China's National Defense in 2008

VI. The Air Force

The Air Force is a strategic service of the PLA, and the main force for carrying out air operations. It is responsible for such tasks as safeguarding the country's territorial air space and territorial sovereignty, and maintaining a stable air defense posture nationwide. It is mainly composed of aviation, ground air defense, airborne, signal, radar, ECM, technical reconnaissance and chemical defense sections.

History of Development

The Air Force was founded on November 11, 1949. The years from 1949 to 1953 witnessed the establishment of an Air Force leading organs in the CMC and in each of the military area commands; the creation of the fighter, bomber, attacker, reconnaissance and transport, airborne forces and a number of educational institutions; and the organization of the Air Force of the Chinese People's Volunteers to take part in the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-1953). The Air Force was merged with the Air Defense Force in 1957, by adopting a system combining air operations with air defense. In the 1960s and 1970s the Air Force formed the guiding principle of giving priority to the development of air defense forces, and gradually grew into an air force for territorial air defense. Since the 1990s the Air Force has been in a phase of rapid development. It has deployed third-generation combat aircraft, third-generation ground-to-air missiles, and a series of relatively advanced and computerized weapons and equipment. It has stepped up the development of military theories with strategic theories at the core, and introduced a strategic concept that the Air Force should be capable of both offensive and defensive operations. As a result, the Air Force has begun its transition from territorial air defense to both offensive and defensive operations. After nearly six decades of development, the Air Force has initially developed into a strategic service comprising more than one wings. It now has relatively strong capabilities to conduct air defensive and offensive operations, and certain capabilities to execute long-range precision strikes and strategic projection operations.

Structure and Organization

In peacetime, the Air Force practices a leadership system which combines operational command with building and administration, and which consists of the Air Force Headquarters, air commands under military area commands, corps-level (division-level) command posts, divisions (brigades) and regiments. The Air Force has under it an air command in each of the seven military area commands of Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. It has also under it an airborne corps as well as various institutions of education, research and experimentation. Under each air command at the military area command level are aviation divisions, ground-to-air missile divisions (brigades and regiments), antiaircraft artillery brigades (regiments), radar brigades (regiments), ECM brigades (regiments and battalions), and other specialized service units. In key areas there are also corps- or division-level command posts. The Air Force has also a number of educational and training institutions, including the Air Force Command College, Air Force Engineering University, Air Force Aviation University, Air Force Radar College, Air Force College at Guilin, Air Force College at Xuzhou, Air Force School for Noncommissioned Officers at Dalian and seven flying colleges.

An aviation division usually consists of regiments, groups and squadrons, and has such types of aircraft as fighters, attackers, fighter-bombers, bombers, transports and combat support aircraft. It has under it aviation regiments and related stations. The aviation regiment is the basic tactical unit. With battalions as the basic fighting units, the ground-to-air missile force is usually organized into divisions, regiments and battalions or into brigades (regiments) and battalions. With batteries as basic fighting units, the antiaircraft artillery force is usually organized into brigades (regiments), battalions and companies. The airborne forces are organized into corps, divisions, regiments, battalions and companies.

Force Building

To meet the requirements of informationized warfare, the Air Force is working to accelerate its transition from territorial air defense to both offensive and defensive operations, and increase its capabilities for carrying out reconnaissance and early warning, air strikes, air and missile defense, and strategic projection, in an effort to build itself into a modernized strategic air force.

Taking into full account preparations for combat and its own transformation and development, the Air Force is exploring training systems and methods tailored to the development of the latest generation of weaponry and equipment. It stresses technical and tactical training in complex environments, combined training of different arms and aircraft types, and joint training; conducts mission-oriented and confrontational training; and is increasing on-base, simulated and web-based training. It is working to optimize the tripartite pilot training system composed of flying colleges, training bases and combat units, and intensifying the training of aviation units in counter-air operations, air-to-ground attacks and joint operations. It is deepening reforms and innovations in institutional education by improving the system of discipline, and making innovations in teaching programs, means and methods. It is strengthening on-the-job training, and exploring a new model of personnel development, namely the triad of institutional education, training in units and professional military education. For this purpose, the Air Force Military Professional University was established in July 2008.

To satisfy the strategic requirements of conducting both offensive and defensive operations, the Air Force attaches importance to developing new types of fighters, air and anti-missile defense weapons, and command automation systems. It has deployed some relatively advanced computerized equipment, and air-to-air and air-to-ground precision-guided munitions, upgraded the electronic information systems of the equipment on active service, and improved the basic networks for intelligence and early warning, command and control, and communications. It has in the main established a major battle weaponry and equipment system with third-generation aircraft and ground-to-air missiles as the mainstay, and modified second-generation aircraft and ground-to-air missiles as the supplement.

Centering on the improvement of the capabilities and quality of its personnel, the Air Force pursues a road of personnel development which takes new- and high-tech talents as the driving force, makes breakthroughs in critical areas and aims at overall improvement. It makes overall plans for training command, staff, flight and technical support personnel. It has fostered a group of core personnel with a good command of information technology and a contingent of new types of high-caliber personnel as represented by inter-disciplinary commanding officers, first-rate pilots, leaders in scientific and technological research, and technical experts.

To raise its integrated support capabilities, the Air Force attaches importance to the development of logistical and equipment support systems. It endeavors to improve the support facilities of airfields and positions; strengthen its logistical forces for rapid construction of air defense projects, bomb elimination at and rapid repair of airfields which have suffered attack, and aviation medical support; develop and deploy the second generation of specialized logistical equipment; create a storage and supply network for special-purpose materials; and build step by step bases capable of supporting multiple types of aircraft. The Air Force is also stepping up efforts to deepen the reform of the equipment support mode; improve the layout of support networks for the supply, maintenance and technical support of ammunition and material; and make support equipment smaller in size, more versatile in function and fitter for field operations.

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