Assistant Chiefs of Staff
The post of assistant chief of staff serves as a stepping-stone for further promotion for most of the assistant chiefs. They are selected from promising young commanders at the deputy corps rank, either from combat units at campaign levels or specialized/technical departments in Fuxingmen. Oftentimes they are hand-picked by chiefs of staff personally and work closely with top commanders there. They usually enj oy good personal ties with the top AF brass and link the top command to the grass-roots forces. Currently the PLAAF has four assistant chiefs of staff, each with a unique background.
Major General Li Shaomin ($ШШ) joined the PLAAF in 1968 and now specializes in air force education. He was a top-grade jet pilot and regimental commander until 1996 when he was promoted to be deputy commandant of the 1st Flying Academy. From then on he served as commandant of the 3d Flying Academy (1999); deputy president of Air Force University of Engineering (2001); and president of PLAAF Aviation University in 2003. He has held his current position since 2008. He assists the chief of staff in overseeing university education in the air force. Given his age, his career prospects seem to be limited, particularly as his current duty is not directly related to combat operations.
Major General Wang Weining (Пт) was recently promoted to the position from the directorship of the second department (intelligence) of the PLAAF. He assists the chief of staff in managing intelligence-related matters, public affairs, and foreign affairs.
Major General Lin Tao (#>#) has long served in air force units in northwest provinces such as Tibet. He was recently promoted to the major general rank (2009). In Fuxingmen, he assists the chief of staff in headquarters affairs and daily running of the staff department.
Major General Zheng Yuanlin (Й^#) is also a rising star in the PLAAF, as seen from his fast upward advancement in the last 3 years. In 2008 he was commander of the 13th Division (the PLA’s strategic transportation division). The next year he became commander of the PLAAF’s Wuhan Base at deputy corps rank. The following year he was appointed deputy chief of staff of the PLAAF Guangzhou MR. He was in Guangzhou for barely a year before being brought back to Beijing to be an assistant chief of staff of the Air Force.
Zheng has excelled both as a transport pilot and transport commander. He was selected as one of the best air force commanders in 2007, following his command of Il-76s deployed in the Sino-Russian Peace Mission 2007 exercise in Russia. During the catastrophic snow and ice storm in South China in January 2008, he was placed in charge of the PLA’s air relief missions. In a week, the 13th Division’s Il-76s conducted 75 emergency sorties and carried about 800 tons of goods to 19 airports in eight provinces. In the Wenchuan earthquake rescue operations, the 13th Division made a huge contribution.25 It was very difficult for large transports to take off and land in concentrated sorties, in tough weather conditions (e. g., visibility less than 100 meters), and on airports with only rudimentary facilities.26 Even so, operations were conducted with complete safety. Just days after he arrived in Beijing to take his current job, the Yushu earthquake struck; again the PLA entrusted him to command relief operations by both the 13th Division and the Chengkong Division.
Given that he is both in his early 50s and in the right place at the right time—on the verge of the forthcoming massive leadership reshuffle—it might be expected that his future is a bright one. But he faces a serious obstacle: in the entire PLAAF history of pilot cadre management, an airlift pilot has never risen very far in the leadership. As in other air forces, young and accomplished fighter pilots form the traditionally favored cadre. Within the PLAAF, the fighter divisions comprise over 55 percent of the total, attack aircraft divisions 30 percent, and bomber/transport divisions just 15 percent.27 Three transport divisions (the new division in the Chengdu AF Region, and the 13th and 34th Divisions) form a “minority” in the PLAAF structure. As a result, given the PLAAF’s past tradition, it will be interesting to see how far Zheng goes.