Category The Chinese Air Force

The U. S.-China Military Balance Seen in a Three-Game Framework

David Frelinger and Jessica Hart

This chapter presents an alternative framework for approaching the dis­cussion and assessment of the “military balance” between the United States and China, with an emphasis on the effect of People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) modernization. This approach provides for a more comprehensive means of thinking about the military balance and illuminates some deficien­cies in current assessments. The framework assesses PLAAF modernization through the lenses of three “games”—the Game of Influence, the Battle over a Third Party, and the Great Power Game—that represent the range of relation­ships the United States and China could forge, with a focus on the military aspects of those games. As this analysis will demonstrate, the effect of PLAAF modernization is most fully understood not as an input in one overall U. S.- China military balance, but as a series of moves occurring in the context of the game or games the United States and China are playing.

Why a New Framework?

The U. S.-China military balance is most often spoken of in Cold War terms of force-on-force counts, defense expenditure comparisons, and other metrics that are relatively straightforward to calculate. These calculations are then used to define the balance within future “worlds” that could exist between the two nations.1 These analyses assume that the United States and China are playing the same game in these worlds, that both recognize the other side is playing that game, and that the game remains dominant and consistent for an extended period of time. Assessing the balance through this narrow aperture misses important nuances in what is in fact a fluid military context—one in which PLAAF modernization plays many roles. This type of assessment also does not account for the facts that powers may play more than one game simul­taneously, that both sides are not necessarily playing the same game, and that both may fail to recognize what game the other has chosen.

An alternative framework is necessary to address these analytical defi­ciencies. By acknowledging the range of games and the fluidity of their context, the framework allows for a fuller assessment of the effects of PLAAF modern­ization on the military balance within the games. This avoids viewing PLAAF modernization through the lens of only one game while also highlighting the fact that there is not one military balance, but several. By adopting a more comprehensive framework, this assessment also avoids utilizing familiar—and inappropriate—analytical narratives. Many attempt to frame at least a portion of the U. S.-Chinese interactions in Cold War terms—what we call here the Great Power Game. In the Cold War, the positions of the United States and the Soviet Union as the only two remaining great powers were relatively ossified from the outset, and the overarching ideological narrative provided a ground­ing framework for understanding the game that both sides were playing. This is not the case for the United States and China. The relationship is not yet mature, and there are multiple, competing narratives about interests and goals on both sides. Those narratives as well as U. S. and Chinese actions provide no convincing indications that either side has made a deliberate decision as to which game it wishes to be playing—much less what game the other is play­ing or will choose to play in the future. Instead there are elements of multiple games that must be assessed.

Coproduction and Codevelopment

The terms coproduction and codevelopment are sometimes used inter­changeably. For the purposes of this paper, coproduction refers to a contract where the supplying country sells the purchaser the right to produce copies of a com­plete aircraft or key components. Coproduction deals can range from assembly of imported complete knock-down (CKD) kits with all necessary components to transfer of blueprints, machines, technical assistance, and relevant production technologies that give the purchaser an independent capability to build complete aircraft from scratch. Codevelopment refers to cooperation in the design stage of aircraft development where two or more countries work as partners.

Technology transfer and how expensive research and development costs are allocated are the principal issues in coproduction or codevelopment projects. The country with the more advanced industry has the motivation to withhold technical details from partners to protect its competitive advantage; the country with the less developed aviation industry typically has to agree to pay a premium price in order to gain access to relevant production (in the case of coproduction) or design/systems integration expertise (in the case of codevelopment).

Developing countries often seek coproduction arrangements as a means of starting an aviation industry or improving the technological capacity of their existing industry. The developing country typically seeks the maximum pos­sible transfer of design information and production technology to allow fully independent production. Unless suppliers have a strategic reason for wanting to build up the recipient country’s defense industry, they typically seek to retain control over key design information and production technology and prefer to supply components for assembly rather than give the purchasing country an independent production capability. The exact nature of the deal is often a func­tion of the relative bargaining power of the parties involved. Coproduction usually involves a licensing agreement stipulating the number of systems the producer country can build at an agreed upon cost.

As a technology procurement strategy, coproduction is basically a combi­nation of “buy” and “build.” The developing country typically assembles aircraft from imported parts (often in the form of a complete knockdown kit) rather than producing them from scratch, at least initially. Contracts sometimes allow replac­ing imported components with indigenously produced components as the pur­chasing country’s aviation industry gains the ability to successfully produce them.

Developing countries sometimes evade contractual restrictions by using knowl­edge gained in the production process to design compatible subsystems or com­ponents that can either be integrated into an existing aircraft or that can be part of an improved variant of an existing aircraft. Because the supplier often provides knowledge about how to assemble the aircraft rather than complete design infor­mation, the buyer country still has a fair amount of work to do if the goal is to reverse engineer an exact clone or to develop an improved variant incorporating indigenous subsystems.

The nature of defense cooperation between countries is a good indi­cator of the overall political relationship. Coproduction agreements imply a basic level of political trust between partner countries. A supplier country will not enter into an agreement to sell a developing country the rights to build a fighter aircraft if there is a fundamental divergence of strategic interests or if the purchasing country poses a significant security threat. Coproduction is less of a risk than codevelopment to the supplier country from a technology pro­curement perspective because it does not usually grant the purchaser access to state-of-the-art aircraft or subsystems. As the next section will detail, China relied on coproduction with the Soviet Union in the 1950s to launch its mili­tary aviation industry and on coproduction deals with Russia in the 1990s to improve its capability to build advanced fighter aircraft.

Codevelopment in aircraft design implies that both partners possess a relatively well developed aviation industry. The partners typically share the costs of R&D efforts; partners with less advanced aviation industries typically pay a premium price or commit to purchase significant quantities of the fin­ished aircraft in order to gain access to advanced technologies, design pro­cesses, and systems integration expertise. In some cases, codevelopment will produce new technologies and intellectual property that will be shared by the partners.

A good recent example of codevelopment involves the joint venture between Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to develop a fifth-generation fighter.13 The work is split on a 75-25 percent basis, with Russia contributing the larger share.14 “Codevelopment” is also sometimes used to describe projects where parties contribute to development costs without participating in the actual work. From a technology procurement standpoint, this is much closer to the “buy” avenue than to coproduction or codevelopment.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is an example of an unequal codevelopment partnership where a number of countries contributed finan­cial support and committed to purchasing the aircraft without any involve­ment in development work.15 The United States and Britain have carried out the vast majority of technical development work, with Italy making minor con­tributions.16 The other six partners (Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Canada, Denmark, and Norway) have bought into the project by contributing develop­ment funds and agreeing to purchase a specific number of F-35s. True code­velopment implies not just cost-sharing, but shared ownership of the intellec­tual property generated by the project.

The decision to codevelop a fighter aircraft can be motivated by differ­ent circumstances, but the logic in forming joint partnerships is the same: both countries benefit more through codevelopment than they would by working alone. Defense industries can share the substantial burden of R&D costs while bringing their technological comparative advantages to the fore. Perceived eco­nomic, political, and strategic benefits drive the decisionmaking process, with the relative importance of each depending on the relationship, political situa­tion, and threat perceptions of the partner countries.

The UAC/HAL joint venture between Russia and India illustrates the complex economic and geopolitical pressures that drive defense technology decisionmaking. India was an end user and coproducer of Soviet military aircraft since a cooperative defense relationship was established in the early 1960s.17 The relationship persisted throughout the Cold War, and after the Soviet Union dissolved, India helped Russia’s defense industry stay afloat in the 1990s.18 The plan to codevelop a fifth-generation fighter was hatched at a time (2000) when the dire Russian economic situation gave India a significant degree of bargaining power.19 If not for economic necessity, Russia might never have proposed a codevelopment deal given the major step forward it provides the Indian aerospace industry.20 Some Russian defense industry experts have been skeptical about the value India will bring to the project, citing Russia’s half century of experience designing award-winning fighter aircraft.21 Indian media reports have highlighted HAL’s potential contributions in aircraft body design through its work on composites gained during the design of its indig­enous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).22 Russia has designed mostly metal aircraft and thus lacks experience with composites. HAL will also design the mission computer, navigation, and countermeasure dispensing systems, and critical software.

The Duumvirate of Xu and Ma: The Top Echelon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Factors Concerning Airpower over the Taiwan Strait

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


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

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

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

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

Table 13-1. Principal Taiwan Combat Aircraft





Multirole fighter


Mirage 2000-5

Air defense fighter



Multirole fighter



Multirole fighter


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

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

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

Table 13-2. Principal PLA Combat Aircraft





Multirole fighter



Multirole fighter



Multirole fighter



Air defense fighter



Air defense fighter



Ground attack fighter



Ground attack fighter





Assessing the Effectiveness of Education and Training

The key to strengthened national defense and military modernization is to foster and raise a large batch of high quality, new-model, talented mili­tary personnel, while vigorously increasing the ability to make innova­tions in science and technology. We must grasp these two requirements as the primary responsibility of the military academies, properly grasp­ing the developing trends of modern technology and the developing pat­terns of military education, diligently pressing for military academies to successfully become the cradles for development of high quality, talented military personnel—the foundations of new high technology and military theory innovation.43

While the PLAAF aspires to set up educational infrastructures that “become the cradles for development of high-quality, talented military person­nel,” it remains to be seen whether the programs that are now being put into place will deliver the desired results. Accurately assessing the competency of PLAAF personnel has been and remains a difficult endeavor. The PLAAF has not been operationally tested since the Korean War, and it has been absent from

Chinese military interventions since the 1950s. The air force was never com­mitted into battle during ground force skirmishes on Vietnam’s border in the late 1970s. Since then, PLA operations have been limited to humanitarian relief efforts in response to flooding or earthquakes. In these instances, the PLAAF’s limited airlift capacity has left it sidelined during the army-led operations. Nor has the PLAAF participated widely in United Nations peacekeeping missions, although the PLA is expanding its support of logistics and medical teams in Africa and Asia. And, the PLAAF has not established the type of bilateral train­ing exercises with other regional air forces that would provide insights into the level and sophistication of its tactical forces. Although the PLAAF Command College has cracked opened its doors to foreign military students, these officers are segregated into a separate international seminar which limits their interac­tion with and exposure to Chinese field grade officers. Thus it is necessary to look for other proxies that can yield insights into the progress, professionalism, and operational capacity of the officers and airmen of the PLAAF.

Despite recent progress and increased accessions of graduates of civil­ian universities, the PLAAF may be a long way from reaching its education goals. The PLAAF has announced that improved officer education is a top pri­ority and an enduring long-term goal. In fact, the PLAAF has set as a near­term goal to ensure all new officers attain a 4-year undergraduate degree prior to accession. In the mid-to-long term, the PLAAF hopes to build an officer corps in which 100 percent have undergraduate degrees and over 30 percent have advanced degrees. Additionally, the PLAAF intends to see that over 95 percent of commanding officers at the division, brigade, and regimental lev­els are equipped with basic degrees, with 80 percent or more having advanced degrees.44 Yet, as late as 2009, fewer than 40 percent of officers leading the air force’s front line units possessed an undergradu­

ate degree and less than 1 percent of those commanders held a postgradu­ate degree.45 This lack of credentials among PLAAF commanding officers may be explained by PLAAF restrictions placed on their course attendance. Senior command track officers—at the colonel and senior colonel level—are only authorized to attend a 1-year, nondegree PME program, while support and technical officers are afforded opportunities to pursue graduate degrees in multiyear programs at either PLAAF or civilian colleges.

Another measure of the professional development of the PLAAF is the vol­ume and quality of military professional publications that are being developed by its officer corps. The PLA’s airmen have published extensively during the past 10 years, oftentimes in the performance of directed research on key topics—strat – egy, doctrine, tactics, air force building, education and training, logistics, etc.— assigned by the PLAAF Headquarters. Officially developed publications are generally produced by a research team under the guidance of a senior officer and vetted through a formal review prior to publication. Top-level writings are endorsed by the PLAAF Commander or the Political Commissar, or both. In recent years, the PLAAF has written extensively on military education and train­ing, and a listing of relevant recent publications can be found in the appendix.

Although the volume of PLAAF military writings is an important indi­cation of the transformation that is taking place in PLAAF education and training, significant variations and gaps remain in both the substance and the operational concepts articulated by various authors and institutions. For exam­ple, Science of Air Force Training (ё¥¥ВДШ^), published in 2006 under the guidance of Lieutenant General He Weirong, was the air force’s contribution to a PLA series that includes separate volumes on army, navy, and joint train – ing.46 The book provides a comprehensive overview of the PLAAF training structure, laying out the hierarchy of training organizations, classifications of training, specific training responsibilities at various levels of command, and categorization of training methods. But, one must ask: what is the purpose and motivation behind this publication? And, who is the target audience? The publication lacks the authority of a service regulation or manual, and it does not include sufficient detail to either develop or execute training programs. In effect, the Science of Military Training series serves only as a primer on PLAAF service training programs and infrastructure, and therefore may be an indica­tion that the PLAAF (and the PLA) are still at a very early stage of revamping military training programs.

Yet another indicator of professional development within the PLA—and by extension within the PLAAF—is the well-defined process for compilation, review, and validation of training standards. The PLA has demonstrated a con­sistent pattern of managing operational training as it has twice revised and pro­mulgated new Outlines for Military Training and Evaluation (OMTE) within the past 10 years. The most recent effort was undertaken beginning in 2006 to correct recognized training deficiencies in the 2002 version of the OMTE. From initial review in December 2006 through promulgation in July 2008 and implementation in 2009, the OMTE development and review process took slightly over 2 years to complete. As the event sequence and timelines in table 10-1 demonstrate, the procedures and deadlines for the development of the 2009 OMTE followed a pattern of development similar to the previous OMTE revision cycle that ran from January 2000 and October 2001.

Field units played a substantially greater role in the initial development of the 2008 OMTE. Standards development and field testing were carried out during the 2007 and 2008 annual training cycles with 163 division – and bri­gade-level units participating in the trial training and validation of the 2008

OMTE.47 The 2-year process of revision, experimental training, and valida­tion was a PLA-wide effort that included participants from each of the seven military regions, the PLA Navy, the PLA Air Force, Second Artillery, People’s Armed Police, and 21 departments within the four General Headquarters.48

The new OMTE was designed to address the training shortfalls that have repeatedly been cited in Kongjun Bao and other PLA newspapers, including expanded training for noncombat military operations; increased proportion of informatized knowledge skills and simulated training with high-technology weapons and equipment, including aircraft; standardized methods, procedures, and criteria for network-centric and “opposing force” training; clarified condi­tions, styles, methods, and requirements for training in complex electromagnetic environments, training at night, and training under adverse weather conditions; established capabilities-based training standards and assessment system; raised standards for basic training; expanded scope of training appraisals; revised eval­uation program; and defined training management scheme, specified duties, and functions of training.

Table 10-1. Outlines for Military Training and Evaluation (OMTE) Revision Process and Timelines


2001 OMTE

2008 OMTE

New Operational Tiaoling

September 1999

March 2008

OMTE Drafting Guidance Complete

January 2000

December 2006

Revision, Experimental Training, and Validation OMTE

February 2000-July 2001

January 2007-June 2008


October 2001

July 2008

Transition Phase

October-December 2001

August-December 2008


January 1, 2002

January 1, 2009

Key Objectives

Scientific, combat realism, efficiency, effectiveness, realism, new standards for new high-tech weapons

Informatized conditions joint and complex electromagnetic environments, noncombat actions


— "Jiang Zemin Signs 13 Operational Rules for Military," Xinhua in English January 24, 1999

— "CMC Promulgates New Operation Regulation," MingPaon Chinese September 10, 1999, A19.

— Military People Destined for Victory: Our Army’s Fifth Generation Operations Regulation Just Promulgated" №А£А^$Й:

Peoplenet March 23, 2008, accessed April 29, 2009, available at <http://military. people. com. cn/GB/7032628.html>.

— "Trial Training by ‘Military Training and Checkout Outline,’" April 17, 2008.

— "Training Class on New MTEPs Held Recently at Location of an Unidentified Group Army," QianweiBao, October 21, 2001.

— "Details on the New PLA OMTE: Establishes New System of Informatized Military Operations"

Chinanews Online in Chinese, August 1, 2008, available at <www. chinanews. com. cn/gn/news/2008/08-01/1332272.shtml>, accessed

July 1, 2009.

— "PRC Officers Discuss Training Outline Reform," Jefangjun Bao (Internet Version) in Chinese August 15, 2000, 6.

Finally, assessing the potential U. S.-China relationship in these three games provides some first-order conclusions. Ultimately, the game framework points to the need for the United States to hedge—to show caution when mak­ing decisions about what course to take because multiple outcomes are possi­ble and are difficult to predict. As a result, no course of action should be seen as immutable, and the United States should consider multiple paths. Further­more, this framework leads to the conclusion that it is quite likely that neither side understands what game the other party may be playing, a misunderstand­ing that could result in unnecessarily strong reactions from both powers to fairly minor military moves—including PLAAF modernization

Because this framework seeks to assess the military balances, the games are best understood through the different roles military power plays in each. The Game of Influence is one where military power is utilized in an essential sup­porting role to advance national interests, but military victory in a conflict is not the ultimate goal. The Game of Influence is not necessarily a zero-sum game. In the Battle over a Third Party, military power in the context of a conflict over a third party plays the central role, but asymmetric stakes tend to prevent a zero – sum character. In the Great Power Game, military power is the central aspect, and it is the most comprehensive game in scope as it ranges across all military and political spheres. It is also the only true zero-sum game discussed.

PLAAF Technology Procurement Strategies: Past, Present, and Future

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

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


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

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

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

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

Table 12-2. Five Periods of Chinese Technological Development






Sino-Soviet defense cooperation

Chinese isolation

Window of access to Western technologies

West cuts access, Russia reopens; diversification of strategies

Russian reluctance; increased indige­nous capacity

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

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

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




MiG-17 Fresco-As (early 1950s)

II-28 bomber (early 1950s)


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

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

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


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

CJ-6 fighter trainer (1960)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xu and Ma: Two Remarkable Careers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs)

The PRC’s first surface-to-air missile, like that of other Communist Bloc countries, was the Soviet-developed S-75 Dvina, known to the West as the SA-2 Guideline, five batteries of which were delivered from the USSR in 1959. Then, the growing Sino-Soviet political crisis flared into open disagreement, bringing further deliveries to an end. On October 7, 1959, one of these Chi­nese SA-2 batteries shot down a Taiwan twin-engine two-crew Martin RB – 57D reconnaissance aircraft while it was flying at 60,000 feet near Beijing. This loss came almost 7 months before the Soviets shot down Francis Gary Powers’ Lockheed U-2 with an SA-2 on May 1, I960.10

After the Sino-Soviet split, the PRC reverse-engineered the SA-2 and its SNR-75 Fan Song radar, and placed it into service as the HQ-2A, subsequently developing the more sophisticated HQ-2B. China’s air defenses remained heavily dependent upon this system until the end of the Sino-Soviet split fur­nished China the opportunity to upgrade its surface-to-air missile defenses. In particular, it acquired advanced “double digit” SAM systems from Russia, notably the S-300 (SA-10/20) which has, like the SA-2 before it, undergone

reverse engineering to further China’s own indigenous SAM development pro­grams. The PLA also acquired and manufactured derivatives of such Western SAM systems as the Crotale, Aspide, and Stinger.11

Though the HQ-2B remains an important element of PLA air defense, the nature of PLA missile defenses is increasingly built around the S-300 and equivalent high-technology systems. As one source suggests:12

The PLA Air Force (PLAAF)’s Surface-to-Air Missile Corps has been operating the S-300 (NATO reporting name: SA-10 Grumble) family of surface-to-air missile system since the mid-1990s. The S-300 mis­sile system was regarded as one of the world’s most effective all-altitude regional air defense systems, comparable in performance to the U. S. MIM-104 Patriot system. The PRC remains the largest export customer of the S-300, mainly due to its incapability to produce a similar system domestically or acquire it from another country. A Chinese indigenous system analogous with the Russian S-300 series, the HQ-9, has had a long gestation but is now being deployed in some numbers.

A typical S-300 regiment has four to six batteries. One regiment in the PLAAF would thus have 16 to 24 transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) that could fire a total of 64 to 96 missiles (before reloading) to protect one area. The high performance (and high lethality) of the S-300 makes this a formida­ble system for any nation to “crack,” even the United States, particularly if fly­ing “legacy” third – and fourth-generation aircraft such as the F-CK-1, F-16, and Mirage.13

Table 13-3. PLA Surface-to-Air Missiles








Maximum Speed (Mach)







PMU (SA-10B)






PMU-1 (SA-20)
















PMU-2 (SA-20B)





Taiwan currently deploys a plethora of SAM systems. As reported by the U. S. Defense Intelligence Agency, “Taiwan uses layered SAM coverage to pro­tect its major population centers, key national leadership installations, mili­tary facilities, and national infrastructure. The air defense network consists of 22 SAM sites utilizing a mix of long – and medium-range systems, augmented by short-range tactical SAMs to provide overlapping coverage.”14 Table 13-4 offers a survey of the types, numbers of batteries, and numbers (where known) of the various missiles.

Table 13-4. Taiwan Surface-to-Air Missiles

Missile System


Missile Type (Quantity)

Tien Kung I/II





Patriot (200)




M-48 Chaparral


MIM-72C (727)



Tien Chien I (unknown) Made in Taiwan



FIM-92 Stinger (1,299)

Man-portable Stingers


FIM-92 Stinger (728



Source: Defense Intelligence Agency, Taiwan Air Defense Assessment, accessed September 20, 2010, at: <www. globalsecurity. org/military/library/report/2010/taiwan-air-defense_dia_100121.htm>.

* Partially fielded (6 batteries planned)

Summarizing Developments in PLAAF Training

Education and training are clearly at the forefront of the PLA drive toward comprehensive force modernization that has been underway for nearly 30 years. Since the early 1980s, Chinese leaders have recognized a need to build “regular­ized” (ШШЕ) military forces better able to respond in China’s evolving security environment.49 To that end, the leaders of China’s air force have undertaken a series of steps to build a more professional, competent, and capable air force.

The PLAAF regards officer professional development a cornerstone of its force modernization program, a viewpoint consistent with the goals of three generations of CMC chairmen. Beginning with Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, the chairmen of the CMC have stressed the strategic requirement to build “a young and knowledgeable, revolutionized and professionalized officer con – tingent.”50 In the 1990s, then-CMC Chairman Jiang Zemin expressly pointed out that unless the PLA emphasized professional development as a strategic mission, it would be “impossible to build a modernized army and defeat ene­mies having high-tech advantages.”51 Under Hu Jintao, the PLA is continuing to pursue professional development “centered on enhancing competence and integrating training and employment” through a pattern of “connected aca­demic education and military training, parallel development of military educa­tion and national education, and the combination of domestic cultivation and overseas training, so as to effectively develop and make a full use of the human resources of the military.”52

The PLAAF’s transition toward improved education and training is being driven by overarching guidance from the CMC and shaped by a rec­ognized need for a new generation of operators and support personnel with vastly greater knowledge and skills to employ and manage weapons systems of increasing technical complexity. Although the PLAAF has made substan­tial progress in recent years, it has not yet achieved the development goals it seeks for officers and NCOs. In particular, increased academic education for air force officers remains a priority, and it appears that PLAAF academies will move from military specialty training programs to course work focus on for­mal academics. As the air force continues on this development path, it can be expected that future officers will be universally educated at the university level, adept in the employment of modern technologies, and competent in multiser­vice joint operations.

As the PLAAF evolves to address the demands of integrated joint opera­tions, greater demands will be placed on the officer corps, further raising the requirements for professional military education and training. These changes are also certain to create pressure to expand the authorities and responsibili­ties of air force NCOs, who will be required to take on greater responsibilities in the more demanding joint environment. Going forward, it can be expected that along with the reform and development of PLAAF colleges and schools, the development of mid – and senior-level NCO curriculum and training pro­grams will be a primary focus, with education and training for junior ranks remaining a goal for the future.