Deputy Chiefs of Staff
The PLAAF deputy chief of staff and assistant chief of staff positions are at Corps rank (young assistant chiefs of staff are usually at the deputy Corps level) and normally serve as an important stepping-stone to more senior posts.
The importance of these roles is to bring promising commanders of tactical units (divisional and forward bases) to the headquarters to familiarize them with higher command and strategic management. If the top PLAAF leadership is composed of generals of different age clusters separated by about 5 years, deputy chiefs of staff are reserved for candidates for deputy MR positions either in air force headquarters in Fuxingmen (Я^ПЙ¥Лй) or in the seven air force regions. Since the mid-1990s, almost all PLAAF deputy chiefs of staff have advanced further, to the deputy MR rank or higher.
The following is the list of past deputy PLAAF chiefs of staff since that time:
■ Xu Qiliang (1£Йй, 1993-1994, AF commander)
■ Wang Liangwang (ЇЙЕ, 1994-1996, deputy AF commander)
■ He Weirong (ЙЙ®, 1996-2002, deputy AF commander)
■ Jia Yongsheng (™ж£, 1996-2003, regional commander)
■ Ma Xiaotian (ЦШ^, 1997-1998, deputy PLA chief of general staff)
■ Liu Zuoxin (МТІЛ, 1998 regional commander)
■ Jiang Jianzeng 2000-2004, regional commander)
■ Zhou Liaqian (M№®, 2000-2004, regional commander)
■ Zhao Zhongxin (M^f^, 2004-2005, deputy AF commander)
■ Yang Guohai (ЫШ’М, 2005-2006, PLAAF chief of staff).
The present deputy chiefs of staff have an average age of 53 and are destined to take over more senior commanding positions, as the entire pool of incumbent deputy PLAAF commanders and regional commanders (whose average age is about 62) will be replaced in accordance with the “63 and out” regulation.
Currently, there are four deputy chiefs of staff in the PLAAF headquarters:
Major General Zhang Jianping (ЖШ¥) was born in 1956 and enlisted in the PLAAF in 1974. He now assists the chief of staff, overseeing operations and training. For instance, he was the PLAAF representative in the Sino-Russo joint military exercise Peace Mission 2009 in the Zhaonan Joint Tactical Training Base in the Jinan MR in July 2009. After the exercise, he made a widely circulated speech on how the PLAAF should learn the best air force theory and practices of the foreign counterparts, noting “Joint exercises and exchange of personnel with other militaries would be a very useful means for absorbing the good experiences of foreign air forces and this will have profound impact on PLAAF transformation.”18
Zhang had already served in various key commanding posts before coming to the PLAAF headquarters. He was regimental commander at the age of 27 and commander of the 3d Fighter Division a few years later (the elite of all elite divisions in the PLAAF). Being the first “fist unit” equipped with the Su-27 in the mid-1990s, he led the first team from the division to Russia to receive the Su-27 and become the first of the Su-27 pilot cadre in the PLAAF. He was promoted to be commander of the 9th Corps and deputy commander of the Beijing MRAF. There is no doubt he was marked early as a candidate for the service’s senior leader. As first deputy chief of staff, he is poised to replace Yang Guohai.19
Major General Yi Xiaoguang (Z, K^) was born in 1958 into a military family and was one of 296 PLA deputies to the 17th Party National Congress.20 In charge of training and headquarters affairs, he is the most promising and the youngest officer at the full corps rank in Fuxingmen, and the second youngest in the entire PLAAF. His rise was swift and impressive: joining the PLAAF in 1974 at the age of 16, he studied at the Baoding Aviation School (ЇІЙ) for a year, and became a commander at the battalion level 3 years later at the age of 20. He studied in the PLAAF Command Academy in 1984, laying the foundation for his own subsequent “helicopter rise.” He reached the post of deputy division commander in 1989 at the age of 31 and division command in 1992, director of the Department of Training in the PLAAF Headquarters in 1996 (the youngest grade-two Department head at the time), and deputy chief of staff of Guangzhou AF region in 2002.
Before being appointed to his current post, Yi was president of the famous Air Force Command Academy (AFCA) in Haidian, Beijing. In PLA tradition, it is relatively easy to find a capable corps commander, but very difficult to locate a capable president for a top military university.21 When he was divisional commander in 1992, Yi composed The Chinese/English Manual for Jet Pilots, something quite unique for a combat pilot with no formal higher education and an achievement helpful for his appointment to the presidency of the AFCA.22 Clearly, Yi was brought back to the PLAAF headquarters to manage the routine work at the apex of power before taking on more senior positions elsewhere in the future.
Major General Wang Yisheng (iN.±) was an interesting appointment in 2009, for he was clearly a “rescued cadre.” He was commander of the AF Weapons Experimental Base in Jiuquan (Shuanchengzi Base,
Site), Gansu Province, having spent fully 38 years in the base since joining the PLAAF in 1968.23 He transformed it into the PLA’s most sophisticated and largest electronic warfare center. Wang was transferred to Beijing following Hu Jintaos instruction that the CMC should take good care of the cadres who have served in remote and poor provinces for a lengthy period of time, such as
Tibet, Xinjiang, Gansu, and Qinghai, where living conditions are harsh. Wang is now assisting the chief of staff in managing technological affairs and weapons research and development programs.
Major General Dan Zhiping (jl®^), born in 1957, assists the chief of staff in matters of training and foreign affairs in the headquarters. He was assistant chief of staff between 1994 and 1999 in his late 30s (a remarkably young age for the post). He assumed the current position after transfer from deputy chief of staff of the Chengdu AF region in 2008. Before that, he also served as deputy chief of staff of the Lanzhou AF region. In 2007 he was sent to study at “the Generals’ course” (ЩЩЩ) in the PLA NDU where he was cited as an excellent student. His graduation thesis on training in a combat situation using simulation facilities furnishing “Red” versus “Blue” force scenarios and practice won high praise. He was subsequently chosen to supervise further study resulting in an influential colloquium in which the main ideas expressed by participants were subsequently published in the PLA Daily.24 Clearly he is a rising star in the PLAAF.