Category The Chinese Air Force

Invasion: The Ultimate Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy, Build, or Steal

Countries whose overall level of economic development and relatively backward aviation industry limit their aircraft production capability have the three basic options of purchase (buy), indigenous development (build), or espionage (steal) in their efforts to develop a modern air force. For countries in this situation, all three options have significant limitations.


Buying imported aircraft allows a developing country to obtain more advanced fighters than its indigenous aviation industry can produce. Buying complete aircraft offers a developing country a relatively fast way to build its air force’s combat capability (although in practice it may take 4 to 5 years from the time a deal is signed until a unit equipped with a new fighter reaches ini­tial operational capability). Often a deal to purchase advanced fighters includes flight training, assistance with maintenance, and the acquisition of spare parts necessary to maintain operational readiness. This can not only speed the intro­duction of the aircraft into service, but also improve the acquiring air force’s human capital and overall capabilities. Because purchasers usually have the opportunity to “fly before they buy,” there is a clearer sense of what the capa­bilities of the aircraft will be and less risk of technological failure or inadequate performance.

The disadvantages of building a modern air force using imported air­craft include the relatively high cost, limited transfer of technology to the avia­tion sector, and continuing dependence on foreign suppliers. Buyers are also limited to the aircraft that supplying companies are willing to sell; advanced countries often restrict the type of aircraft or the sophistication of avionics and weapons systems that can be exported due to strategic concerns or to maintain a technological advantage for their own air force. A common approach is to export last generation systems or watered-down versions of the most advanced fighters. This enables the United States, Russia, and European powers to main­tain a long-term competitive advantage in military aviation technology and a measure of airpower dominance over their customers.

Purchases of complete aircraft do not produce jobs or technological spin-offs for the acquiring countries (though this may be partly overcome by the use of offsets in the contract that require the seller to accept payment in the form of goods produced by the buyer). Finally, the acquiring country will usu­ally have a limited capacity to produce spare parts for an imported aircraft or to modernize its systems, resulting in long-term dependence on the seller in order to keep the aircraft flying or to update an older aircraft’s systems. This can be problematic if the seller’s economy goes through a major transition (note, for example, India’s difficulty in acquiring spare parts for its Soviet air­craft following the breakup of the Soviet Union) or if changes in political rela­tions make the supplier unwilling to continue to provide spare parts and main­tenance (compare Iran’s U. S.-built McDonnell-Douglas F-4, Northrop F-5, and Grumman F-14 aircraft following the Iranian revolution in 1979). Varia­tions on the “buy” option such as coproduction are discussed later in this study.


The pure “build” option requires planning, designing, and producing the desired fighter system utilizing only indigenous knowledge and production facilities. A developing country may invest significant resources in research and development (R&D) to build its domestic aviation technology production base. However, this requires a significant investment of both capital and human knowl­edge and presents large opportunity costs on both fronts. If a developing country seeks to push its aviation sector well beyond the technological development of its broader economy, this entails costly efforts with limited broader payoffs as scarce engineering talent and resources are focused on narrow military applications. If a developing country tries to push the overall technological capacity of the broader economy, this entails a much longer time period before improvements spill over and raise the technological level of the aviation industry.

The chief advantages of indigenous development are that a developing country can master the technologies required to design and build a fighter, limit its reliance on imported parts and technologies (and thus its potential vulnerability to a cutoff that might limit combat readiness), and diffuse some benefits of aircraft R&D and production into the broader economy (in the form of jobs and technology spin-offs). Over time, indigenous production can lay the foundation for a domestic aviation industry capable of designing, pro­ducing, and potentially exporting complete fighter aircraft.

The disadvantages are that a developing country’s aviation industry may only be able to produce low-quality aircraft with limited combat capability, that large technological hurdles and a high learning curve must be overcome to establish an advanced aviation industry, and that the long period required to learn to develop and produce a modern fighter may yield aircraft that are obsolete before they are fielded. There is also no guarantee that investments in aviation R&D and production capacity will pay off. Few defense projects his­torically have been more costly, slower, or more prone to unforeseen difficul­ties than those undertaken to produce new fighter aircraft.5 It is possible for a developing country pursuing the economic and technological spinoffs from indigenous design and production to spend much more than it would have cost to buy an advanced fighter from a foreign supplier, only to wind up with an inferior aircraft. Japan’s F-2 fighter provides a good illustration.


A developing country can use surreptitious means to steal design and technology information on aircraft and aircraft components that it lacks the knowledge to design and produce domestically. This can be accomplished using covert procurement (often through third countries), traditional espio­nage methods, or computer network intrusion methods to exfiltrate the desired information. Individuals with access to information on classified weapons sys­tems are prime targets of foreign intelligence organizations. Cyber espionage attacks against U. S. targets including military/government organizations and defense contractors have reportedly been successful in obtaining sensitive, though not classified, data.6 The “steal” option can be used to gain blueprints or examples of weapons to use in reverse engineering a subsystem or to develop countermeasures that make a threat aircraft less effective in combat.

The principal advantage of the “steal” option is the potential to acquire advanced systems or technologies that other countries are unwilling to sell. In some cases, espionage can allow a country to acquire advanced technol­ogy without spending funds on its own research and development. The dis­advantages include a developing country’s limited ability to absorb or repli­cate stolen systems and technologies without technological support from the manufacturer, the haphazard and potentially incomplete access to systems and technologies through clandestine or surreptitious means, and the potential for espionage to send a country’s aviation industry down a blind alley. In discussing the degree to which China has employed the “steal” option, we should differ­entiate its comprehensive efforts to collect and assimilate open source defense information (for example, through the China Defense Science and Technology Information Center) from its efforts to obtain restricted technologies covertly, by way of either traditional or cyber espionage. Exploiting the volumes of tech­nical open source information produced in developed countries is an effective, legitimate, and predictable way to acquire knowledge.7

Of these three main avenues to technology procurement, the “build” option is the only one with the potential to stimulate innovation and create a broad-based domestic aviation industry from a low initial starting point. The United States and Russia produce the world’s most complex fighter aircraft and, although they gained the ability in the midst of different economic and politi­cal circumstances, both were only able to reach this status through the ability to develop new technologies. Simply buying fighter aircraft from another coun­try, with no plans to reverse engineer or coproduce, does not help a develop­ing country move toward self-reliance. The steal option can have benefits if a developing country is able to obtain the information it needs without having to expend the necessary resources on R&D. However, simply possessing a blue­print does not guarantee success in reproducing the design, especially for a developing country with a limited aerospace production capacity.

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

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

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

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

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

S-300PMU-2 range

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

The Big Picture: The PLAAF Today and Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Officer Education and Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Employing the Air Force in the Taiwan Strait: Some Thoughts

As the PLA’s descriptions of amphibious landing invasion phases and scenarios are more deeply examined, considerations of employing airpower in the Taiwan Strait emerge more clearly. Reviewing all the phases of amphibious landing operations in the Taiwan Strait, we may conclude several points:

Taiwan’s purpose for employing airpower is for self-defense only, not for offense. Taiwan’s airpower forces must be employed in accordance with the agreed Taiwan defense strategy, and for the purpose of self-defense. Indeed, it may not be necessary to kill the enemy or to destroy enemy air bases, missile sites, naval ports, etc. To speak more clearly and practically, Taiwan’s purpose in employing airpower is to keep enemy forces out of its territory and lifeline. As long as the enemy does not step on Taiwan’s territory and impede its lifelines, they don’t win and Taiwan doesn’t lose, and its national security is secured. Any operations out of this scope would be a waste of resources, attrite limited assets, and could prove disastrously counterproductive. After all, national defense strategy is not about a matter of face, but about economy of force.

Taiwan must employ its airpower after the PLA initiates the first strike. To be consistent with the first point, it is impossible to apply airpower to attack the enemy prior to its first move. The reason is simple: Taiwan can’t afford the international liability of initiating the war. During the period of any preliminary operations and the embarkation phase, all targets are shielded under the PLAs layered and integrated air defense umbrella. Taiwan would need to penetrate these defenses prior to prosecuting any attacks on those radars, missile sites, and air force bases—facilities that are typically hardened or well-protected by intensive air defense firepower. It is most unwise to conduct such a mission, which would simply consume Taiwan’s airpower assets for nothing in return. Even in the name of a preemptive defense attack (such as Israel conducted in June 1967 against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan), it is unnecessary. Indeed, any Tai­wan offensive operations prior to the PLAs first raid would furnish an excuse for the PRC to invade Taiwan and thus work to legitimize the invasion.

Retaining substantial airpower is dependent upon Taiwan’s critical air assets surviving the PLAs first strike. Although it may seem counterintuitive, Taiwan’s force-structure airpower and air defense inventory prior to the PLAs first raid may not count. Instead, we need to take the PLAs preliminary opera­tions into account, considering what assets would likely remain following the opening SRBM attack. We need to deduct those which are not mobile, bomb­proof, invisible, loss-tolerable, or quickly recoverable. Frankly, sooner or later all fixed facilities will be destroyed. This means most of Taiwan’s major air – power assets will be eliminated in the opening strike, leaving its defenders with only a few sheltered aircraft, mobile radars, mobile air defense missiles, and (hopefully) some recovered runways (if the PLAs raid frequency or lack of accuracy allows this). Therefore, a mobile defense is needed to ensure Taiwan’s forces survive the PLAs missile and air strikes.

Taiwan’s limited airpower should be concentrated to a critical time and place. Avoiding attrition of Taiwan’s limited resources of airpower little by little is important. We should join the navy and army’s resources and apply airpower only at a decisive time such as during the PLAs crossing of the Strait, select­ing amphibious ships as the core targets. They are the “center of gravity,” and must be struck before personnel debarkation by joint-service antiship weap­ons employed by the joint land, sea, and air forces. There is a historical prece­dent: the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in February 1943, in which American and Australian land-based attack forces destroyed a vital Japanese convoy carry­ing troops and supplies to New Guinea, effectively dooming Japanese plans to retain control of New Guinea.

Taiwan’s should broaden its air defense by connecting all mobile radar and antiair weapons of all services. Taiwan must construct a mobile, diffuse, and widespread air defense umbrella covering point, area, and then theater air defense. It is technically workable and economically affordable. One example of this approach would be data-linking truck-mounted and sea-based radars and air-to-air missile launchers to provide air defense against follow-on PLA raids.

Taiwan should develop a multifunctional airforce using advanced aircraft, helicopters, and UAS vehicles. Taiwan requires advanced aircraft for air superi­ority especially since the PLA now has more and more new, advanced aircraft of its own. But Taiwan also needs aircraft that can take part in countersea oper­ations. In this regard, Taiwan should have some attack helicopters which can deliver antiship weapons, making a vertical take-off from a hidden point and flying at tree-top height. And it should have some small or unmanned aircraft taking off in a short distance to cruise and observe along Taiwan’s coastline to search for important targets and collect information for use in antiship opera­tions by land – and sea-based forces.

Taiwan should develop a decentralized, network-centric command and com­munication structure. Understandably, Taiwan’s command, control, communica­tions, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) system constitutes a high-priority target for initial strikes by the PLAAF, Second Artillery, and special operations forces. Since Taiwan’s current command and communica­tion system is fixed in place (although there are some back-up systems), there is a high probability it will be quickly destroyed, thus not lasting long enough to be a significant element in Taiwan’s defensive operations. To ensure the command and communication function will survive the opening missile and air strike, Taiwan should duplicate it by decentralizing and duplicating the command and commu­nication center downward through the defense infrastructure, and possibly com­bining the military and civilian communication systems.

Taiwan’s current airpower assets should be enhanced. Airpower is inher­ently powerful, speedy, and flexible. While this is its strength for an attacker, it is also its vulnerability for a defender. In cross-strait conflict, due to the vul­nerability of runways, shelters, radars, and missile sites, there is very high risk to Taiwan’s current facilities. Taiwan should improve current facilities to with­stand future air and missile attack. This can be done in several ways: increasing the strength of runways, shelters, and other facilities likely to be raided; under­taking structural strengthening, increasing material preparedness, and practic­ing repair and recovery operations to quicken post-raid recovery and reconsti­tution;54 and researching and developing new facilities or equipment to reduce runway dependence, such as RATO (rocket-assisted take-off), catapult launch, VTOL (vertical take-off and landing), STOL (short take-off and landing), and naval-style arrested landing systems.

Taiwan should adopt a “Starfish” strategy to enhance its survivability. Star­fish usually have five or even more arms. Their multi-arms not only can tolerate more damage, but also can regenerate automatically. Once its arm is cut, the body will regenerate another arm to become a normal starfish again. Also, the separated part of the arm will regenerate to become another small starfish.55 Applying this to Taiwan’s defense system means that when some part of its force is hit by the enemy, it will not be paralyzed but will survive and fight independently if it cannot recover to its original body (unit). Taiwan should try to apply this strategy to decentralize the commanding activity to the very basic units of its organizations, equipment, facilities, or personnel, to ensure that sustainability and survivability will expand.

In conclusion, many articles study the balance of airpower across the Taiwan Strait, with a consensus that Taiwan has lost both its quality and quan­tity advantages of airpower. There is no evidence to show that the balance of airpower across the Taiwan Strait will get better in the near future. Accordingly, when facing a continually modernizing airpower projector like the PLAAF, Taiwan should become more creative and think beyond the traditional scope of airpower options. Taiwan shouldn’t limit its imagination just to airpower. It needs to prevent cross-strait conflict by any means, even those other than air – power, like political or cultural power. For example, Taiwan can create a peace­ful atmosphere by cultural power and economic power; it can construct a firm government by psychological power, and employ soft power so that the PRC has no excuses to justify an invasion. It will take joint efforts to fight this war: joint air force, navy, and army partnership will strengthen defensive airpower. Joint airpower, sea power, and land power will strengthen Taiwan’s overall defensive power. Then, joint efforts linking hard power with soft power will form smart power, ensuring everlasting peace in the Taiwan Strait.


Hybrid Approaches: Reverse Engineering, Coproduction, and Codevelopment

Hybrid approaches blend elements of buy, build, and steal in different combinations. This section considers reverse engineering, coproduction, and codevelopment as means of developing and acquiring aviation technology and building an advanced military aviation industry.

Reverse Engineering

Reverse engineering is the process of acquiring an aircraft, weapons system, or component and then taking it apart to understand how it works and poten­tially how to replicate or defeat it. The initial acquisition may be done through legitimate purchase (buy) or covert procurement (steal). Successful reverse engi­neering requires a certain level of technological sophistication in a country’s avia­tion industry (for example, some degree of “build” experience and capacity).

Reverse engineering can serve several functions. Disassembling a mechanical or electronic device reveals its inner workings, yielding under­standing of how it functions, the specific technologies and components involved, and identifying successful design paths that can be emulated. It may be possible to replicate the system or component by producing an exact clone of an aircraft component or weapons system. The knowledge gathered from reverse engineering may be incorporated into a newly designed subsystem that bears some resemblance to the original but is not an exact copy. As in the case of the “steal” option, a developing country might use reverse engineering to gain understanding of an aircraft’s weapons systems or radars so that it can develop effective countermeasures.

Developing countries often assume that reverse engineering can help accelerate development in certain sectors of the economy.8 Examples of weap­ons reverse engineering do not validate this assumption in each case but rather suggest that success depends on a number of country-specific factors. Devel­oping countries sometimes attempt to purchase a small number of sophisti­cated fighters or advanced components from another country for the sole pur­pose of trying to reverse-engineer them in order to produce copies or gain knowledge about the component parts. (China was notorious for its efforts in the 1980s and early 1990s to purchase small quantities of advanced fighters and aviation components.) If a country is able to purchase small quantities and suc­cessfully reverse engineer them, the savings in development time (compared to completely independent development) and money (compared to a purchase of large quantities of aircraft or components) may be significant. However, this runs counter to the seller’s best interests. Advanced arms suppliers such as the United States or Russia have no motivation to sell a small number of fighter aircraft to a country with the industrial capacity to copy them. A more usual variant can occur when a developing country procures a large quantity of an aircraft and then attempts to reverse engineer parts and components to reduce its dependence on the original seller for spare parts. (Both India and China have often pursued this approach.) This option is often explicitly banned by the sales contract, but the buyer may have a limited capacity to enforce these provisions once the sale is complete.

A developing country may also use covert procurement through a third party in order to acquire access to small quantities of an aircraft or component. An ally with legitimate access to advanced fighters or aviation technology may act as a “cut out” and either sell or turn over a working example of the aircraft for reverse engineering purposes. One widely cited example is the assumption that Pakistan, which purchased F-16 fighters from the United States, may have provided China with access to F-16 fighters and components. It is impossible to definitively determine the extent of access China may have had to Pakistani F-16s in the 1980s, but sources claim that Chinese technical personnel visit­ing Pakistan in the early 1980s were allowed to examine the U. S.-made fighter.9 China may also have obtained some access to F-16 technology through its defense cooperation with Israel.10

In some cases, a country may be able to acquire an adversary’s military hardware as a result of serendipitous circumstances, such as cases where a pilot loses his way in bad weather or defects with his aircraft.11 For example, during the second Taiwan Strait crisis in fall 1958, the United States equipped Taiwan’s F-86F Sabres with the AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared (IR)-guided air-to-air mis­sile (AAM). On September 28, 1958, an F-86F fired and hit a PLAAF MiG-17 with a Sidewinder that lodged in the MiG’s fuselage without exploding. The Soviet Union convinced China to turn over the unexploded missile and suc­cessfully reverse engineered it as the K-13. Soviet engineer Gennady Sokolovs­kiy described acquisition of the Sidewinder as, “a university offering a course in missile construction technology which has upgraded our engineering edu­cation and updated our approach to production of future missiles.”12

The biggest benefit of reverse engineering is that a developing country can sidestep some of the R&D investment required to develop advanced weap­ons technologies. Unlike the pure “buy” option where a developing country merely operates the system it purchases, reverse engineering can lead to sig­nificant technical discoveries that propel a nation’s defense industry forward. (The Soviet effort to reverse engineer the AIM-9 Sidewinder AAM is one such instance.) This is not always the case, however. Reverse engineering might allow for better understanding of a complex piece of military hardware, but there is no guarantee that a country can produce an exact clone or functional equiva­lent. Individual components may incorporate materials or be produced using advanced production processes that cannot be easily replicated by a developing country’s aviation industry. (This was initially the case with composite materials and stealth aircraft designed using advanced computer systems, and remains the case for some materials used in high-performance jet engines.) Fighter aircraft present a particular reverse-engineering challenge because of the vast number of complex subsystems (for example, radars, avionics, and engines) that must be integrated into a functional whole. A developing country may obtain access to an advanced fighter, but lack the production capacity to reproduce it. A devel­oping country may be able to reverse engineer and replicate key components, but lack the design skills to integrate them into an existing aircraft.

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).

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.

NCO Technical Training

With the emergence of the of NCO corps in 1998, the air force determined that the primary development focus for NCO schools was to be “professional theory knowledge and training in procedures and rules for the proper opera­tion, employment and care of weapons and equipment.”39 In other words, NCO schools are focused on providing technical or occupational specialty training.

NCO education is conducted at special NCO schools and through spe­cial NCO programs conducted at the PLAAF officer academies. Qualified per­sonnel with a high school or middle school equivalency education are enrolled in 2-year and 3-year academic programs that confer secondary or senior tech­nical degrees as well as occupational specialty training. NCO education is characterized as occupational (specialty) training, aimed at developing entry – level technicians. NCO schools of all categories are founded on the principle of “promote suitability while furthering development” (^Ж M^tt, ШШ ^K), indicating that there is a strong element of political education along with the development of technical skills.

The PLAAF has approximately 300,000 active duty personnel with as many as two-thirds of these serving in enlisted ranks. Of those, perhaps as many as one-quarter (50-60,000) are first-term recruits who are serving an ini­tial 2-year term of service.40 The PLAAF draws its recruits from both rural and urban residents, with varying entry requirements for each locale. China’s mili­tary service law stipulates that rural recruits must have graduated from middle school (ЙФ) while urban recruits must have graduated from high school (Ф ^), a vocational high school (Ф^), or a 3-year technical college (^^), or be enrolled in a 4-year college (^^) to be eligible for enlistment.

Following a PLA-wide strategy to increase the quality of its recruits, the PLAAF is making efforts to increase its enlistment of college students by offering preferential treatment and other incentives. For example, the maximum age for female recruits with 4-year college education or higher has been lifted from 22 to 24, while the limit for female graduates with a 3-year education was raised from 21 to 23. In addition, the students-turned-soldiers are entitled to receive “a one – off refund of up to 24,000 yuan ($3,500) as compensation for college tuition fees or student loans.”41 In addition, candidates may be promised preference while seeking jobs at police and other law-enforcement departments. According to the Global Times, the PLA recruiting effort on Chinese college campuses may be producing desired effects in view of an oversaturated labor market that leaves as many as one-third of each year’s 6 million graduates unable to find suitable jobs.42