must be derived from reference works and textbooks that are believed to be based on and con­sistent with these documents, but cannot be regarded as equivalent to them.62

Current Organizational Structure

The PLAAF’s organizational structure is a complicated one.4 The 2002 and 2008 editions of China’s National Defense state: 5

Concerning the PLA Air Force organizational structure, the Air Force practices a leadership system that combines operational command with Air Force building and management. The organizational system consists of Air Force Headquarters, seven Military Region Air Force Headquarters, [deputy] corps – and division-level command posts (CPs), divisions, bri­gades, and regiments. The Air Force [has] four branches—aviation, sur­face-to-air missile (SAM), antiaircraft artillery (AAA), and airborne—plus five types of specialty forces—communications, radar, electronic counter­measures, chemical defense, and technical reconnaissance. The Air Force also has education, research, testing, and training institutions.

According to PLAAF writings, the air force’s organizational structure or military system (Й¥¥$І) consists of 11 components, each of which has various subcomponents, some of which overlap.6 These are the organizational system (ШІР4Ф$І);7 leadership and command system (^Й^ІнШФФІ);8 estab­lishment (e. g., table of organization and equipment / TOE) system (^$J);9 edu­cation and training system (ЙМЛІШФ®);10 scientific research system (f4^W ір4Ф®І);п political work (ШпІІ^);12 logistics support (йШЖШФ®);13 equipment management (^^вИФ®);14 equipment technical support (S^S ARB);15 personnel management (A#®!);16 and mobilization (ййІФФІ) and reserve forces (й^ЛИй).17 Each is subsequently examined.18

PLAAF Aircraft and Weapons in Service5

Q-5. The last second-generation aircraft in combat service with the PLAAF is the Q-5 Fantan. The Q-5 evolved from the J-6, which itself was a Chinese-pro­duced MiG-19; it first flew in 1965 and entered service in 1970. In keeping with what we will see is PLAAF practice, the Q-5—nearly obsolescent already by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or Warsaw Pact standards at the start of its operational career in China—has been modified and updated several times over the years. The newest variant, the Q-5L, has been fitted with a conformal belly fuel
tank and a laser designator under the nose, and Chinese Internet photos show it equipped with a targeting pod on a ventral pylon and laser-guided bombs hung on the wings. Despite its age, the Q-5L could be an effective light attack aircraft if employed in a very forgiving air defense environment.

Подпись:Подпись:Подпись: — — TOTALimage3"1st Generation

2d Generation 3d Generation 4th Generation

J-7. A reverse engineered MiG-21, the J-7 Fishbed was put into produc­tion in the early 1960s, entered PLAAF service in 1965, and has since been pro­duced in a bewildering variety of subtypes.6 It is still the most numerous type of fighter in the PLAAF’s inventory; the latest (and probably last) model, the J-7G, first flew as recently as 2002. In production for nearly 4 decades—a time span that likely will never be approached, let alone surpassed, by another com­bat aircraft—the J-7 has been improved over time, including several upgrades to its radar, addition of a head-up display (HUD) and other updated avion­ics, a larger, double-delta wing, and integration of more modern air-to-to air missiles (AAMs), including the infrared (IR)-guided PL-8. Production of the J-7G reportedly continued at least into 2009.

J-8. Originally an enlarged, twin-engine development of the J-7, the J-8 Finback is yet another PLAAF aircraft that has been progressively upgraded since its introduction in 1981.7 A major redesign was undertaken in the late 1980s, which saw the forward fuselage with its MiG-21-style nose intake give
way to one featuring a solid nose—accommodating a more powerful radar— and two lateral air intakes, one on each side of the aircraft. It is this version, the J—8II or J-8B, which continues to serve and has also been the platform for several generations of progressively more capable models. The latest con­firmed variant is the J-8F, which has been equipped with new cockpit avionics, more powerful engines, and a probe for in-flight refueling.8 The most signifi­cant upgrade is the installation of a newer radar that enables employment of the PL-12 active homing radar-guided “fire and forget” medium-range AAM (MRAAM). Although not as capable as the most modern aircraft in its arsenal, these late-generation J-8s provide the PLAAF another, presumably cheaper, platform capable of using its most up-to-date air-to-air weapons.

JH-7. The JH-7 Flounder is an indigenously designed twin-engine attack fighter that entered PLAAF service by 2004.9 The current production model is the JH-7A, equipped with improved radar, digital flight controls, and modernized cockpit instrumentation. The aircraft’s empty weight has been reduced via utilization of composite materials and the number of stores hard – points increased from 7 to 11. The JH-7A can be equipped with navigation, targeting, and data link pods mounted under the forward fuselage and is capa­ble of carrying a wide array of land attack and maritime strike weapons of both Chinese and Russian origin. It, too, has been photographed carrying the PL-12 MRAAM. There are reports that a second update, the JH-7B—with improved engines and some radar signature reduction—is under development, although no solid evidence of this has yet appeared.

J—10. The J—10 is a single-engine multirole aircraft developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC). First flown in March 1998, the J-10 reportedly entered PLAAF service in 2003. A tailless design with canard foreplanes, the J-10 strongly resembles the cancelled Israeli Lavi fighter though it is unclear how much design assistance, if any, CAC received from either Israel or Russia (although the latter has to date provided the J-10’s engine). It has 11 weapons stations and has been photographed with what appear to be navigation and targeting pods mounted ventrally just aft of the underslung air intake, and with a removable fixed air refueling probe on the starboard side of the fuselage. Around the time that the first J-10s were being deployed by operational units, development began on an upgraded version of the aircraft. Dubbed the J-10B, the new model features a simplified engine inlet ramp that reduces weight and improves the aircraft’s radar signature. The J-10B also adds an electro-optical targeting system (EOTS), visible as a bulge forward and to the starboard side of the canopy. Featuring an infrared search and track (IRST) sensor and a laser rangefinder, the EOTS allows a pilot to passively detect and target enemy air­craft without requiring telltale signals from the J-10’s radar.

Su-27SK/UBK, J-11A. The first variants of the Sukhoi Flanker to join the PLAAF were the single seat Su-27SK and the two-seat operational trainer, the Su-27UBK.10 These were also the first fourth-generation combat aircraft to enter PLAAF service when they appeared in the mid-1990s. Initially, the PLAAF purchased its Flankers from the Russian production line, but these have been supplemented over time by more than 100 aircraft built from Rus­sian-supplied kits by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC), aircraft that are designated J-11A. Chinese assembly of these J-11A kits was ended about half­way through the planned 200 aircraft run because PLAAF requirements had reportedly evolved such that the single-role air superiority Su-27/SK/J-11A no longer suited the service’s needs. As originally built, China’s Su-27SK/J-11 fighters can carry neither the Chinese PL-12 nor the Russian R-77 (AA-12) active-homing MRAAMs. There are, however, reports that at least some of these aircraft have been fitted with the radar modifications needed to fire the R-77/AA-12. Like the J-10B, all Flankers feature an EOTS mounted in front of the canopy. In an intriguing development, the PLAAF apparently sent sev­eral Su-27/J-11 aircraft to Turkey in October 2010 to participate in an exercise called “Anatolian Eagle.” This is the first time a NATO country has hosted an exercise that included the PLAAF.11

J-11B. The J-11B is SAC’s response to the PLAAF’s requirement for a true multirole Flanker variant. Based on the Su-27SK airframe, the J-11B fea­tures Chinese-manufactured engines and avionics, including indigenous radar, and can be armed with a wide variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons, including the PL-12 MRAAM. Among other improvements, SAC claims that the radar cross-section of the J-11B has been reduced by 75-80 percent from the Su – 27SK by reconfiguring the engine intakes and employing radar-absorbing paint. This degree of signature reduction may strain credulity absent more substantial changes to the airframe, but the assertion alone indicates that the PLAAF under­stands the advantages afforded by stealth. The J-11B appears to have entered PLAAF service in 2007. A two-seat version, the J-11BS, is under development.

Su-30MKK. The Su-30MKK is yet another derivative of the Flanker family, a two-seat multirole aircraft developed from the Su-27 for the PLAAF. China has reportedly purchased 76 of these Russian-manufactured fighters, which incorporate improved avionics, including a more advanced radar with improved air-to-ground capabilities. The Su-30 can be fitted with a wide array of “smart” and “dumb” weapons and munitions, and it also features a retract­able refueling probe. Licensed production of the Su-30 in China was once expected but now appears unlikely, with the two-seat J-11BS potentially occu­pying what might otherwise have been the Su-30’s “strike fighter” niche in the PLAAF force structure.12

China’s Fifth-Generation Fighter (J-20).13 The first public flight in Janu­ary 2011 of a stealthy new Chinese fighter, the J-20, came as a surprise to many observers who had agreed with then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that China would “have no fifth-generation aircraft by 2020” and only “a handful” by 2025.14 The flight took place while Gates was in China, an irony that may or may not have been intended by the Chinese.

The J-20 appears to be a large airplane, estimated to be about the size of an F-111 by at least two analysts. Its appearance shows that substantial care was taken in the design to shape the jet for low observable (LO) char­acteristics.15 At this point, all performance specifications are wholly specu­lative, but the J-20 is thought to have two internal weapons bays and to be capable of “supercruising” flight. In both regards, the aircraft resembles the USAF F-22.

Some accounts report that J-20 prototypes had been flying at a PLAAF test center for several months before the fighter’s official debut in January, and that a total of four airframes are being used in the test program.16

Late in 2009, the PLAAF’s deputy commander, General He Weirong, said that a new fighter would soon “undertake its first flight” and be in ser­vice “8 to 10 years” after that.17 This schedule would appear to bring the jet into service around 2016, earlier than previous intelligence assessments had projected.

H-6. The H-6 Badger is the PLAAF’s only true bomber, a twin-engine medium-range aircraft copied from the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 of the mid – 1950s, with which it shares the same Western reporting name, Badger. The H-6 has been built in a number of versions for both air force and naval use since its first delivery in 1969.18 The newest versions in PLAAF use are the H-6G, which is the carrier platform for China’s first air-launched land attack cruise missile (LACM), the KD-63, and the H-6K, which can carry up to six smaller Tomahawk-like LACMs. The H-6K in particular appears to be a fairly radical reworking of the Badger, with modern turbofan engines appar­ently replacing the less powerful and less efficient turbojets that powered all previous models, composite materials being used to reduce weight, a modern “glass” cockpit installation, improved avionics, and a thermal-imaging sensor under the nose.

Special Purpose Platforms. The PLAAF has long sought to acquire an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) platform along the lines of the U. S. E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). A program to buy four A-50I aircraft—a Russian Il-76 Candid airframe equipped with Israeli radar and mission equipment—collapsed in 2000 when Israel suc­cumbed to substantial U. S. pressure and dropped out of the deal. After this disappointment, China moved forward with its own aircraft, also based on the Il-76 platform, but with an indigenously developed mission suite. At least four of these KJ-2000 AWACS aircraft are in active service with the PLAAF, provid­ing it with its first sophisticated airborne battle management assets.19

Another area of interest to the PLAAF is aerial refueling, which is a necessary competence if China intends to extend the reach of its airpower beyond its immediate environs. Today, the PLAAF possesses a fairly rudi­mentary capability, owning about a dozen H-6U tankers equipped with a “probe and drogue” refueling pod under each wing. Relatively few of China’s combat aircraft can be refueled in the air: some late-model J-8s have probes fitted, and a fixed probe can be installed on the J—10. The PLAAF’s Su-30s have retractable refueling probes, but their system is allegedly not compatible with the H-6U.20

In 2005, China ordered 34 additional Il-76 Candid transports and four Il—78 Midas tankers from Russia, but none have been delivered to date due to a dispute between the Russian export company and the factory responsible for building the aircraft.21 The PLAAF needs not only additional tankers but also more strategic airlifters—if not from Russia, then from its own aviation indus­try—to achieve any aspirations it might have for possessing a credible power projection capability. In fact, a new large transport aircraft, sometimes called the “Y-20” is reportedly under development; a first flight “around 2012” has been suggested.22

The PLAAF has also developed about a dozen specialized platforms based on the Y-8 four-engine turboprop transport.23 The “Gaoxin” series includes another AEW&C aircraft, a maritime surveillance variant, an air­borne command post, and a number of platforms for various electronic war­fare functions, such as jamming and signals intelligence (SIGINT).

Unmanned Aerial Systems. Table 8-3 lists unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) deployed or under development in China. They range from a copy of the Vietnam-era U. S. Firebee reconnaissance drone to the Xianglong high-alti­tude long endurance (HALE) UAS that bears a passing resemblance to the U. S. RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Table 8-3. PLAAF Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Vehicle Designation

Vehicle Type



Mission radius (kilometers)




Armed UAS





Armed UAS





























LT series










Chang Hong*










AW series















W-50, PW-1















Soar Bird





Source: Data from Jane’s (2010) and SinoDefence{nid).

HALE: high altitude, long endurance MALE: medium altitude, long endurance MAME: medium altitude, medium endurance

MAV: micro air vehicle RPA: remotely piloted aircraft VTOL: vertical takeoff and landing

*The Chang Hong may also be referred to as the "WuZhen-5."

In the past decade, China has displayed a dizzying array of various UAS models at air and trade shows; many if not most seem never to have gone into production. A look at the table suggests that China is experimenting with many classes of UAS, mostly for surveillance and reconnaissance. Of particular interest is the Harpy, an Israeli-made antiradiation drone. It flies to a target area and loiters until an appropriate target begins to emit, at which point it dives into the target and detonates. Harpy is an interesting hybrid of UAS and cruise missile, somewhat akin to the cancelled American AGM-139A Tacit Rainbow program of the late 1980s.

Air-to-air missiles: Table 8-4 lists air-to-air missiles (AAMs) in service with the PLAAF. As can be seen, for many years the PLAAF was equipped with obsolete AAMs. Through to the mid-1980s, the most common missile in its inventory was the PL-2, a Chinese copy of the Soviet AA-2 Atoll AAM, itself a copy of the first-generation U. S. AIM-9B Sidewinder. But, in the early 1990s, this began to change. Along with Russian Su-27s came modern Rus­sian missiles: the R-27/AA-10 Alamo radar-guided medium-range air-to – air missile (MRAAM) and the R-73/AA-11, short-range AAM (SRAAM), which at the time was probably the best visual range “dogfight” missile in the world. As well, China developed two indigenous infrared homing SRAAMs, the PL-8 and PL-9. The PLAAF fielded its first indigenous MRAAM, the PL-11 semiactive radar homing missile, developed from the Italian Aspide (which Beijing had purchased in small numbers) around the turn of the cen­tury. Along with its Su-30s, China procured a number of R-77/AA-12 “fire and forget” MRAAMs from Russia. Shortly thereafter the PLAAF also began fielding the PL-12, an indigenous active-homing MRAAM compatible with most of its modern fighters.24

Table 8-4. Current PLAAF Air-to-Air Missiles


Year introduced









Copy of AIM—9B





Similar to AIM—9G





Based on Python 3









Based on AIM-7, Aspide





On Flankers





On Flankers





On Flankers





Source: JatneS (2010) ARH: active radar homing

IRH: infrared homing SARH:

semiactive radar homing

Both the AA-11 and the PL-9 are reportedly compatible with helmet – mounted sights, which allow the missile to be locked onto an air target when the pilot looks at it. When combined with the missile’s “off boresight” capabil­ity—it can be fired at targets to one side or another of the launching aircraft up to some specified limit—the sighting system streamlines the engagement dynamics of close-in aerial combat.

Looking ahead, it has been reported that China is working on at least three new AAM designs: an extended-range ramjet powered version of the PL-12, a short-range active radar homing missile, and the PL-ASR, an IR mis­sile employing thrust vector controls which would provide greater agility to the weapon.25

Air-to-surface missiles: Table 8-5 lists air-to-surface missiles (ASM) reportedly fielded by the PLAAF. They range from the Hellfire-class AR-1 to the HN-1, a Tomahawk-like long-range cruise missile (LRCM). In addition to these missiles, China is also beginning to deploy laser- and satellite-guided bombs, although it is not clear whether they are yet available in operationally significant quantities.26

Table 8-5. Current PLAAF Air-to-Surface Missiles










Semiactive laser


10 AP



INS/passive radar


87kg HE










512 HE





400 HE/SM

Source: Jane’s{2010).

AP: armor-piercing ARM: antiradiation missile ATGM: antitank guided missile

EO: electro-optical GPS: global positioning system HE: high explosive

INS: inertial navigation system LACM: land attack cruise missile RF: radio frequency

SM: submunition TERCOM: terrain comparison and matching

*The KD—63 is also referred to as the YJ-63.

Surface-to-air missiles. The PLAAF operates China’s long-range strate­gic surface-to-air missiles (SAMs); as table 8-6 shows, these are a mix of indig­enous and Russian designs. While the HQ-2 is obsolete, the HQ-9, HQ-12, and SA-300 variants are all very capable systems. Of particular interest is the HQ-12, which appears to have been designed expressly to attack AWACS – type aircraft and jamming platforms; it is unique in being a surface-to-air anti­radiation missile (ARM). The table includes the new S-400 SAM system that has entered service in Russia. No exports of this very long-range SAM—the intended successor to the S-300 series—are as yet reported, but China, which is said to have paid for a substantial portion of the system’s development, is likely to be an early customer for it.

Table 8-6. Current PLAAF Surface-to-Air Missiles









Similar to Russian S-75/SA-2




Similar to French Crotale


Track via missile


Merges S-300 / Patriot technology


Inertial navigation system / passive radar


Targets airborne warning and control, electronic warfare aircraft


Radar homing


5V55RUD missile


Track via missile


48N6E missile


Track via missile


48N6E2 missiles


Inertial navigation system / command / radar

up to 400

9M96, 40N6 missiles

Source: Jane’s (2010)

Measuring Up: The PLAAF’s Equipment versus the United States

Consider the circumstances had U. S. and Chinese fighter pilots encountered one another in the skies near Taiwan in 1995. The American would have been flying a fourth-generation F-15, F-16, or F/A-18, armed with AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs) and AIM-9L/M short-range air-to-air missiles (SRAAMs). The U. S. pilot would almost certainly have been supported by a controller in an E-3 AWACS, and would have found a KC-135 tanker orbiting nearby in the event that fuel became an issue.

For his part, the PLAAF pilot would most likely have flown a MiG-21 variant without any medium-range missiles, being armed instead with only obsolescent PL-2 or PL-5 short-range IR weapons. While a ground control­ler back on the mainland would have helped manage and inform the PLAAF pilot’s sortie, that controller’s picture of the relevant airspace would have been substantially inferior to the one being monitored inside the AWACS as it cruised high above. And there would have been no tankers available to pro­vide additional fuel should that have been necessary or desirable. In short, the Chinese airman would have been flying an obsolete aircraft carrying anti­quated missiles, have modest situational awareness, and, as is discussed else­where, would himself have been the product of inferior training and prepara­tion compared to the U. S. pilot. Thus, he would have been overmatched and outgunned.27

Now fast-forward 15 years. While the U. S. pilot would most likely be in essentially the same plane with essentially the same weapons and essentially the same support, the picture on the PLAAF side would be very different. Consider the following changes:

The PLAAF Now Has Platforms Comparable to U. S. Platforms

The PLAAF’s Su-27/J-11s are often compared to the U. S. F-15, the J—10 to the F-16, and the Su-30 to the F-15E. As table 8-7 shows, these compar­isons are not far-fetched; though hardly identical, the two sides’ jets clearly seem to fill parallel slots in their respective force structures.

Table 8-7. USAF vs. PLAAF Fourth-Generation Fighters


Initial operational capability










Up to 8 air-to-air missiles





Up to10 air-to-air missiles





11,113 kilograms





8,000 kilograms





4,200 kilograms





4,500 kilograms

Source: Jane’s (2010)

The similarities between each side’s “fourth-gen” fighters go beyond static comparisons of size and payload. Plotted in figure 8-2 are two factors for each of eight aircraft: weight-to-thrust and wing loading. The first shows the relation­ship between an aircraft’s weight and the power of its engines, and the second the relationship between its weight and the surface area of its wings.28 These fac­tors help determine a fighter’s maneuverability in both the horizontal (banks and turns) and vertical (climb and dive) dimensions. Lower is better for each factor, so the farther down and to the left an aircraft lies, the better.

Unsurprisingly, the USAF F-22—seen in the figure’s lower left corner— is superior on both counts; in the upper right are the F-16C and the F/A— 18E/F, which trail the pack in these two regards. Clustered in the middle are five aircraft, the F-15C, F-15E, F-35, J—10, and J—11, which are in more or less the same neighborhood on these two important characteristics. While weight – to-thrust ratio and wing loading vary over the course of a mission as fuel is burned and ordnance expended, these platforms themselves start out broadly similar in these important factors.

Figure 8-2. Weight-to-Thrust Ratio and Wing Loading, PLAAF vs. U. S. Fighters


W/T (kg/kn)

Source: Jane’s(2010)

The J-10B and Flanker variants are equipped with passive IRSTs. These sensors can permit a pilot—without emitting a radar signal— to detect another aircraft by “seeing” the heat from its engines, the friction produced as it moves through the air, or the heat signature from the launch of a powered missile. Sukhoi claims that the OLS-35—developed for its Su-35 advanced Flanker— has a front hemisphere detection range of 50 kilometers (30+ miles), and as much as 90 kilometers (55+ miles) in the rear hemisphere, where it is “look­ing” at the hot exhaust of a target aircraft.29 While the OLS-27 and OLS-30 that equip China’s Su-27/J-11s and Su-30s, respectively, are less capable, it is worth noting that no current generation U. S. fighter has an IRST at all, not even the F-22.30 The forthcoming F-35 (now in advanced flight testing) will mount an IRST, and programs are underway to retrofit both the F-15C and F/A-18E/F.31

Airpower in Overseas Contingency Operations: Theory Meets Reality

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, put the United States in a quandary. An elusive nonstate actor based in Afghanistan, a country very difficult for the United States to reach with conventional military power, had confronted the Nation with deadly force. When Taliban authorities in Kabul refused to arrest and extradite Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, the Bush administration decided that the United States would use military force to impose regime change on Afghanistan and bring the terrorists to jus­tice. But that raised the question of how it could do that in a timely manner in a region of the world that was so inaccessible. After considering the options, U. S. leaders decided to conduct an air campaign against the Taliban and send paramilitary and special operations forces to fund and advise the Northern Alliance—a collection of militant factions that had for several years waged an unsuccessful civil war—and provide them air support in an effort to change the balance of power in Afghanistan.75

The campaign was a rapid success. On October 7, 2001, Operation Enduring Force began with airstrikes against air defense, command-and-con – trol, and other military targets in and around Kabul. Over the next 2 weeks the target list expanded, and on October 28, with heavy U. S. air support, the Northern Alliance launched a major offensive, which culminated on Novem­ber 13 when the Taliban was driven out of Kabul. U. S.-led military operations continued the rest of that year and into the next to mop up fleeing enemy forces and pockets of resistance, but unfortunately, bin Laden and other key al Qaeda and Taliban leaders evaded capture.76

Airpower continued its triumphal performance in conventional opera­tions. When the Bush administration later decided to impose regime change on Iraq, the successful use of airpower in support of indigenous forces in Afghan­istan prompted a debate about whether to use a similar approach against the Baathist regime. Kurdish factions in northern Iraq had challenged Baghdad authority for years, and some analysts argued that, empowered by U. S. mili­tary advisors and airpower, the Kurds could defeat Saddam’s forces just as the Northern Alliance had defeated the Taliban.77 Further study, however, con­vinced U. S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the Iraqi army was too large and heavily armed for the Kurds to defeat by themselves, even with U. S. air support. Therefore, while he did agree to provide Kurdish forces U. S. advisors and air support to engage the Iraqi forces in the northern sector of the country, Rumsfeld ordered USCENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks to plan a conventional invasion of southern Iraq to defeat the main force of the Iraqi army and capture Baghdad.

Once again, U. S. leaders wanted to move more quickly than a typical deployment would allow. Even before September 11, Rumsfeld had reviewed Operation Plan (OPLAN) 1003-98, the standing war plan for Iraq, and found it unsatisfactory. Largely a replay of the first Gulf War, it called for a time­consuming deployment of about half a million troops. The Secretary worried that such an approach would allow Saddam time to manipulate world opin­ion against the United States and also threaten U. S. forces and regional friends with weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, his instructions to Franks called for an innovative plan employing a much smaller force focusing on speed, surprise, and shock. The objective would be to quickly decapitate Iraq—that is, either kill Saddam and other key Baathist leaders, or sever their ability to com­mand and control their forces—and so shock the regime that it would collapse, capitulate, or fall to a popular uprising.78

Sixteen months after planning began, time consumed largely in efforts to raise a coalition and get UN approval for the use of force, U. S. and coali­tion forces executed Operation Iraqi Freedom. On March 18, 2003, a day after President Bush issued a 48-hour ultimatum, U. S. leaders received intelligence that Saddam was staying at Dora Farm, one of his properties outside Bagh­dad. The President authorized a strike on that location, which was carried out with Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision-guided munitions dropped from F-117 fighters, on March 19, immediately after the ultimatum expired. Saddam was not at Dora Farm when the strike occurred. The ground invasion began on March 20, and the full-fledged air attack kicked off about 12 hours after that.79

The air strategy for Operation Iraqi Freedom supported the Army’s AirLand Battle Doctrine-based ground scheme of maneuver and also strongly reflected Warden’s theory that parallel attacks would cause strategic paralysis, the general principle of which, by then, had been accepted as U. S. Air Force doctrine. According to Bob Woodward, who interviewed White House and Pentagon officials after the war, planners organized the targets for kinetic, elec­tronic, and information attacks into nine prioritized groups according to what they believed to be Iraq’s centers of gravity. Strikingly similar to the five-ring diagram that Warden used to prioritize the COGs in his theory, the nine COG categories identified for Iraqi Freedom were:80

■ The leadership, the real inner circle of Saddam and his sons, Uday and Qusay

■ Internal security and the regime intelligence, including the close-in ring of bodyguards in the Special Security Organization (SSO); the command, control, and communications network

■ Weapons of mass destruction infrastructure

■ Missile production, maintenance, and delivery capability

■ The Republican Guard divisions and the Special Republican Guard that protected Baghdad

■ Land territory inside Iraq where pressure could be exerted such as the northern Kurdish area that was effectively autonomous

■ The regular Iraqi army

■ Iraqi commercial and economic infrastructure; and the diplomatic infrastructure abroad that included Iraqi agents working out of their embassies

■ The civilian population.

As was the case in Afghanistan, the major combat operation against Iraq in March and April 2003 was a rapid success. Although the parallel attacks nei­ther caused Iraqi leaders to capitulate in shock nor paralyzed their ability to command and control their forces, the heavy aerial bombardment in coordina­tion with the rapid mechanized advance of coalition ground forces had devastat­ing effects on Iraqi regular and paramilitary forces. With Iraqi forces destroyed from the air whenever they attempted to mass and decimated by ground attack whenever they dispersed, coalition ground forces easily overcame all resistance in their drive to Baghdad. The operations plan had projected up to 125 days of “decisive combat operations” to defeat Iraq, but U. S. Marines were helping Iraqi citizens pull down a statue of Saddam in downtown Baghdad on April 9, only 20 days after the invasion began.81 Three weeks after that, on May 1,2003, President Bush declared Operation Iraqi Freedom successfully accomplished.

Fighting amorphous groups of unconventional adversaries poses its own frustrations. One could argue that stability operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have gone almost as poorly as the major combat operations of 2001 and 2003 went well. While analyzing the many problems encountered in those efforts is a challenge beyond the reach of this paper, it is worth considering the frustrations that they have presented to the U. S. and allied air forces involved. Counterin­surgency, stability, and nation-building operations are intrinsically ground­intensive efforts, with Army and Marine forces taking the lead. But military leaders have occasionally resorted to using air strikes with precision munitions against known or suspected terrorist safe houses, sometimes in urban areas, in efforts to kill key enemy leaders. Unfortunately, such actions have often proven counterproductive, with civilian casualties publicized on CNN and al Jazeera, radicalizing sympathetic Muslims locally and abroad, thereby fueling further unrest and violence.82

Starting about 2004, as sectarian violence and insurgencies began to gain momentum in Iraq and Afghanistan, U. S. Air Force leaders became increas­ingly interested in finding ways that airpower could be used more effectively in support of efforts to stabilize those countries. After tasking the RAND Cor­poration to study the issue, they were informed that history has shown that insurgencies are rarely won by outside powers; therefore, the best roles the U. S. Air Force could play in counterinsurgency operations, in addition to provid­ing airlift and ISR support to coalition ground forces, would be in advising, training, and equipping partner air forces.83 Such advice is a hard pill to swal­low for a military institution whose doctrine has historically emphasized win­ning the Nation’s wars through the lethal application of airpower.

The Missions of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force

Murray Scot Tanner

This chapter analyzes the emerging missions of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). It draws on the discussions and debates over these missions contained in recent analyses of airpower and spacepower by Chinese specialists, in particular over the past half-dozen years. The chapter begins with a brief overview of the concept of the “mission” in Chinese airpower and spacepower writings.1

This chapter focuses on one of the most important themes that unify many Chinese analyses of the air force’s emerging missions—the PLAAF’s transition from an air force focused on territorial defense toward an air force that increasingly emphasizes offensive missions and trying to seize and main­tain the initiative in its combat missions.

The increased emphasis on offensive power and initiative in PLAAF missions by Chinese air – and spacepower analysts reflects their assessment of the increasing military and political utility of offensive airpower and conven­tional deterrence, which were two major lessons they have drawn from the use of airpower in the Gulf War, Kosovo, the Iraq War, and the Afghan War. The transition to offense and initiative also reflects their assessment of the mili­tary needs of China’s enduring and emerging national security interests. Coer­cive operations against Taiwan might require the PLAAF to deter or prevent U. S. naval and air forces from intervening in support of Taiwan. PLAAF ana­lysts also contend that in a Taiwan scenario, the air force must be prepared to resist what they regard as the certainty of major U. S. airstrikes against Chinese forces, and try to find a way of using these strikes to regain the initiative against U. S. forces. Chinese security analysts also argue the PLA must be prepared to deter or defend against potential attacks against China’s increasingly populous and wealthy southeastern coast, and strengthen its ability to assert China’s ter­ritorial and resource claims in its coastal waters. Some air – and spacepower analysts also see these missions contributing to China’s struggle against sepa­ratists and terrorists in China’s border regions.

This transition is particularly evident in Chinese security analysts’ discussion of three of the PLAAF’s existing or emerging missions—deter – ring infringement of China’s critical national security interests, carrying out offensive operations, and maintaining China’s air and space defenses. Fol­lowing a brief overview of the PLAAF’s concept of its missions, the chapter focuses on these three specific missions and the recent thinking by air – and spacepower analysts about how the PLAAF should deepen its orientation toward offense and initiative in pursuing these missions.