FORCE AS A CASE STUDY
Richard J. Latham
Kenneth W. Allen
Defense reform was one of many issues on the agenda of
Chinese reformers during the 1980s. Although national security reforms had
important policy implications for-the Chinese government, they never
seemed to possess the urgency that economic and political reforms did. Among
Western analysts, the term Chinese defense modernization frequently has
been used interchangeably with defense reform. This practice, in turn,
has led to glossing over important changes in China's
military. Additionally, a preoccupation with technical information about
weaponry has caused analysts to miss the recent emergence of substantive
information about the composition of and dynamics within China's
In this study we use the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air
Force (PLAAF) as a case study about Chinese defense reforms. One reason for
focusing only on the PLAAF is to illustrate the wealth of information that has
become available from Chinese sources.
Our thesis is that the PLA is principally involved in reform
as "regularization" (zhengguihua) rather
than reform as modernization (xiandaihua).
Reform as regularization involves improving the training, organization,
strategy, policy, practices and personnel of the PLA. Reform as modernization
involves equipment and weapons. The key point is that regularization is an
internal activity of the military. Modernization is an external process
involving research institutes and factories that are not part of the PLA. The
rhetoric of reform has sometimes led to confusion, but the differences are
significant. The PLA can do something about regularization; it is at the mercy
of its domestic defense industrial base for modernization.
*An extract of this paper will appear in the May-June
1991 issue of Problems of Communism. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense, the Department of
the Air Force or the Defense Intelligence Agency. Richard Latham, Colonel,
USAF, was the Air Force Attache in Hong
Kong (1986-1989). Kenneth Allen, Major, USAF, was the
Assistant Air Attache in Beijing
(1987-1989). We wish to thank Ellis Joffe, Paul
Godwin, Wendy Frieman, June Dreyer, Harlan Jencks,
LTC John Corbett, and Mark Roth who offered suggestions regarding early drafts.
We further propose that the pursuit of regularization in China's
military has led to the reappearance of professionalism--a point that
is still debated. Although the term "professionalism" seldom appears
in PLA defense literature, the phenomenon exists even though there are still
extensive political pressures. Aside from any political anxiety about
professionalism in the PLA, we conclude that the new nemesis of military
professionalism and regularization is the pace of equipment modernization. The
problem is that eventually the lack of modern equipment will serve as a
frustrating inhibitor of regularization.
Reform: A New Era of Inquiry
Historians will view the 1980s as one of the most important
decades of modern China.
As early as 1987 Chinese writers began to sum up the achievements and problems
of the "decade of reform."
Even optimistic reformers acknowledged they sometimes had been too naive and
had not recognized the complexity of the problems they set out to redress. In
one sense the relative eclipse of the post-Mao reformers in the spring
and summer of 1989 was a case of reform fatigue: increasingly, it appeared that
perpetual reform was an oxymoron. The Tiananmen Square
incident did not mark the cessation of reform, but in a tragically stark manner
it brought into focus the waning of political stamina of reformists and the
growth of social and economic stress. Changes have continued, but the earlier
flavor and heady optimism are no longer evident. Regardless of how compelling
reform may be, it is difficult to sustain year after year.
Defense reform was a central element on the agenda of
Chinese reformers. Party leaders imposed most reforms on China's
social, economic or political systems. It is commonly argued in some analysis
military establishment was a reluctant participant in reforms. Because the
spectrum of reform programs was broad, the attitudes and responses of military
personnel and organizations varied according to specific initiatives. We argue
in this analysis that defense reform in general had a surprising number of
military supporters. Specific aspects of defense reform naturally provoked equally
varied reactions among military members and civilians. Rather than looking at
Chinese defense reform in general, we use the People's Liberation Army Air
Force (PLAAF) as a case study.
One of the more widely cited doctrinal justifications for
Chinese defense reform is the "three hua's":
modernization (xiandaihua) and regularization (zhengguihua).
Modernization of the PLA fundamentally applies to equipment. There are rarely
references in Chinese analysis to modernized soldiers.
The exact meaning of revolutionization of the army
remains debatable. In many ways it is a catch-all phrase or process that
epitomizes the constant regeneration of communist ideals and traditional
military values. Nearly all substantive military reforms were introduced under
the rubric of regularization.
Since the founding of the PLAAF, its leadership has
frequently and unevenly pursued regularization and modernization.
Regularization of the air force has involved people, resources, objectives,
processes and institutions that basically are internal to the PLAAF. In short,
they are factors over which the air force has some degree of control. Chinese politics; society and the economy,
however, also constrain air force leaders in making internal changes. Conversely,
modernization of the air force's aircraft and equipment involves external
factors. The PLAAF is solely dependent on what China's
aviation industry--with or without foreign assistance or technology--designs,
develops, researches and produces. Regularization of the air force is not
pursued at the expense of equipment modernization. Equipment modernization,
which is beyond the control of the PLAAF, does effect regularization. The
investment in regularization may begin to atrophy over time because military
training cannot effectively incorporate new strategies and tactics without
utilizing the requisite modern equipment.
In this study we equate Chinese defense reform with
regularization. The history of the PLA after 1949--especially the
PLAAF--has been one of repeated efforts to convert guerrilla forces
into a conventional state army. The duration of the conversion process and its
impediments are particularly informative. On the one hand, they draw attention
to the unusually severe political shocks that have impeded the conversion or
regularization of the military. On the other hand, they draw attention to
regularization as a recurrent PLA effort to recover from the political shocks
and revitalize China's
military forces. It was therefore not difficult for many senior military
leaders to embrace defense reform in the early 1980s. Reform, change, revolutionization, modernization and regularization had
long been part of the PLA's lexicon of conversion
An implicit objective of our research is to illustrate
the considerable information about the Chinese military that became available
during the decade of reform. Previously, the subject of Chinese national
security was a "forbidden zone" in China. For
the greater part of 30 years there was virtually no public or scholarly
discussion of national security in China. Since
the early 1980s, however, there has been a proliferation of published Chinese
books about defense and security matters. Additionally, Chinese and Western
military attaches, representatives of the PLA and scholars from Chinese think
tanks that are concerned with national security have provided fresh insights
Foreign analysis of the PLAAF traditionally has focused
on air order of battle enumerations and predictions about equipment procurement.
There also were no publications or books from the People's Republic of China (PRC)
about the PLAAF. Understandably, the Chinese air force was viewed as an
organizational clone of the PLA ground forces. There was no corporate air force
history and no revealed organizational culture. The Chinese air force was a
classical Sinological shadow. This perception was not
so much flawed as it was incomplete. Virtually nothing was written in China to
give the air force--or most other military organizations--any
detailed identity. In short, China's
military was often understood and described in one dimensional contour
During the decade of reform, the PLAAF and its officers
began to reveal glimpses of the air force's corporate identity. Vague contour
lines gave way to depth, texture and variation. In the late 1980s several
histories of the PLAAF were published in China
Chinese aviation journals also published periodic vignettes
general, the decade of reform ushered in an unprecedented proliferation of
Chinese scholarship and research about defense and national security matters.
What is normally absent in the Chinese literature is research that integrates
the diverse Chinese sources of information into a composite analysis of the
PLAAF. Notwithstanding the numerous defense books that have appeared in China,
the most comprehensive studies about the Chinese military are still published
and Irregular Conditions
Regularization has been a longstanding reform objective in
China. As a goal and process it predates the decade of reform. The pursuit of
regularization of the army has implied the existence of irregular or abnormal
conditions and practices. One PI,A analyst compared the problem of irregular practices
in the PLA to a wooden bucket in which staves are of uneven height: the bucket
can only be filled as high as the lowest stave.
The solution to abnormal and arbitrary practices another writer in Liberation
Army Daily argued, is a clear set of military rules and regulations. He
pointed to conditions within the PLA in which leaders "lose their
bearings" because missions and responsibilities are unclear. Drawing upon
a civilian metaphor, he observed that many times military leaders "'work
hard in a bureaucratic manner and get exhausted like firemen." He advised
that "regularity in the work of the military units is not mysterious at
all, and we do not need to explore and seek such regularity bit by bit from the
The search for regularization in the PLAAF--as
in the other services--has been a search for normalcy; established
rules and regulations; specified standards of performance; organizational
structures that meet policy and mission objectives; standard measurements of
leadership; regular systems for managing material, budgets, personnel and
facilities; established rank structures and criteria for determining
promotions, awards and retirement; commonality in job descriptions and
responsibilities; and rational relationships among strategy, force structure
The nadir of regularization in China's military was during
the Cultural Revolution. The prevailing ideological values came close to making
irregular practices a Maoist virtue. Revolutionary spontaneity and disdain for
convention and rules supplanted order and discipline--the normal
virtues of military institutions. In the early 1950s, regularization was the
process of converting a guerrilla army into a conventional army. During the
years of the Sino-Soviet rift it was a reaction to military dependency
that prompted a search for "an army with Chinese characteristics." The Cultural Revolution was the antithesis of regularization in which the
abolition of military ranks was the most outward manifestation. For China's military, the consequences were demoralizing and
destructive. This article is, therefore, a study of how current efforts to
reform the PLAAF are part of a longer historical pursuit of regularization.
Three prefatory observations are in order. First, the
pursuit of regularization can be a useful indicator of military
professionalism. In recent years there has been a renewed debate among western
scholars regarding the existence of professionalism in the PLA.
Analysts routinely turn to Samuel Huntington, Bengt Abrahamsson and others who have proposed criteria to assess
professionalism in military organizations. These include: specialized
knowledge, a sense of corporateness, non-involvement
in domestic political affairs, and internal codes of conduct or ethics.
highly developed infrastructure of military organizations provides an
environment for corporateness and for acquiring
specialized training and education. To borrow a term used by Chinese Communist
Party (CCP) party workers who are responsible for strengthening grass-roots
party groups, the PLA also provides a framework of "organizational
life" within which professional values are nurtured.
Second, defense reforms commonly center on administrative
changes such as reorganizations, planning, programming, budgeting, training and
procurement. Western assessments of China's defense reforms have sometimes
concluded that a scarcity of funds and technology has prompted PLA leaders to
pursue easy, low cost reforms (i.e., regularization) rather than modernization
(i.e., new weapons). In reality, Chinese defense reform initiatives have resembled
those pursued in the west.
observation requires that we make an important distinction. PLA modernization
is not the same as defense reform. How the PLA efficiently administers
its organizations, trains its forces and procures equipment are proper
objectives of reform or regularization. Conversely, what weapons the PLA
procures and how the defense industries produce them are elements of
Third, the pursuit of defense regularization in the 1980s
did not mean all earlier Chinese efforts at regularization had failed. The PLA
was not entirely a reluctant object of reform. In many ways, regularization of
the PLA mirrored broader social and economic reforms such as "youthification," higher educational standards, greater
separation of party and administrative functions, leaner organizations, greater
planning and budgeting oversight and accountability systems. Defense
regularization, however, had been a recurring process. The problem was not so
much that reforms had failed but that reforms invariably only changed things at
the margins. In the United States, for example, there has been a succession of
major defense reforms since 1947. In China, as in the United States; the targets
of defense reform are resilient; hence reforms seldom can demonstrate clear
THE COURSE OF PLAAF REGULARIZATION
The Expansion Years: 1949-1957
The PLAAF was formally established November 11, 1949.
Chinese historians trace the origins of aviation activity among CCP members to
1924. Between 1924 and 1949, CCP aviators and technicians came from three
sources: the GuangzhouAviationSchool (via the HuangpuMilitaryAcademy); the Xinjiang
Aviation Unit which was started by Chen Yun; and the NortheastOldAviationSchool
which was the predecessor of the PLAAFAviationSchool
Two Soviet-trained aviation pioneers, Chang Qiankun and Wang Bi, began
shaping communist concepts for the use of air power in the early 1940s at Yan'ari.
On the eve of establishing the PLAAF, Chinese communist
forces had fewer than 3,000 trained aviation personnel. There were 202 pilots,
30 navigators, 2373 mechanics, three engineers and miscellaneous personnel.
There were only 159 foreign-made aircraft (21 different types) but 542
airfields. Airmen from the communist movement constituted 88 percent of the
pilots but only 15 percent of the mechanics. Personnel "accepted" from the Kuomintang (i.e., Nationalist) forces represented 85 percent of the
mechanics and an even higher percentage of technical personnel.
More than 100 Japanese pilots and technically trained ground personnel remained
in Manchuria after 1945. They were part of the initial
contingent of instructors at the Northeast Old Aviation Schoo1.
In March 1949, the CCP's Military
Commission transferred a contingent of 64 personnel from the Northeast Old
Aviation School to Beijing.
Their mission was to establish a transitional organization prior to the
establishment of an air force. It was called the CCP Military Commission's Aviation
Bureau (hangkona iu). As
more Nationalist units
surrendered their troops and equipment, the scope of the bureau's responsibilities
quickly increased. The staff nearly tripled in size. In October the bureau became
the Air Force Headquarters. In the military regions (MR) that existed in 1949, rudimentary
MR aviation offices (junqu hangkong chu) were founded. They subsequently became military region
air force (MRAF--junqu kongjun) headquarters. The early MRAF headquarters were not
operational commands, rather they were mainly concerned with consolidating the aviation
assets left by Nationalist military units and civil aviation companies and organizations.
The headquarters organization of the PLAAF as it existed in
1949 is shown in Figure 1. There were six departments below the commander,
political commissar, deputy commanders and deputy political commissars. In the
earliest days of the PLAAF, the major stress
was placed on organizing effective central leadership. There were simply too few
human resources to worry immediately about complete and competent staffing of
MRAF headquarters. Initially, moreover, there essentially were no operational
units budui . In addition, the Aviation Bureau was
not merely concerned with military aviation matters such as air space control
and air defense, but it also was responsible for consolidating civilian
aviation and salvaging the remnants of an aviation industry.
As a result, several matters dominated the PLA aviation agenda in 1949. Some of
them' were resolved within a few years, but many of them continued to influence
the developmental course of the PLAAF, the defense aviation industry and civil
aviation for at least the next four decades.
Air Defense. Until the PLAAF and PLA Air Defense Force
(fangkoniziun) merged in 1957, the air force's
only air defense assets were its aircraft and a few radar units. The Air
Defense Force, which had anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and most of the
radar troops, was also responsible for air defense of the large cities.
Although the PLAAF took over all of the Air Defense Force's assets and
responsibilities in 1957 and formed its surface-to-air missile
(SAM) branch in 1958, it appears that the air force has not yet completely
integrated the aircraft, AAA, and SAMs in an overall
air defense system.
Civil Aviation and Air Space Control. The air force
turned over most of its commercial aviation transport responsibilities to the
Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in 1950.
Although it was comparatively easy to separate commercial air travel from
military operations, the PLAAF still retains operational control of all but a
small fraction of Chinese air space. As a result, civilian control of airways
is limited to narrow "air corridors" or airways.
Meanwhile, the international trend has been toward civilian management of air
traffic control while militaries retain responsibility for air defense.
Aviation Industry. A more difficult problem was how
to handle the aviation industry which in 1949 was composed mainly of 32
military aircraft maintenance facilities and 4,700 workers. The air force
initially proposed that it would transfer to the Ministry of Heavy Industry
those factories which had a manufacturing capability. It was soon evident that
repair and maintenance functions could not be separated from manufacturing. The
PLAAF eventually surrendered most of the factories with the understanding that
it could take back some of them once the aviation industry began to develop. It
did precisely that between 1955 and 1957 when it resumed control of six
Soviet civilian aeronautical assistance eventually led to
the formation of the Third Ministry of Machine Industry sanjibu
or 3rd MMI).
primary task was the manufacture of military aircraft, although in principle
the 3rd MMI also proposed to make civilian aircraft. For many years, however,
its only client was the PLAAF. The relationship of the PLAAF to the aviation
industry never became close, although both sides have avoided drawing public
attention to the problems in the relationship. From its beginning, the PLAAF
was never comfortable relying on external maintenance for engines or airframes.
That concern explains in part why the PLAAF was clearly intent on establishing
its own in-house network of repair factories in the late 1950s. For many
years the PLAAF often had a senior officer serving as a deputy minister in the
aviation industry. The aviation industry did not succeed in clarifying its
subordination to the State Council rather than the air force until early 1972.
Human Resources. Manpower was a central issue.
There were decidedly different military experiences found in the combat-tested
PLA leaders and the technically savvy graduates of the NortheastOldAviationSchool.
Most strikingly, the latter had not seen much fighting prior to the Korean War.
There were even sharper differences between PLA soldiers and Nationalist
aviation personnel who were "accepted into the air force." The
differences involved not only politics, but fundamental attitudes toward
technical training and skills. The red-versus-expert dichotomy had
an early manifestation within the air force where technical competence was
unavoidable. The immediate emphasis on training was designed not only to fill a
technical vacuum, but also to lessen dependence on former Nationalist personnel
with questionable loyalties. Much later in PLAAF history this dichotomy between
technical and non-technical personnel took a form more similar to that
found in Western air forces: aviators or "operators" and support
Equipment. PLA leaders also faced immediate problems
regarding aviation equipment. Virtually none of the "left behind" equipment had been manufactured domestically. Even ground facilities
(airfields, hangars, factories, repair depots, fuel dumps) were extensively
influenced by foreign engineering. The residue of aviation equipment was so
disparate that it would have been impossible to use it as a foundation for a
new air force or aviation industry-even if communism had not been a
divisive issue for the governments of foreign suppliers. The pursuit of a
standardized, modern air force, as well as the indigenous capability to produce
aircraft, led to meetings in Moscow
even before the PLAAF was founded. The pursuit of standardized air assets and
self-sufficiency are therefore deeply grounded in the origins of the
PLAAF. These elements of PLAAF institutional memory are frequently
underestimated in foreign analysis of Chinese effort to modernize its military
Political Reliability. Political reliability also was
a major concern. It gave rise to an especially visible, long-term
dominance of leaders with political commissar backgrounds. "Flying
machines" required more technical skills to operate and maintain than were
customarily found among guerrilla fighters from the PLA ground forces.
Consequently, the early technical core of the PLAAF was not necessarily
communist by choice. In the main, they had been the enemy. Political
reliability became a less pressing issue over time, but its early urgency
provided the entree for nearly three decades of political commissar dominance
of senior PLAAF leadership.
Service Autonomy. Core PLA leaders unmistakably
rejected any emerging trend toward organizational autonomy or equality for the
PLAAF. The PLAAF was a "new service" (xin
junzhong), but its roots and future--PLAAF
cadres were told--were to be the Liberation Army.
effect the new air force was expected to behave more like a branch (bingzhong) than a service (junzhong).
Not only was there apprehension that air force personnel might call for some
form of autonomy from the army, but there also were PLA personnel who, like
some foreign counterparts, argued that there was no mission in the army for
Significantly, the PLAAF's first and most senior leaders
were not drawn from the ranks of early communist aviators. An autonomous group
of aviation leaders was not desired in 1949. Liu Yalou,
whose roots were in the 14th bingtuan of
the Fourth Field Army, was the first commander. Xiao Hua,
the political commissar, was from the 13th bingtuan.
Two other senior leaders had some aviation experience.
In August and September 1949, 2515 members of Liu Yalou's
14th bingtuan transferred from Wuhan to Beijing
to form the core of the PLAAF headquarters in conjunction with the Aviation
PLA wanted to prevent any nascent aviation autonomy, but there clearly were
problems finding senior leaders with any combat experience. The PLAAF was not
formed from any preexisting PLA air arm. Its disparate origins were found among
about one hundred CCP and Nationalist pilots, technicians and mechanics. They
had defected, were captured or belonged to the CCP underground within the
Nationalist army. There also were guerrilla fighters who were transferred to
the PLAAF. In its infancy the manpower composition of the PLAAF was far from
A number of factors helped bring focus to the PLA's emergent air forces. First, there was the need to
organize an air defense of Beijing
(then called Beiping). Nationalist B-24 bombers
attacked the city on May 4, 1949.
Second, Nationalist air forces also frequently attacked Shanghai.
The most serious attack was in February 1950 when 1,400 peopled were killed.
Air defense had become a pressing issue. Third, CCP leaders soon became
occupied with what was to become the long-term objective of liberating Taiwan.
Fourth, the lack of access to western aircraft parts hastened a shift toward a
future aircraft inventory based on Soviet technology. Finally, the outbreak of
the Korean War in June 1950 became the most important galvanizing force in
spurring the development of the PLAAF. The Korean War was to the PLAAF what WW
II and the War of Liberation were to the PLA's ground
Three important outcomes of these factors were: an
integrated inventory of aircraft of Soviet origin; the acquisition of a
foundation for an indigenous aircraft production capability; and a sense of
combat maturation for the PLAAF's first generation of aviators--and
Notwithstanding the many difficulties the PLAAF faced, they
had reason to be heartened by the early growth of the air force. By 1954 they
had acquired 3,000 aircraft which were organized in 2$ air divisions and 70
regiments. At least 12 academies or schools had been founded. The institutions
trained 5,945 pilots, 24,000 technicians, 396 cadres, 690 political cadres, and
310 logistics cadres. PLAAF histories are unclear as to whether or not their
goal of 290,000 airmen was realized by 1954.
The Sino-Soviet split 1959-1961
The 1950s were the PLAAF's expansion years during which
there was substantial Soviet influence. PLAAF historians recall this period
with a certain degree of affection and appreciation.
Soviet advisors were assigned to the seven aviation schools that were founded in October 1949. Direct Soviet involvement
in flight training began to decrease in 1951. The Sino-Soviet split was
probably more traumatic for the PLAAF than it was for PLA ground forces because
the efforts to modernize China's air. force were especially dependent on
technology. The rift also prompted an unanticipated institutional maturation
for the PLAAF. Self-reliance became more than a political slogan for the
PLAAF. PLAAF leaders quickly recognized the need to address air power and the
aviation industry in terms of China's independent defense needs rather than rely
solely on the Soviet model. It proved to be a torturous and lengthy process.
PLAAF staffs began a
multi-year project to compile rational regulations, rules, manuals and
guidance that reflected the PLAAF's needs. The education and training system
was reformed and there was a new emphasis on advanced scientific skills and
education for PLAAF officers and technicians. The PLAAF's sudden independence
from direct Soviet influence came at a time when PLAAF personnel were still
heady from their own combat experiences against the United States in the Korean War. There was an emergent
atmosphere of professionalism--at least as understood in the West--that
lasted until the mid-1960s. China's newly established aviation industry was on its
way to being nearer world standards than it would be any time in the next three
decades. It was a time when the air force also acquired the new mission of air
defense. It included anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), surface-to-air
missile (SAM), and radar forces. On the negative side, the Sino-Soviet
split also signaled the beginning of two decades of domestic political and
economic oscillations that enervated China's air forces and aviation industry.
Frustration and Optimism: 1962-1966
Throughout China recovery from the Sino-Soviet split and the Great Leap Forward was slow.
There was a general need to consolidate the incomplete Soviet scientific and
technological projects. The problems were especially pressing for the PLAAF.
Due to a lack of engines and engine parts, flying hours fell by 41 percent in
1960. They continued to be low through at least 1963. In 1961 quality control
in the manufacture of aircraft became a serious problem. The scarcity of
aviation equipment and parts also compelled the PLAAF to adopt new flight
training measures. These were summarized as "train harder on the ground;
fly with precision through the air.
Perhaps only briefly between 1963 and 1966--before the chaos of the
Cultural Revolution began--did the PLAAF feel it was finally on the
threshold of regularization and modernization. These were years during which
there were efforts to imbue all services with a sense of professionalism,
refine the education curricula, improve the training schools, take advantage of
relatively modern aircraft that started to emerge from Chinese factories, and
create an underpinning of doctrine and regulations that could give direction to
the air force.
The Cultural Revolution: 1966-1976
From the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 until
the mid-1970s, the PLAAF stagnated. In matters involving flight safety,
education, training, strategy and tactics, PLAAF historians claim there was
Civilian units, under the guise of making revolution, often occupied military
bases. In many cases the military property was never returned to its units even
by the late 1980s. In other instances, military school compounds were destroyed
as well as teaching materials, books and equipment. Instructors, researchers
and staff were often scattered throughout China.
In the worst cases, they died or were killed.
Ironically, the war in Vietnam,
plus Lin Biao's paranoia about China facing an imminent large war, led to more flying hours than in the past.
However, the training was haphazard, maintenance was poor and the "serious
accident rate" for aircraft soared to 0.6 per 10,000 sorties from 0.249 in
ground training (dimian xunlian)
virtually stopped because almost all PLAAF schools were closed for nearly
six years. This was the "lost generation" for China's
youth and it was no less true for the PLAAF. PLAAF historians refer to
pervasive stagnation or deterioration.
For the air force the cessation of education was more
complicated than it was for society as a whole. The disruptions resulting from
the "stop classes, make revolution" activities were disruptive but
did not pose the most harmful consequences. The major problem was Lin Biao's advocacy of an imminent war doctrine. An emphasis on
war preparations and political activism led to far reaching changes. In
November 1969 this view led to the elimination of 13 of approximately 16
technical schools and academies in the PLAAF. The expected training goal for
the Cultural Revolution years was 21,900 students, but only 5,650 graduated. In
1967 and 1968 the achievement levels of graduates were so low they could not be
used in their gaining units. At the PLAAFSecondAviationSchool authorities claimed the elimination of aviation theory courses between 1967 and
June 1970 "resulted in an increase of aircraft accidents at the school and
were similar results in 1970 when some technical courses resumed for periods of
only three to eight months.
The reason for this devastating cutback in non-flying
education was a major expansion of flight training in preparation for imminent
war. Four flying schools were added in 1967 and 1968. Annual flying hours for
flight schools increased dramatically: 1966 (180,000), 1968 (260,000), 1970
(310,000) and 1972 (400,000).
There were also extensive difficulties in the aviation
industries. Between 1969 and 1971, disruptions led to severe quality control
problems. As one history of the aviation industry notes, it was a time of industrial "anarchy or semi-anarchy .... the whole industry was in the
difficult position of trying to preserve order."
The aviation industry places the blame on the direct interference of PLAAF
commander Wu Faxian and the "military." They claim, for example, that in 1971 alone there were 27 types of aircraft
authorized to be developed. Even though there were no blueprints for any of
them, the industry was expected to bring them to the production stage in two to
three years. Development time for aircraft stretched out to 10-15 years
or more because production decisions were constantly delayed due to protracted
development problems or mere indecision. Between 1969 and 1971, 46 projects
went into operation without the necessary materials or designs: 36 of the projects
had not even been approved.
Interestingly, biographies of PLA and PLAAF leaders are
often glaringly silent about these years. Although a number of books have been
published in the West about the difficulties of the Cultural Revolution years,
there have been no similar books that specifically focus on the consequences
for the Chinese military. Recent military histories are guarded in their
assessments. While not understating the problems that arose, they have not "hung out the wash" as has been the case in some of the personal
The PLAAF emerged from the Cultural Revolution--including
the residual years of leftist influence in the early 1970s--as an
organizational shell. The operational forces were intact but their efficiency
had been degraded. Although the basic administrative infrastructure was still
in place, the routine functions, operating procedures, training, education,
tactical and strategic planning, and the corporate identity of the air force
were nearly moribund. Discipline had seriously eroded and standards of
competency (e.g., leadership, flying, technical support, administration) were
The PLAAF decidedly needed to pursue again a course of
regularization, but no military service in China
had ever unilaterally undertaken reform or regularization. In September 1971,
PLAAF commander Wu Faxian was implicated in the Lin Biao Affair and was sentenced in 1981 to 17 years of
imprisonment. For almost two years the air force did not have a commander. Ma Ning, a former deputy commander of the Lanzhou MRAF and
politically active figure in Jilin
during the Cultural Revolution, finally became PLAAF commander (1973-1977).
He was, however, largely a transitional figure. Although Ma Ning
had been a commander, his rise to prominence in the PLAAF seems linked more to
his political views than his aviation skills. In neither the PLA nor PLAAF were
pressing problems seriously addressed during the early 1970s.
1975 to 1977 was a critical period for the PLA as Deng Xiaoping
consolidated his political and military power.
In addition, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai passed from
the scene and the Gang of Four fell in 1976. Amid these profound leadership
changes, the PLAAF took its initial steps toward regularization: Zhang Tingfa became the new PLAAF commander (1977-1985);
the PLAAF succeeded in establishing the Aero-Engineering Department in
1976 as one of the four first-level departments to address aviation
maintenance problems; and in 1977 all military services embarked on a five-year
program to reestablish and regularize military training and education.
civilian defense aviation industry, which once had the potential to become a
technologically competitive manufacturer of military aircraft in the mid-1960s,
emerged in the late 1970s further behind world standards than it had been in
the late 1950s.
aviation industry cites December 1971--three months after the
deaths of Lin Biao and Wu Faxian-as
its turning point. Zhou Enlai and Ye Jianying called for a conference on the continuing problem
of quality control in the aviation industry. The Central Military Commission
(CMC) subsequently addressed deeper, underlying problems and within three
months it "adjusted" the leadership of the industry.
The point that aviation industry historians subsequently have emphasized is
that in March 1972 the CMC abolished the "air force relationship with the
aviation industry and restored direct subordination [of the aviation industry]
to the State Council.
No matter how operationally compelling regularization was
for any of the PLA services, it was virtually impossible to initiate without
the explicit support of a figure such as Deng Xiaoping. The pursuit of
regularization--efficiency and necessity aside--was, in
reality, a rejection of an extensive structure of military strategy, philosophy
and doctrine. The Third Plenum of the Eleventh CCP Congress (December 1978)
officially sanctioned a departure from past practices. Regeneration- was
not enough; reform was expected and encouraged.
Beginning in 1978, the PLAAF embarked on numerous reforms
and changes in its operating style. The first step was an overall rectification
of organizations, practices and procedures. Air force leaders recurrently held
conferences where they addressed the need to improve maintenance standards and
practices. PLAAF leaders began to focus more intently on substantive issues
such as specific missions for aircraft in the inventory, strategic research and
safety guidance. A renewed emphasis was placed on drafting operating
regulations. Air Force units also participated in joint service exercises.
Budget planning was undertaken in three-year plans. The CMC authorized
the restoration of flying grades and flight pay. Finally, PLAAF personnel began
to attend international conferences. The commander, Zhang Tingfa,
alone made approximately ten trips to foreign countries.
As PLAAF officers began traveling abroad, the air force became more transparent
as a military service and organization. Transparency brought fresh insights
about how elements of the PLA operate. Much of this new information came as China's
air force was engaging in an extensive regularization of its institutions,
forces and people.
ORGANIZATION OF THE PLAAF
The study of military organizations is often a tedious
endeavor, but it can be informative. The following section describes the four
administrative and operating levels of the PLAAF, and the nature of interaction
between the PLAAF headquarters and the PLA's
"three general departments" (san zongbu):
General Staff Department (GSD), General Political Department (GPD) and General
Logistics Department (GLD).
PLAAF-PLA General Departments
There is considerable symmetry between the functional second-level
departments of the PLA's three general departments
(Figure 2) and the headquarters organization of the PLAAF (Figure 3). All PLAAF
procurement programs, budgets, capital construction plans, manpower issues and
training programs are coordinated with or determined by the relevant
departments within the PLA's three general departments.
The organizational relationships are complex and diverse.
While the three general departments are dominated by PLA ground forces
officers, there are also air force and navy personnel who serve there. There
are jointly staffed offices as well as specialized offices such as the Air
Force Offices (kongjunchu) that are
subordinate to the GSD Operations and Equipment Departments. Political officers
often switch back and forth between the GPD and the PLAAF Political Department.
Air force and navy officers wear army uniforms while serving on the joint
staff. Service representation ensures a measure of equitable representation and
The internal organization of Headquarters Air Force (HqAF) is mirrored or replicated at each of the three lower
such, the functional elements of the headquarters are an accurate reflection of
the range of air force missions, responsibilities and tasks. At the apex is the
senior leadership: commander (general), political commissar (lieutenant
general), four deputy commanders (lieutenant generals), two deputy political
commissars (lieutenant generals), chief of staff (major general), plus the
directors (major general) of the Political, Logistics, and Aeronautical
Engineering Departments. These twelve officers comprise the air force's Party
Standing Committee. Party standing committees at each lower PLAAF echelon
consist of similar sets of commanding officers. The Party Committee itself
consists of the Standing Committee plus the commanders and political commissars
of the seven MRAFs.
The general organization of the PLAAF Headquarters is
reasonably defined. What is unclear is the command relationship between the
functional offices and the senior leaders.
For example, the four deputy commanders are not concurrently
the directors of the four first-level departments. Each deputy commander has oversight
responsibility for one of four permanent oversight areas: training,
operations, air defense, and logistics/equipment/ R&D. Only the logistics
oversight area is not a subordinate department of the Headquarters Department.
Additionally, they have secondary oversight responsibility for other second-level
functional areas. The division of responsibility clearly is not synonymous with
the "big four" departments. In selecting deputy commanders, some
consideration is usually given to requiring expertise in one of the four areas
of permanent oversight.
The chief of staff is not a coordinator of the "big
four" departments, rather he only directs the Headquarters Department. His
four deputy chiefs of staff, who are not lower level counterparts of the four
deputy commanders, oversee clusters of second-level departments within
the Headquarters Department. They have no lateral responsibilities in the three
other first-level departments.
In the U.S. military the terms "rank" and "grade" are effectively
synonymous. In the PLA they are quite distinct. Military ranks (junxian) were reintroduced in 1988 with some difficulty.
Perhaps the key obstacle was accurately aligning rank with functional
responsibilities and status based on length of service. Grade (zhiwu dengji) or army
equivalent position (AEP) currently is a more accurate reflection of authority
and responsibility across service, branch and organizational lines. Grade
reflects asymmetries of authority among organizations and individuals who
seemingly have equal status.
Thus, while rank is a key indicator for foreigners, AEP is
still the key indicator within the PLA. For example, the PLAAF commander and
political commissar have different ranks but they have the same grade--each
has the AEP of an MR commander. A more striking case is found in the PLA Navy
(PLAN) where the commander has a lower rank than the political commissar, but
each one has the same grade or AEP. The relative importance of departments
cannot necessarily be determined by first or second level-status, or by
the military rank of the department directors. For example, the Political and
Logistics Department directors and the chief of staff all have the AEP of a MR
deputy commander; however, the Aero-Engineering Department director only
has the AEP of an army (jun) commander--the
same as the deputy chiefs of staff and deputy directors in the other "big
PLAAF officers routinely refer to two levels of departmental
organization within the HqAF. The first level
departments (yijibu) consist of the "big
four" (si da bu): the Headquarters, Political, Logistics and Aero-engineering
Departments (bu) which are directed by major
departments (erjibu), whose directors are
senior colonels or colonels, consist of offices (shi), departments (bu) or bureaus (ju), plus specialized elements
such as the PLAAF Procuratorate and Court.
Most second-level departments have various subordinate divisions/offices (chu/ke). Each of the 20 major elements in the
Headquarters Department has about 30 personnel.
The PLAAF's internal operational
chain of command is fairly straight forward.
Broadly speaking, the internal air
force operational and administrative hierarchy is organized into four distinct
levels (see Figure 4): Headquarters Air Force (HqAF) (kongjun); Military Region Air Force Headquarters (MRAF Hq) (junqu kongjun); Command Posts (zhihuisuo) and Air Corps (kongjun jun); and Operational
units (budui) . Operating units may be
directly subordinate to any of the top three levels.
Region Air Forces (MRAF)
Presently, the number of MRAFs
corresponds to the seven PLA military regions: Shenyang,
Jinan and Chengdu.
The total number of MRAF headquarters changed several times since 1949. Recent
changes have corresponded to new military region boundaries, but air regions
were not always coterminous with the military regions. The concept of military
regions is closely tied to the CCP's field armies
that fought against the Japanese and Nationalist forces. Regardless of specific
historical influences, the military regions have come to represent more than
convenient administrative demarcations. For planning and operational purposes,
they are now viewed as theaters or distinct campaign arenas. Primary emphasis
is placed on regional defense. MRAF Hqs, per
se, may have some operational assets that are directly controlled by it. In the
main, however, the operational air units within a MR are separate from and
subordinate to the MRAF Hqs which exists primarily as
an administrative echelon. Each MRAF Hqs nonetheless
has an operations center that is part of the air force's overall operational
chain of command; and the MRAF commander is the MR commander's advisor
regarding aviation matters.
MRAF commanders are lieutenant generals. The position of
MRAF commander is a key step for promotion to one of the five senior positions
in the PLAAF. MRAF commanders normally have served as a deputy MRAF commander,
but not necessarily in the same region. The next step for a promotable
MRAF commander is PLAAF deputy commander. General officers on the HqAF staff--including the chief of staff--normally
must have their "tickets punched" in the senior MRAF Hq positions before they can become a PLAAF deputy
commander. A premium is now placed on having command experience at the regional
level of military operations. It may be premature to conclude that the
Chinese have embraced "joint operations" in the same spirit that
exists in the West. Nevertheless, the PLA and the PLAAF are moving toward more
An MRAF Hqs commander literally
"wears two hats" or--in the Chinese case--two
uniforms. When General Larry Welch, a former Chief of Staff of the United
States Air Force, visited the Guangzhou MR in April 1989, PLAAF Lieutenant
General Liu Heqiao met the Welch delegation wearing a
green PLA uniform in his capacity as a Guangzhou MR deputy commander. At the
PLAAF-hosted dinner Liu wore the blue PLAAF uniform of the MRAF
and Air Corps
The PLAAF .currently has eight Command Posts and four Air Corps.
These are intermediate level elements that are responsible for the air defense
of specific cities. Practically speaking, there are no functional differences
between the two organizations, although an Air Corps is viewed as having
slightly less stature than a Command Post. The number of Air Corps and Command
Posts has changed frequently over the years with some Command Posts replacing
Air Corps in the 1980s. The trend during the 1990s presumably will be for
Command Posts to replace the remaining Air Corps. PLAAF officers generally state
that the Air Corps and MRAF Hqs are structured almost
identically as operational and administrative organizations. Command Posts are
structured primarily as operational organizations with their administrative
functions performed by an MRAF Hqs.
The budui or
military unit is a functional, non-administrative unit. It may be a
fighter division, radar unit, combined brigade or zhishu budui (directly subordinate unit) such as a
research institute, hospital, sanitorium,
transportation unit or logistics organization. The term budui is routinely used among service members to convey the flavor of a
functional unit rather than an administrative headquarters (jiguan)
or political/party element of the military.
The internal air force chain of command is reasonably clear
in terms of policy, military operations and administration. PLAAF officers,
however, have often added two important caveats. First, decisionmaking
regarding many operational matters is decentralized. Local commanders have
latitude to make on-the-spot decisions when circumstances require
an immediate response, yet other operational decisions are made as high as the
Second, the formal chain of command does not preclude a MRAF commander from
directly calling the PLAAF commander.
Some PLAAF officers further claim that the directors of the first-level
departments do not necessarily have to go through the deputy commanders or
commissars before reporting to the air force commander or political commissar.
Regarding staff matters, the functional offices within the "big four" departments must pass all actions through their second level General Office or
Headquarters Department (in the case of the Logistics Department) before they
are sent to a higher level. Operational matters are coordinated among small
operations centers within the headquarters of each level of the PLAAF. The
PLAAF claims that these operations are now semi-automated.
Although the normal chain of command is clear, that
condition does not necessarily mean the infrastructure of the PLAAF is
optimally efficient or always functions as it is planned. In China,
as in other countries, defense reforms repeatedly address the problems of dysfunctionality or routinized departures
from hierarchical control. The following examples illustrate some of the
complexities the PLAAF faces in exercising centralized control over all facets
of air force administration and activities.
The air force finance department (caiwubu)
--second level--is located within the HqAF Logistics Department. It is responsible for overall
budget and finance matters. At each of the three administrative levels
below HqAF there also is a finance office (chu/ke) within each logistics department. That
office coordinates budget and finance matters with lateral organizations at
each administrative level--HqAF down to
individual units. Within the lateral organizations there are combined
planning/finance offices (jihua/caiwu chu/ke).
Air force budgets are now based on 5-year plans and
annual budget submissions. From 1978 to 1986 the PLAAF relied on 3-year
there is a central air force budget, PLAAF officers often imply that the budget
process is not rigidly fixed. The PLAAF did not have a financial accounting system
of its own until mid-1989.
Once the GSD establishes its total budget requirements, centralized funding for
the PLAAF comes from the State Council through the GLD finance department.
Monies are normally dispersed between March and June.
In general, the PLAAF receives three kinds of central
budgetary allocations. The first is "fenced" or specifically
earmarked money (i.e., to buy a specific number of aircraft). The PLAAF can
only spend this money as specified by the GLD. The second allocation is
"constrained funds." These funds are also earmarked by categories,
but the PLAAF has some latitude in how it expends this money. The third
category is discretionary funds which have no attached strings: Based upon the
allocation constraints, these funds trickle down to the basic level units of
the PLAAF based on budgets and plans.
There is a second source of funds that is not centrally
controlled. In effect, it is an off-budget source of income for all four
PLAAF administrative levels. This source consists of commercial enterprises,
hotels, hospitals, factories, farms, mines and even airline services. Profits
from these activities are substantially discretionary in nature. Unlike
centrally apportioned funds that trickle down, the profits of military
enterprises are carefully husbanded. In theory there is supposed to be a "trickle up" flow to the next highest administrative level where
portions of the profits are redistributed down to poorer units.
The net effect is that HqAF has budgetary
control of big ticket items, major capital construction and expenditure
categories that central government planners endeavor to control through the
state budget allocation process. It has much less control over the daily
operating expenses of the budui's, housing,
care of dependents, and morale, welfare and recreation activities.
Regularization has meant the compilation of regulations to prevent economic
crimes and misuse of government property as well as improve economic
In 1990 the PLAAF had 500,000 officers, non-commissioned
officers (NCO) and conscripted airmen. One PLAAF officer further indicated that
the air force currently has about 170,000 military and civilian officers and
is a centralized personnel system in which personnel assignments come under the
purview of two HqAF elements: the Political Department's Cadre
Department (ganbubu) and the Headquarters
Department's Military Affairs Department (junwubu).
The Cadre Department is specifically concerned with officer assignments while
the Military Affairs Department determines manning requirements and
authorizations for all PLAAF organizations. Together these two organizations
try to link qualified people with authorized billets.
As late as 1988, however, the PLAAF personnel system was not computerized. One
aspect of regularization has been efforts to ensure that personnel
authorizations for organizations are rational and justified.
In reality the PLAAF has a de facto two-tier system of
personnel management. The first tier is at the MRAF level and below, where the
majority of personnel matters are handled. Most operational units--hence
most junior officers and conscripts--are below this level. The
second tier of personnel management involves senior officers at the army or air
corps (jun) level and above. Centralized
control is necessary for several reasons. First, all appointments in the second
tier require CMC approval. Next, officers in the second tier have "fast
track" potential and may have general officer mentors. Third, some of
these officers have exceptional educational qualifications (i.e., technical,
foreign language, advanced degrees). There are comparatively few air force or
"joint" (i.e., GSD, GPD, GLD and
COSTIND) billets in Beijing, although
total PLAAF personnel in the Beijing
area may be as high as 50,000--nearly a tenth of the air force.
Until 1990 the PLAAF was able to recruit aviation cadets directly from
participants in the national college entrance examination. Beginning in 1990--apparently
as a result of events at Tiananmen--the PLA's
General Political Department assumed the responsibility for selecting aviation
The majority of PLAAF personnel--officers, NCOs
and conscripts--serve their entire careers in the same military
region and perhaps even in their native province. Pilots, for example, normally
spend their entire careers in the division to which they are assigned after
transition flight training. This situation strikes U.S.
military manpower managers as unusual because American servicemen are
frequently transferred. In reality, the infrequent transfer of troops is a
fairly common practice throughout the world. In the case of the PLAAF the
prevalence of regional service and normally ample manpower distributions among
the military regions has meant that stringent centralized control of all air
force personnel is not viewed as especially necessary.
There is no assurance this practice will always satisfy
regional manpower requirements, especially in times of war. Chinese defense
planners have recently given more attention to the problem of war mobilization:
They have concluded, for example, that in times of general war, some local
urban-rural population distributions may not adequately meet the
requirements of both the armed forces and civilian industries that also require
technically trained manpower to support the war effort. Some Chinese defense
analysts believe that as the PLA begins to rely on more sophisticated weaponry,
it will have to turn to better educated urban rather than rural youths.
Although PLA and PLAAF personnel do not routinely serve
great distances from the area where they joined the military, extended family
separations are an ongoing source of dissatisfaction within all the services.
Except for pilots, whose dependents (i.e., wife and child) can live with them
almost immediately, other PLAAF officers must be 35 years old, have 15 years of
service, and have battalion commander AEP status before family members may join
them. Some cities also require that the spouse have a job, the officer already
has quarters, and the child already has a guaranteed place at a school.
The HqAF Training Department (xunlianbul was established as a first-level
department in 1949. It split into separate first-level training 'unxunbu and schools (iunxiaobu)
departments in 1953. Today, they are second-level departments within
the Headquarters Department and are responsible for the 26 PLAAF officer/NCO
schools and academies, plus all specialized and unit training for conscripts.
The Training Department oversees all conscript basic and technical training at
the unit level, aviation cadet flying academies and the officer flight training
portion of the Test Flight and FlyingTrainingCenter
at Cangzhou Airfield,
Schools Department is responsible for education and training at all other
schools and academies, and focuses primarily on officer education. HqAF is responsible for education and training policies,
mission, curriculum, organization and plans--as well as control of
student assignments. The MRAF's are responsible for
local party work, school administration, logistical support and maintenance of
the schools and academies. The PLAAF currently has 10 flight training academies
and seven transition flight training bases (i.e., one in each military region).
The HqAF directly controls only one school--the
Air Force Command College in Beijing--and various research
The military and technical training for conscripts, which is
called "unit training" (budui xunlian) is even more decentralized. The training of
technicians known as zhuanye bing (technical soldiers) is divided into three
categories: "important specialized technicians" (zhuyao zhuanye jishu bing) who are trained
in special training groups (dui or dadui)
or regiments (tuan); "general technical
soldiers" (yiban jishu
bite); and "general soldiers" (putong
bing) who are trained in special organizations (zhuanmen jigou) or local
In some instances, conscripts may receive training (i.e., aircraft maintenance)
at the PLAAF technical training schools in Changchun and Xianyang.
NCO's are offered training courses at several places:
the Changchun and Xianyang
technical schools; special short classes at PLAAF schools that normally train
and educate officers; and the newly established Air Force Dalian
NCO School (Kongjun Dalian
Intentionally, unit training emphasizes local geographical conditions, the
theater threat and the kinds of equipment available to the unit. Implicit in
this approach to training is the assumption that the units are unlikely to be
deployed to theaters (i.e., military regions) with clearly different
The organization of PLAAF training and education is
currently based on the PLA's "5-3" tier
system. This system consists of five tiers of specialized/technical training
and education for officers: secondary specialized; specialized college or
equivalent; university or equivalent; masters degree program; and doctorate
program. There also is a three-tier system of professional military
education for officers (i.e., primary command/leadership training; intermediate
command/leadership training; and higher command education). The PLAAF trains
conscripts and volunteers in training units.
The total number of PLAAF schools and academies has changed
considerably over the years. Expansion and contraction routinely have reflected
policy changes regarding training objectives or war preparations. For example,
when there wer6 as many as 17 aviation schools (hang xiao),
Lin Biao and Wu Faxian were
advocating a doctrine of imminent war. Presently, there are only ten flying
academies and 16 other PLAAF schools and academies totaling 26. Throughout the
PLA there are slightly more than 100 education and training institutions-down
about 12 percent from the early 1980s and a high of nearly 160 in the early
OF THE PLAAF
The first assigned operational mission of the PLAAF was the
air defense of Beijing in 1949.
During the late 1980s, air force officials routinely described the PLAAF's
primary mission as the "air and land defense of China."
By referring to the five branches of the air force, it is possible to more
fully understand the scope of that primary mission. These branches (bingzhon) are aviation, anti-aircraft artillery
(AAA), surface-to-air missiles (SAM), radar, and communications.
The aviation branch, which includes fighters, ground attack aircraft, bombers,
transports and reconnaissance aircraft, is the air force's main arm. The PLAAF
also has airborne troops (kongjiang bing), logistics units, research institutes, hospitals
The air force's Logistics Department has its own water transport craft to ship
fuel to units along the YangziRiver and coast. Published PLAAF
sources also refer to informal, secondary missions such as assisting socialist
construction, providing air services for disaster relief and air rescues, and
artificial rainmaking support for farmers.
The PLAAF's brief description of its mission is informative.
On the one hand, the terseness may be symptomatic of the "forbidden
zone" mentality ("It's classified!"). On the other hand, it may
also reflect a longer term problem involving the as yet nascent formulation of
Chinese air power doctrine and concepts. There was little in the doctrine of
People's War that compelled a serious definition of the uses of air power. In
the absence of broader air force statements about the PLAAF's missions, the
only real clue to the range of air force responsibilities must be deduced from
the functions of its operational branches. In the case of the PLAAF, the goal
of air defense includes not only aerial combat but also responsibility for the
ground-based air defense of China
(i.e., SAMs and AAA). Many Western militaries regard
airborne forces as being part. of the ground forces because the air force only
provides transportation. This is not the case in the PLAAF, which has all of
The PLAAF is also silent about the different ways air power
can be employed within the framework of China's
active defense (liji fangyu)
strategy. How air power is employed in almost any country is far from a
settled matter. In many Western countries mission statements and doctrine
represent institutional and operational efforts to contain the debate within
acceptable parameters. In some respects, mission statements are descriptions of
jobs or responsibilities. By defining the scope of operations, military
services concurrently limit and protect their "turf."
Until quite recently, the PLAAF did not have specific
mission statements regarding different air combat missions (i.e., strategic air
defense, chose-air-support, interdiction, strategic bombing, tactical
or strategic airlift).
The PLAAF, for example, did not formally define its ground support doctrine
until 1982. Moreover, as late as 1988 there still was not a formal doctrine for
strategic air defense.
The issue of military airlift was not addressed in regulations until 1989.
The PLAAF never faced most of the pressures and issues that
led to the writing of mission statements in foreign air forces. For example,
there was no existing PLA air arm before 1949; hence there were none of the
doctrinal and operational disputes that existed during the early years of U.S.
military aviation. There were no air assets to be divided between the PLA and
Even existing air bases and equipment in 1949 belonged to the defeated
Nationalist and Japanese armies. Equally important was the defensive nature of
the doctrine of People's War: there was no need for a strategic projection of
air or sea power. For .nearly four decades the dominance of this doctrine
effectively dampened any internal air force pressure to more fully define the
role of air power. Finally, there have been no emergent aviation technologies
in China since
the early 1960s that have compelled a broader consideration of air power
In short, the PLAAF never had any competitors for air-related
resources or missions. If anything, the "air defense" charter of the
PLAAF was so broad that it was able to expand the scope of its functions to
areas not universally associated with air power. Thus, the Air Defense Force (Jiefangjun Fangkongjun) was
merged into the air force in 1957. The responsibility for SAM defenses was
added the following year. The PLAAF also had the charter for airborne forces
(paratroops) since 1950. The extent to which PLAAF officers sought to define
specific air power missions during the 1950s and 1960s is unknown, although the
air force did launch a prodigious effort during those years to consolidate and
compile extensive publications that represented China's
specific aviation experience. By all PLAAF accounts the Cultural Revolution
years were doctrinally sterile.
Given the air force's accretion of diverse air defense roles,
it is surprising that the PLAAF did not become responsible for ground-based
strategic missiles with nuclear warheads. That mission was assigned to an
independent fourth service (junzhong) --the
Second Artillery. At least one of the early PLAAF deputy commanders became the
minister of the 7th MMI which was responsible for producing China's
strategic missiles. The Second Artillery nomenclature nonetheless still had some
of its roots in the PLAAF.
The PLAAF began to emphasize the formal compilation of
mission statements in the early 1980s for several reasons. First, military
reform in general stressed regularization although regularization was not a new
dimension of defense reform. Since the early 1950s the
PLA had struggled with the process of converting the guerrilla forces of a
political party into a regular army of the state. PLA writers have
acknowledged that the armed forces has long operated without clearly defined
responsibilities. In this regard, the PLA was much like other large Chinese
ministries. Military mission statements have become the PLA's
equivalent of the written responsibility codes or contracts that reformers
promoted in the civilian sector. Second, PLA ground forces began to acquire,
their own air assets.
Turf questions have become a more common part of the fabric of China's
defense establishment. Mission statements have helped
define responsibilities and justify resources.
Third, the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese border conflict compelled PLA and PLAAF
commanders to address questions regarding joint operations and the appropriate
role of air power. Finally, during the 1980s China's
military faced unprecedented economic constraints. This situation resulted not
so much from unanticipated budget shortages as it did from conscious CCP policy
decisions. Initial PLA efforts to develop the equivalent of a policy, planning
and budgeting system (PPBS) visibly revealed the effort to link strategy,
resources and missions.
POST-1985 PLAAF REFORMS
By the mid-1980s the interrelated processes of domestic
and defense reform were well underway. It was during the high tide of reform
that Wang Hai replaced Zhang Tingfa
as PLAAF commander (July 31, 1985). Wang assumed his responsibilities with a
charter to further implement regularization (i.e., reform) in the PLAAF. The
personal leadership he brought to the air force was perhaps as important as the
prevailing expectation of change among senior CCP leaders. Wang, who was a
military hero from the Korean conflict, also was the PLAAF's first commander to
be an aviator. Not insignificantly, he further possessed the charisma often
associated with successful military commanders. Under the leadership of Wang Hai and a senior staff that represented a new emphasis on
aviation and technical experience, the PLAAF continued to pursue a reform
agenda that included more than pro forma changes.
Three PLA-wide structural changes broadly affected the
personnel structure of the air force after 1985. These were the CMC's mandated
reduction of personnel by one million persons beginning in 1985; the
introduction of a military civil service system in August 1988; and the
reinstitution of military ranks in October 1988.
By late 1989 the PLAAF reduced its total active duty force
Any reduction in forces is complex. The "salami slicing" technique
can emasculate operational units especially if they are already
"lean." Common alternatives include reducing administrative and
support staffs and eliminating non-essential missions. The PLAAF decided
to eliminate organizational "fat" and non-essential levels of
administration. Additionally, it transferred some missions to ground force
Some solutions represented responses to unique Chinese
conditions. Most important was the strategic policy decision to abandon the
imminent war doctrine for one of "extended peace.
In effect, the political leadership
radically restated the threat assessment which had two important consequences.
First, program and manpower directors were effectively allowed to propose cuts
in the operational force structure. Second, the demise of the imminent war doctrine
opened the door for new defense strategies as alternatives to People's War.
Although the Chinese debate has not ended regarding a new defense strategy, the
beginning of a shift nonetheless allowed force planners to look at new' ways to
organize the PLA.
Some of the largest reductions were realized by a personnel
slight of hand. For the first time the Chinese armed forces created a civilian
support bureaucracy. Large numbers of officers from the support units--especially
schools, academies, hospitals, research institutes and service units--were
required to become civilian defense employees (wenzhiyuan).
An implicit objective was to raise the ratio of officers to conscripts from 1:2.4
to 1:3.3. For the PLAAF the greatest impact was felt in the logistics
department which controlled most support organizations. At HqAF
approximately 20 percent of its personnel became civil servants. Most
instructors in the.air force schools and academies
also became civilians. The change provoked concerns about the emergence of a
"second class" corps of officers. Apologists for the change stressed
that it gave these officers stability and opportunities that otherwise were
often unavailable due to operational military requirements. One clear advantage
for officers who became civil servants was that they were not subject to the
mandatory retirement ages for military officers. For example, a military
officer serving at a research institute who is not promoted beyond the AEP of
regiment commander by age 45 must retire and leave the institute. As a civil
servant, however, he does not have to retire and may therefore retain his post.
Most significantly, the change resulted in at least the appearance of a smaller
The new rank system was both welcomed and feared. After more
than 20 years without ranks, it was difficult to establish criteria that took
into account seniority, different job responsibilities, and rational
organizational structures. Within the air force, rank determinations were
easiest to make in operational units. Problems arose, however, when assigning
appropriate ranks to people working in technical, administration and political
fields. Consistency among the military services was an additional concern. The
solution in part was to create a dual-track officer corps: command (i.e.,
line officers or "operators") and technical personnel (jishuyuan) in support positions.
The number of uniformed PLAAF personnel has been reduced on paper, but the
total number of air force people (military and civilian) has not changed
dramatically. Even reductions resulting from retirement still represent a
financial cost for the PLAAF which, in turn, has reduced the desired cost-savings.
AAA and SAMs
The PLAAF made significant changes in some operational
units. For example, the air force began to restructure its AAA and SAM forces
by abolishing the division shi level and turning over most of its lower caliber
AAA units (i.e., 37mm and 57mm) to PLA ground. forces. Of the AAA forces still
under PLAAF control, the air force has linked many of them with SAM regiments
to form "combined brigades" (huncheng lu). The air force has . eliminated the regiment level
completely within the combined brigades thereby effecting a direct chain of
command between brigades and the battalion. Each combined brigade has five to
six battalions consisting of two to three AAA and two to three SAM battalions.
As of late 1990, the Jinan MRAF was
the only MRAF without any announced combined brigades. Changes in these ground
air defense units were not complete in early 1991. There are, however,
exceptions to the rule. For example, some SAM brigades have been formed without
any AAA battalions. Still other SAM and AAA regiments have not been combined
into brigades. Some AAA units that have not been combined with SAM regiments or
turned over to PLA ground forces may possibly be used for deployment purposes.
A dominant objective of regularization throughout the PLA
has been a greater emphasis on the development of combined and joint forces.
This emphasis was more a result of the lessons learned from the 1979 border
conflict with Vietnam
than inspiration born of the CCP's stress on reforms.
By 1986 the PLA began referring to the military regions as war or campaign
zones. The PLAAF provided a written doctrine in 1982 regarding the air force's
support role during group army (jituanjun)
Under this concept, the CMC and PLAAF are responsible for establishing a
unified and comprehensive air defense plan for China's
At the military region level, the MR commander or Front Army
(fangmian jun) commander,
who exercises unified control, is responsible for directing group armies and
the PLAAF to prepare a Coordinated Action Plan. A group army and assigned PLAAF
units establish an operations team (zuozhan xiaozu) that coordinates requests for aerial support.
At the lowest levels are target control teams (mubiao
yindao zu)--much like ground-based
forward air controllers--who control air attacks in conjunctions
with ground force divisions. It logically followed in 1987 that MRAF commanders
also became MR deputy commanders.
The PLAAF still did not have a strategic air defense policy
by late 1988. Additionally, regulations about army-wide airlift support
and practices were not introduced until mid-1989. Finally, during late
1988, the PLAAF's SAM and AAAAppliedResearchCenter
addressed the need for a policy or doctrine about air defense strategy.
In response to these new operational concepts, the senior
PLAAF leadership joined other services in placing a greater emphasis on officer
training and education which the Chinese called "knowledgefication" (zhishihua). Qualitative improvements were introduced
for academic education, flight training, and joint exercise training. Academic
excellence was stressed in the PLAAF as it was throughout the military. Apart
from technical competence, one secondary objective was to build esprit de corps
and pride. To support this objective the PLAAF closed some schools to
consolidate resources and upgraded many schools to academies. The air force was
thereby able to begin awarding college degrees at many of the academies. For
the first time new pilots were expected to graduate from PLAAF academies with
college degrees. Seven PLAAF academies also began in 1985 to confer masters
degrees in technical fields.
Important changes were introduced for pilot training.
Fighter and ground attack pilot training was traditionally a three-phase
process: basic flight school (20 months), flying academy (28 months), and
operational unit training (4-5 years).
Beginning in 1986, the PLAAF began to experiment with an additional fourth
phase. For graduates of fighter and ground attack flying programs, phase three
became a one-year aircraft "conversion program" at newly
organized "transition training bases." Phase four, or proficiency
development, became a slightly truncated version of the old operational
training in units (now three to four years). The program was formalized in July
1988 when the CMC authorized each MRAF to establish a transition training base.
The goal is to eventually eliminate the need for operational fighter divisions
to dedicate one of the three regiments to training.
This measure also fosters greater standardization of advanced flying skills.
Regularization of flight training allowed the PLAAF to further abolish three
flight training schools after July 1986.
The increasing emphasis on joint and combined operations led
to additional training changes. One initiative was the creation of greater
combat reality in flight training. Since 1982 each MRAF has formed one to three "blue force units" (laniun fendui) that serve as enemy or aggressor squadrons. The
PLAAF Flight Test and TrainingCenter,
located in Cangzhou, Hebei province, also formed a
blue force unit to fly as enemy aircraft during air defense exercises.
PLAAF histories often refer retrospectively to "mixed" or "combined" military actions even in the 1950s.
In reality it is doubtful that joint or combined operations were ever raised to
a doctrinal or conceptual level until perhaps the early 1980s. Combined arms
training for the PLA more often than not involves combining the arms (bingzhong) within a service (junzhong).
In the case of the air force, each of the seven MRAFs
has begun since 1985 to establish a tactical training area. These training
areas are specifically designed for the five PLAAF branches to train together.
In 1986 the different services also addressed joint training (i.e., involving
different services [junzhong]). Some MRAFs and Air Corps formed joint tactical training areas in
conjunction with military region ground forces.
Esprit de Corps
Along with the other services, the PLAAF sought to rebuild
pride and--to use a common Western military term--professionalism.
These measures were an extension of regularization. In many ways the PLA had
become organizationally and behaviorally irregular since the beginning
of the Cultural Revolution. Several actions were initiated. First,
the education of officers was substantially upgraded. A college degree
or equivalent became a requirement for promotion. More important was the fact
that the PLAAF would provide much of this education. Additionally, a college degree
provided social status.
Second, advanced education for masters and doctoral degrees provided further
opportunities to attain distinction. Third, the reintroduction of ranks
provided easily discernible status, achievement and responsibility. Fourth, the
creation of stylish new uniforms with service insignia went far in portraying
service members as competent and polished specialists rather than rural
rustics. Fifth, professional communication was reestablished through aviation
journals, publications and books.
Finally, a special step was taken to foster pride among
PLAAF pilots and aircrews. The air force began awarding one of four aeronautical
ratings to all aircraft crew members in 1986.
Among the PLAAF's 10,000 pilots, only seven percent received the highest
or "special grade" award. Given the PLAAF's force structure, it was
not surprising that 15-20 percent of the fighter pilots won the
"special grade" rating. According to one senior air force official,
it takes about four to five years of flying experience at an operational unit
for a pilot to simply become proficient.
The PLA's political commissar
system has always been a puzzling institution to foreigners. Chinese analysis
of the functions of CCP organizations within the PLA are also far from clear.
Recent PLA publications, for example, do little to clarify the relationships
among the "party committee system" (dangwei
zhidu) within the PLA, the "system of
division of leadership responsibility" (shouzhang
fengong fuze zhidu) within the PLA, and the political commissar
system (zhengzhi weiyuan
Foreign analysis often refers to the entire
political structure within the PLA as the political commissar system. In
theory, there is only one "party system" within the PLA. In practice
there appears to be considerable redundancy which, in turn, leads to Chinese
references to different systems.
The "commissar system" exists at the regiment
level and above. The evolution of nomenclature indicates that it is explicitly
intended to be an instrument of party control over the military. The party
committee system is actually a membership infrastructure. Thus even though
there could be considerable atrophy of party organizational life within the PLA-especially
below the regiment level--the commissar system could continue to
flourish. The two systems ostensibly converge when political commissars lead
local party committees as well as provide political oversight.
During the earliest professional exchanges between USAF and
PLAAF delegations, both sides grappled awkwardly with the existence or absence
of this "system" in the other's service. Western analysts tend to
regard it as a Leninist artifact that is intrusive and obstructs the pursuit of
military efficiency. The attitudes of PLA officers are opaque. One military
official metaphorically described the system as follows: "Every child
needs a mother and a father to grow up correctly. Within the Chinese military,
the commander is like the father, the political commissar is like the mother,
and the soldiers are like the children.
During the 1980s some party reformists argued strongly for a
clearer separation of party policy functions and the routine operations of
organizations (e.g., factories, government offices, schools, local governments).
The proposal spilled over into the military.
Conservative critics alleged that "foreign
militaries" under the guise of "peaceful evolution" tried
inappropriately to influence PLA officers regarding the separation of army and
Apart from the allegation of foreign influence directed at the PLA, the
military's political commissar system has always been a sensitive subject.
PLA officers were generally willing to respond to questions
about military matters, but the army's commissar system regularly appears to
remain a "forbidden zone." When talking about this topic with the
authors, PLA officers were consistently circumspect in their comments. The
intensity and breadth of their feelings were never clearly revealed. Generally
speaking, however, several "mainstream" attitudes were deducible.
First, officers--they concurrently were party membeTS--seem
to want to be seen as apolitical but ardently patriotic. Second, they are
keenly attuned to and philosophically uncritical of policy. It is important to
them to know what the correct policy position is. In American parlance
they are "good soldiers who will do what they are told" and regard
"those issues [i.e., policy matters] as being well above their pay-grades." Third, because political policymaking is not within their spheres of
responsibility, they do not seem to be outwardly concerned about how
policy is made in the highest realms of politics. Finally, among officers there
does not seem to be an uneasiness about the party-military relationship.
There is, however, a muted feeling that political oversight of routine personnel
actions is unnecessary.
appears to outsiders as needless redundancy in the political apparatus, may in
fact be a source of irritation within the PLA.
Senior military officials stated on several occasions that
developing a sense of patriotism among airmen was a primary objective of the
political commissar system. These . leaders asked American officers how
patriotism is taught in the U.S.
military. Further discussions indicated that PLA and PLAAF leaders feel they
are coping with an . underdeveloped sense of patriotism. At the heart of the
problem, some officers said, is the parochial isolation of new conscripts and
cadets: they are proud to be Chinese but have difficulty identifying with the
larger, abstract concept of the Chinese state and national objectives.
Apart from the strictly political dimension of the commissar
system, it nonetheless is responsible for a variety of services that are almost
nonpolitical in nature. These services include routine personnel
administration, education, security, information dissemination, welfare and
recreation activities, sponsoring cultural events, counseling soldiers and
dependents with problems, and maintaining the general morale of soldiers. In
foreign militaries many of these missions fall within the purview of personnel
affairs or a chaplin's office.
Six percent of the PLAAF--about 30,000 people--work
within the commissar oT military political system. Given the
relatively small number of PLAAF personnel working at the MRAF level or above,
it is clear that most of the air force's full-time political workers are
in operational units and support organizations. Organizationally, the party
component consists primarily of party committees and branches which are led by
party secretaries. Party committees and their standing committees, which handle
day-to-day affairs, exist at the regiment level and above. The "grassroots level," as it is called, is found in organizations below
the regiment level. On the military side, the party operates through the
political departments which are administrative organizations. At the regiment
level and above there is a political commissar who is a counterpart to the
commander. There are "political instructors" at the grassroots levels
who interact with servicemen--party and nonparty members. Virtually
every new air force political officer receives training at the PLAAFPoliticalAcademy
(Shanghai). Political commissars
receive mid-level training at the Air Force Command College (Beijing).
At each level of the air force major issues are decided by
the party committee although there is a division of responsibilities. If an
issue concerns military affairs, the commander or line military officer carries
out the decision. If the issue concerns political matters, political officers
are responsible. For example, a commander decides how many sorties will be
flown on a given day, but the political commissar participates in deciding who
flies those sorties because that decision involves both military and political
matters (i.e., reliability, attitude).
In a commander's absence, the political commissar is responsible for carrying
out the unit's mission in conjunction with the deputy commanders. In
theory, a commander and political commissar are coequal; in practice the
relationship may be quite variable. Personality and leadership style play an
important role that is largely invisible to foreigners who try to understand
the meld of commander and commissar.
An important consequence of the PLA's
policy of "opening up to the outside" is that even the political
commissars have been directly exposed to foreign cultures and military systems.
In October 1988, for example, the director of HqAF's
Political Department, Major General Ding Wenchang,
accompanied the. director of the PLA General Political Department, General Yang
Baibing, on a visit to Eastern Europe.
Soon thereafter the PLAAF Political Commissar, Lieutenant General Zhu Guang, visited the United
States as a guest of the Secretary of the
PROCUREMENT AND MODERNIZATION
Since the founding of the PLAAF in 1949, its leadership has
continually pursued two main objectives: regularization and modernization. As
argued earlier in this analysis, regularization is mainly an internal PLAAF task,
but it is substantially complicated by social, economic and political forces
outside the air force. Force modernization, conversely, is largely an external
problem. Since the early 1960s, the PLAAF has had to rely solely on what China's
civilian defense aviation industry could research, develop and manufacture. For
many years a senior PLAAF officer was concurrently a deputy minister of the
aviation industry. During the Cultural Revolution the air force interfered
quite directly in aviation research and manufacturing. For more than two
decades there has been an expectation inside-and sometimes outside--China
that its aviation industry had matured to the point that it could serially
produce modern, Chinese-designed aircraft. Even in 1968, when Richard M. Bueschel drew attention to "the problem of creeping
obsolescence" in Communist Chinese Air Power he added that "there are signs that this cancer has been blocked and that the PLAAF has
turned the corner toward a modern air arm."
The PLAAF has muted its public disappointment about the unfulfilled
When Wang Hai became PLAAF
commander in 1985, the aviation industry still had not solved its aircraft
development problems. Virtually every aircraft in the inventory was still based
on 1950s Soviet technology. There were no mobile SAMs
and--more importantly--no new weapon systems were ready
for deployment in the near future.
Equally important, virtually all of China's
neighbors were upgrading their forces with the latest Soviet or Western
equipment. The PLAAF was impatient. The aviation industry, in turn, attributed
a fair portion of the blame to air force meddling during the late 1960s and
early 1970s. Following the Soviet cessation of technical assistance in 1960,
the Chinese aviation industry proceeded along two tracks. First, it copied and
modified various Soviet aircraft, such as the MIG-19 and MIG-21
fighters, the TU-16 bomber, and the MI-4 helicopter.
Second, it began indigenously developing aircraft, such as the A-5 ground
attack aircraft and F-12 light interceptor at Nanchang, the F-8
interceptor at Shenyang, and the F-9
interceptor at Chengdu.
The Cultural Revolution seriously impeded the progress of these and other
programs. For example, quality control measures for the F-6-3, Zhi-5
helicopter, and A-5 completely broke down during their development.
Numerous quality control problems forced the CMC to order factory recalls for
all of these aircraft in November 1975.
Even in the early 1980s, PLAAF A-5, F-6 and F-7 aircraft
continued to have serious problems with hydraulic system contamination. This
problem alone contributed to an average of 30-40 percent of all aircraft
malfunctions. It was as high as 70 percent in one F-7 unit.
and Peace Pearl
The Shenyang Aircraft Corporation's F-8 and F-8B
interceptor development programs were among China's
most ambitious. The F-8, whose development lasted from 1964 to 1979, was
first flight tested in June 1969. Although the PLAAF began deploying the F-8
in the early-1980s, it was unsatisfied with the aircraft. Therefore, in
1980 the PLAAF established requirements to modify the F-8 as the F-8II.
The requirements which were given to the Ministry of Aviation Industry
emphasized two primary needs: a new fire control system-including a
larger radar antenna for an increased search and track capability--and
a more powerful engine. The first F-81I prototype flew in June 1984;
design flight testing was completed in October 1987.
aviation industry was still unable to fully satisfy the PLAAF's requirements.
What ensued was a remarkable breakthrough in cooperation involving the United
States government, the PLAAF and the Chinese
Ministry of Aviation Industry. After long negotiations the parties concluded a
foreign military sales agreement to upgrade the F-811's fire control
Following the June 1989 events in Tiananmen Square, the United
States suspended arms sales to China.
Chinese technicians were allowed to resume work on the program a few months
later, but Beijing decided in May
1990 not to proceed beyond the development stage.
Chinese aviation industry officials have continued
development of their F-8B variant with anew domestic fire control system.
PLAAF and PLA naval aviation maintenance personnel conducted three month's
training on the F-8II at the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation from April to
June 1990. The visit of CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin to the F-8II production facility in late
October 1990 virtually confirms that the aircraft is destined to become part of
the navy and air force inventories in the near future.
The PLAAF thus continues to struggle with one of its two
longstanding problems: aircraft modernization. The solutions are not simple. China's
.aviation industry is determined to establish its own production base by
acquiring foreign technology. This will be a long term process. There is a lack
of hard currency to purchase large numbers of foreign-made military
if the currency were available to the PLAAF, this course of action is opposed
aviation industry. Additionally, domestic critics in China
stress the dangers of dependence on foreign suppliers for defense equipment--a
concern that is expressed in many Western nations as well. The events of June
1989, which further complicated or halted the flow of Western technology to China,
lent support to the dependency critics. Finally, radical changes in the Soviet
Union's military posture vis-a-vis
Europe, the United States,
Japan and China
have eliminated many of the threat justifications for large investments in new
high technology aircraft.
There are frequent rumors that China's
aviation industry is developing new fighter aircraft.
It is unlikely, however, that any of these aircraft can be ready for deployment
during the 1990s: the development time for new aircraft is simply too long.
There also is frequent speculation that China
may turn back to the Soviet Union for aviation industry
assistance. In July 1990, CMC Vice-Chairman Liu Huaqing
led a delegation to Moscow to discuss
the possible purchase of MIG-29 interceptors and SU-27 light
bombers. The delegation, which included Minister Lin Zongtang
of the Ministry of Aero-Space Industry (MAS), visited a MIG-29
production facility. In early 1991 there was further speculation that the
Chinese were discussing detailed terms for 24 SU-27s.
There are compelling reasons why the Chinese and Soviets might reach some
agreement. Such an agreement, however, would have little to do with threats,
politics or socialist friendship. Both sides are looking for bargains in an
international market where foreign sales--equipment or technology--may
be the only way to rescue some defense industries. MAS faces the same problem
with the Soviets that it does in the West: aircraft manufacturers do not want
to sell technology that will create a new competitor. Meanwhile, the Chinese
have reportedly equipped four of its combat aircraft for the first time with
air refuelling kits purchased from Iran,
but is still looking for a suitable tanker.
It is not clear, however, what kind of
aircraft were equipped, whether it is a Ministry of Aerospace, PLAAF, or Naval
Aviation program, or whether the aircraft were new production models or modifed existing aircraft.
LEADERSHIP IN THE 1990S
The PLAAF has had five commanders and eight political
commissars since 1949. General Wang Hai, the present
commander, and Lieutenant General Zhu Guang, the
political commissar, assumed their positions together in July 1985. They have
further. promoted the regularization process that began with Zhang Tingfa. Foreign observers who have been close to the PLAAF
have given high marks to the cooperative spirit of the Wang Hai-Zhu
Guang team. Although there was considerable political
soul-searching within China's
military after June 1989, the senior leadership of the PLAAF seems to have
weathered it well. One reason is that the air force leadership concentrated on
the tasks assigned by the CMC and found little time to become involved in the
controversial aspects of reform.
PLAAF leadership changes have become more stable and
predictable. There have been no surprises since June 1989. There is
considerable reason to conclude that Wang Hai and Zhu
Guang have been successful in mapping out a long-term
plan for a regularized leadership transition for the next generation of
senior--but younger--air force leaders. The CMC and
three PLA general departments approve all senior level PLAAF personnel changes,
but none of the changes that were anticipated in early 1989 were altered after
June 1989. In other words, despite the upsurge in political themes and rhetoric
by the PLA General Political Department, the regularization of the PLAAF
promotion process has led to stability.
Leadership stability has been easier to predict because a
number of career and experience indicators have become evident. First, future
PLAAF commanders are henceforth likely to be aviators; non-aviators will
be the exception. General Wang Hai is the first
commander to have been a pilot and the only one who did not begin his career in
the ground forces.
Second, antecedent assignments for the air force commander
and deputy commanders will be jobs as an MRAF deputy commander and commander.
Wang Hai had been the Guangzhou MRAF commander and
PLAAF deputy commander. Career progression to political commissar position may
involve variations. Zhu Guang, whose previous air
force command experience was as the Shenyang MRAF deputy political commissar, came
directly to HqAF from jobs in the General Political
Department and CMC.
Third, Korean war experience will be important in the near-term
but transitory. Three of the current HqAF deputy
commanders, three of the seven MRAF commanders, and at least two MRAF deputy
commanders in 1989 flew with Wang Hai during the
Fourth, Wang Hai and Zhu Guang have moved younger officers into key HqAF and MRAF
command positions. The. reinstitution of ranks in October 1988 made this task
easier since retirement ages were linked to the AEPs.
It became possible, for example, to put talented younger officers in command
positions with lower ranks than an older deputy because the AEP was the real
reflection of responsibility.
the new officers are better educated than their predecessors. Many of them have
been given the opportunity to travel abroad with Wang Hai
or other PLAAF and PLA delegations.
Wang Hai's heir apparent is PLAAF
deputy commander Lieutenant General Yu Zhenwu.
Although Yu is the youngest deputy, he is first in the protocol order among the
four deputy .commanders. He also is an alternate member of the 13th Patty
Congress Central Committee. Yu, who has a strong background in research and
development, training and command, has traveled to several countries. Yu
initially made his mark in the air force when he conducted the first flight in
1958 of China's
indigenously-developed (but never produced) FT-1 trainer. From his
position as director of HqAF's Training Department,
he replaced Wang Hai as the Guangzhou MRAF commander
in 1982. When Wang Hai became PLAAF commander in
1985, Yu transferred to Beijing to
become a deputy commander.
The most likely prospects to become the next deputy
commanders are four post-Korean War airmen who are currently MRAF commanders:
Lieutenant Generals Cao Shuangming
Lin Jigui (Jinan)
and Liu Heqiao (Guangzhou).
The first three are also members of the 11th National People's Congress. They
are all young, respected pilots within the air force and have been deputy MRAF
Even younger PLAAF officers are already being prepared to
assume command responsibility in the out-years. One of them is Lieutenant
General Peng Gongge. He is
the commander of the 7th Air Corps in Nanning
and an alternate member of the 13th Party Congress (along with Yu Zhenwu). Peng followed Yu Zhenwu as director of HqAF's
Training Department. He also accompanied Wang Hai, Cao Shuangming and Jiang Yutian to the United
States in 1986.
The history of the PLAAF is marked by recurrent efforts to
regularize its personnel, procedures, regulations, missions and institutions as
well as continuous efforts to acquire modern aircraft and weapons. Modernization
has involved civilian industrial technologies whose acquisition and.
implementation are fundamentally beyond the control of the air force. Regularization
has involved internal processes over which the air force has exercised some
control. The withdrawal of Soviet assistance, a succession of disruptive
political policies and struggles, and a defense strategy that did not encourage
the development of air power doctrine left the PLAAF short of its own standards
of a regularized military service. Similar but industrially more complex
factors have stymied the efforts of Chinese aviation industry engineers to
develop and manufacture modern equipment. As the PLAAF looks toward the year
2000 and surveys the modern aircraft and related weapons possessed by Japan,
the two Koreas, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and India, there is bound to be
mounting frustration. The most disturbing question for the air force is how
long can regularization be meaningfully sustained without modernized equipment?
Some Chinese writers argue that quality training can "make up for the lack
of modernity of our weaponry." It is doubtful this view is totally
accepted in the PLAAF.
It would be misleading to conclude that various efforts to
regularize the air force were failures. There were indeed incremental
improvements and changes. If there is a persistent lesson in Western defense
reform literature, it is that incremental changes are about all any
organization can realistically expect. What is most incomprehensible to foreign
analysts, however, is the extent to which Chinese political struggles and
issues, which were largely unrelated to the air force, have been able to so
thoroughly disrupt and erode prior achievements.
What is significant about China's
recent decade of reform--particularly the pursuit of military
regularization after 1985--has been the breadth and depth of
initiatives. The extent to which the PLAAF was able to implement many of its
reforms has been impressive. It would be difficult to find military reforms of
similar scope in most Western nations.
The 1980's resurgence of Western analytical interest in PLA
professionalism may have overlooked the relevance of regularization to professionalism.
The debate about professionalism invariably has hinged on the political roles
of the PLA. It is commonly argued that a politicized army cannot be a
professional army. This study of PLAAF regularization and reforms concludes
air force has indeed become a professional military service. As argued earlier,
it is not a foreign label the PLAAF. necessarily welcomes. But the fact
remains, regularization of the PLAAF has led to recognizable standards of
PLAAF regularization and reform have contributed to the
development of professionalism in at least three important ways. First, a sense
of air force corporateness has been fostered through
the reestablishment of PLAAF organizations; the compilation of rules,
regulations and directives; a rationalization of the manpower structure through
retirement directives; the introduction of ranks; the creation of a corps of
civil servants; the establishment of a NCO corps; the clarification of regular
promotion paths within the organizational hierarchy; and the articulation of
air force mission statements. Second, various measures have also contributed to
the development of a set of ethics or values. The PLAAF has embraced the
spectrum of values found in the often cited corpus of military values--"the
PLA's fine traditions." Additionally, the
clarification of rules and regulations has sharpened a sense of what is
expected of air force personnel. A renewed concentration on defining air power
doctrine and missions has compelled airmen to think more consciously about what
the air force contributes relative to national defense strategy. Finally--and
perhaps most convincingly--regularization has pointedly drawn
attention to job skills, education and training. PLAAF schools have been
reopened and upgraded. New training methods have been developed as well as
specialized "joint" training bases which reflect the changes in
What remains to be seen is whether or not China
has successfully moved beyond the enervating political and social disruptions
which in times past not only arrested the processes of regularization but
actually resulted in atrophy. The political shocks resulting from the June 1989
disturbances initially portended a recurrence of politically induced
oscillations. A year later, however, the PLAAF does not seem to have departed
perceptibly from its intended course of regularization. The vitality of
regularization may depend more on the outcome of the festering issue of
equipment modernization than party discomfort with professionally oriented
See Xinhua News
Agency Domestic Materials Office, ed., Shi Nian
Game Dashiii (19781987) [Chronicle of the Ten
Years of Reform (1978-1987)] (Beijing: Xinhua
Press, November 1988); State Economic System Reform Commission, ed., Zhona, uoJingiiTizhiGaige
Shi Nian[Ten Years of Economic Reform for China]
(Beijing: Economic Management Press and Reform Press; 1988).
reforms in general encountered more criticism in the late 1980s, military
leaders and the media began to change the word order to "revolutionization, modernization and regularization."
Deng Xiaoping's original wording in a speech to the Central Military Commission
on September 19, 1981, was
a "powerful, modern and regular revolutionary army." Not only was the
order reversed, but parallel construction was introduced in the phrase to
create a symmetrical slogan. The ascendancy of "revolutionization"
came later as a political gambit. See "Major Achievement in Army Building
over the Past 8 Years," Banyuetan [Semimonthly
Talks] (Beijing), 14 (July 25, 1987), pp. 4-7, in Foreign Broadcast
Information Service (hereafter cited as FBIS), Daily Report: People's
Republic of China (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office), August
14, 1987, pp. K2-3; Chen Xianhua, "Follow
Laws Governing the Running of Armed Forces, Give Regular Guidance," JiefangiunBao[Liberation
Army Daily] (Beijing), March 30, 1990, p. 3, in FBIS-CHI-90077,
April 20, 1990, pp. 39-41.
 A rare
reference to "modernized soldiers" is found in Pan Shiying, "Have a Sober Understanding of the Principal
Contradictions in Army Building," JiefanaiunBao, September 11, 1987, p. 3, in FBIS-CHI-87-185,
September 24, 1987, p. 21.
between the PLA and foreign civilian national security scholars have not been
extensive. In part this stems from the fact that China's
community of national security scholars consists mainly of uniformed "defense intellectuals." It comes as no surprise, therefore, that
foreign military attaches have sometimes enjoyed a professional access that normally is unavailable to
civilians researchers. This situation began to change with the establishment of
civilian think tanks and the "opening up" of the PLA'sNationalDefenseUniversity, the Academy
of Military Sciences and the
Commission on Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND).
Scholars such as Paul H. B. Godwin and Jonathan Pollack have enjoyed
considerable contacts. Professional access or at least professional
interest in Chinese military affairs has resulted in a number of books and
articles by former U.S.
military attaches who served in Beijing
and Hong Kong. See R. Mark Bean [air attache,
Beijing], Cooperative Security in Northeast Asia: A China-Japan-South
Korea Coalition Approach (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University
Press, 1990); Monte Bullard [army attache, Beijing
and Hong Kong], China's Political-Military Evolution (Boulder,
Colorado: Westview Press, 1985); Monte R. Bullard and
Edward C. O'Dowd [assistant army attache, Hong Kong], "Defining the Role of the PLA in the Post-Mao Era," Asian
Survey 26:6 (June 1986), pp. 706-720; Joseph P. Gallagher [assistant
army attache, Beijing], "China's Military
Industrial Complex: Its Approach to the Acquisition of Modern Military
Technology," Asian Survey, 27:9 (September 1987), pp. 991-1002;
Richard Gillespie E. [army attache, Hong Kong] and J.
C. Sims, "The General Rear Services Department," in William W.
Whitson, ed., The Military and Political Power in China in the 1970s (New
York and Washington: Praeger, 1972), pp. 185-213;
Richard J. Latham [air attache, Hong Kong], Selected
Bibliogrraphy of PRC National Defense Literature,
1980-1991, forthcoming; Chinese National Security: Challenges and
Stress in the Decade of Reform, forthcoming, National Defense University
Press; "The Implications of Military Industrialization in the PRC," in James E. Katz, ed., Sowing the Serpents' Teeth: The Implications of Third
World Military Industrialization (Lexington: Lexington Books, 1985); Alfred
D. Wilhelm, Jr. [army attache, Beijing], U. Alexis
Johnson and George R. Packard, eds., China Policy for the Next Decade (Boston:
Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain,
Publishers, Inc., 1984); Eden Y. Woon [assistant air attache, Beijing],, "Chinese Arms Sales and U.S.-China
Military Relations," Asian Survey 29:6 (June 1989), pp. 601-618;
and Larry M. Wortzel [assistant army attache, Beijing], ed., China's Military Modernization (New
York: Greenwood Press, 1988).
See Richard M. Bueschel,
Communist Chinese Air Power (New York: Frederick A. Praeger,
1968) and A. James Gregor, "Modernization of the
Air Force of the PRC and the Military Balance in the Taiwan Strait,"
Issues & Studies
(October 1985), pp. 58-74. Bueschel devotes
more than half the book to PLAAF aircraft. The first section, which
fundamentally is a public account of PLAAF activities, used less than five PRC
sources. The point is not that Bueschel failed to use
original sources--there simply were no published Chinese sources. Gregor's brief article is not intended to go beyond an
order of battle comparison of PRC and Taiwan air forces. Much of the writing about the PLAAF has tended, however, to focus
on the "bean counts" in lieu of other sources of information and
process and policy.
DangdaiZhongguoKong'L[China Today: Air Force], by the "China
Today" Series editorial committee (Beijing: China Social Sciences Press,
1989), hereafter cited as DZK; Kongjun Shi [History
of the Air Force], by the PLAAF Headquarters Education and Research Office
(Beijing: PLA Press, November 1989).
trend toward greater openness resulted in the unrestricted publication of some
technical PLAAF journals such as Hangkong Weixiu[Aviation
Maintenance] which is published by the PLAAF Aeronautical Engineering
Department. The PLAAF's most widely circulated publication, ZhongguoKon;giun[Air Force of China], began publication
in April 1986. Although it was not a neibu publication,
it was unavailable to the Chinese public until 1988. Ironically, the cover
title of the journal's first number vyas printed in
Chinese and English. Probable antecedents were RenminKongjun[People's Air Force] which began
publication in April 1950. In 1958 the name was changed to Kong; u~o[Air Force Daily). HanekongZazhi[Aviation Magazine] began publication in
April 1955. Publication apparently ceased during the Cultural Revolution. DZK,
pp. 652, 658, 660 and 675.
J. Latham, Selected Bibliography of PRC National Defense Literature,
Paul H. B.
Godwin, The Chinese Communist Armed Forces (Maxwell Air Force Base,
Alabama: Air University Press, June 1988) and The Chinese Defense
Establishment: Continuity and Change in the 1980s (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1983); Ellis Joffe,
The Chinese Army After Mao (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University
Press, 1987); Ngok Lee, China's DefenceModernisation and
Military Leadership (Sydney: Australian National University Press, 1989);
Lonnie D. Henley, "China's Military Modernization: A Ten Year
Assessment," in Larry M. Wortzel, ed., china's
Military Modernization (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), pp. 97-118.
 Lin Chong-pin, "The Extramilitary
Roles of the People's Liberation Army in Modernization: Limits of Professionalization," draft paper, American Enterprise
Institute, Washington, D.C., 1990; Paul H. B. Godwin, "A Praetorian PLA:
Party-Military Relations in China After Tiananmen," draft paper,
National Defense University, Washington, D. C., July 1990; Richard J. Latham,
"China's Party-Army Relations After June 1989: A Case for Miles'
Law?" draft paper, National Defense University, Washington, D.C., April
P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 1957); BengtAbrahamsson,
Military Professionalization and Political Power (Beverly
Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1972); Dale R. Herspring
and Ivan Volgyes, eds., Civil-Military
Relations in Communist Systems (Boulder, CO: Westview
Press, 1978); Claude E. Welch, Jr., ed., Civilian Control of the Military (Albany,
NY: StateUniversity of New
York Press, 1976); Morris Janowitz,
The Professional Soldier (New York: The Free Press, 1971); Morris Janowitz and Jacques Van Doom, eds., On Military Ideology
(Rotterdam: RotterdamUniversity Press, 1971); Eric A. Nordlinger,
Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Governments (Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977); Amos Perlmutter, The
Military and Politics in Modern Times (New Haven, CT: Yale University
Press, 1977); Catherine '?4c Arctle Kelleher, ed., Political-Military
Systems: Comparative Perspectives (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications,
1974); Michel Louis Martin and Ellen Stern McCrate,
eds., The Military, Militarism, and the Polity (New York: The Free
Press, 1984); Amos Perlmutter and Valerie Plave Bennett, eds., The Political Influence of the
Military: A Comparative Reader (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
Military Withdrawal from Politics: A Comparative Study (Cambridge,
Mass.: Ballinger Publishing Company, 1987).
critique of military professionalism generally regards corporateness
as a positive attribute. Chinese national security literature is almost totally
devoid of any references to military professionalism (i.e., zhive[profession] as opposed to zhuanve [specialty]).
In part this is because the western criteria effectively deny there is
professionalism in the PLA because of the co-mingling of political and military
missions. Second, and least often cited, is the fact that "corporateness" is endemic in Chinese society. It takes
forms such as the danwei (unit) or xi.
tong (system) mentalities and difank (local)
tendencies. A great part of the PLA's public service
activities are designed to reduce the almost inherent separation between the
army and Chinese society. The explicit encouragement of corporateness--or
even an academic discussion of military corporateness-runs
counter to longstanding CCP, government and military policies. Although
military corporateness exists, calling attention to
it only invites criticism. There is no evidence, however, that Chinese defense
intellectuals are interested in the Western debates about military
professionalism. Articles published by spokespersons for the CCP's Organizational Department clearly associate well
organized party branches with the development of positive communist values and
attitudes. (For a contrary view see Zhou Ruinan, "Organizational Structure Should Not Be Regarded as an Essential Factor of
Combat Capability," JiefangiunBao. February
23, 1990, p. 3, in FBIS-CHI-90-062-S, March 30, 1990, pp. 14-16.)
Well organized military organizations and a clear sense of organizational
hierarchy also contribute to esprit de corps and a sense of organizational
identity. An unanswered question is how extensively do PLA personnel extend to
the PLA at large their sense of local, organizational . corporateness?
The PLA's widespread use of "All-PLA" conferences, meetings and ceremonies underscores the effort to foster the
concept of a national military.
and Miller, pp. 101-2. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries the "classical reform" model rose to prominence in the
west, especially in the United States.
Chinese reforms during the 1980s resembled the classical model in terms of
objectives and strategies. Chinese reformers will disavow any foreign
similarities. Marxiscrs~&J 0?~ ~..! eya~ Maoist
additions to social and political reform nonetheless evince the same positive
faith in the rational ability of people to rectify irrational structures and
design, development, research and production of military weapons in China
is fundamentally a civilian industrial rather than a military activity.
For the PLA, force modernization involves more than procurement funds. Even
with an unlimited budget, the PLA can only buy what the defense industrial
ministries can manufacture. For several decades PLA force modernization goals
have consistently exceeded the capabilities of China's
defense industrial sector.
37 and 89. The PLAAF repaired or expanded only 94 of the 543 airfields between
1949 and 1953. Most of the dirt runways were simply reclaimed for agricultural
 DZK, pp 18-19.
In April 1988, China
sent an aviation delegation to Japan
to commemorate the contributions of the Japanese airmen. See,HangkongShibao, November
24, 1988, p. 1.
 One of
the most detailed histories of Chinese aviation in English is found in Malcolm
Rosholt, Flight in the China
Air Space 1910-1950 (Rosholt, Wisconsin: Rosholt House, 1984).
 The PLA Air
Defense Force (ADF), which was formally established in 1950, became a service
equivalent to the air force and navy in 1955. The ADF's
anti-aircraft artillery were primarily responsible for the air defense of
cities. When the PLAAF and ADF merged in May 1957, the ADF consisted of AAA
troops, searchlight troops, aircraft reporting troops, eight schools and
149,000 personnel. DZK, pp. 218-237.
were efforts in the mid to late 1980s to establish an independent, civilian air
traffic control administration--the National Air Traffic Control
Administration (NATCA). Despite the safety advantages of an integrated national
air traffic control system, the PLAAF was unwilling to surrender its broad
control of Chinese air space. Similar disagreements existed in the United
States between the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) and the United- States Air Force during the early
1950s, but were resolved by 1958.
civil air corridors are quite narrow (eight kilometers). Civilian air traffic
controllers must seek permission from the operations centers of the MRAF
headquarters to circumvent storms or divert aircraft to unscheduled airfields.
See Thomas P. Messier, James Etgen and Edward Harris,
"Improving China's Air Traffic Control," The China Business Review,
14:5 (September-October 1987), pp. 26-31.
Third Ministry of Machine Industry was renamed the Ministry of Aviation
Industry (MAI) during the early economic reforms of the 1980s. The change
reflected a shift from primarily producing military aircraft to a market-oriented
interest in manufacturing civilian aircraft and products. In 1988, the
ministerial headquarters of the MAI and the Ministry of Astronautics (formerly
the Seventh Ministry of Machine Industry) were combined to form the Ministry of
Aero-Space Industry (MAS).
 Wu Faxian (1965-1971) succeeded Liu Yalou
(1949-1965) as PLAAF commander. During Liu's tenure, Wu was a political
commissar. The next PLAAF commander was Ma Ning (1973-1977)
who had an illustrious army career before transferring to the PLAAF in 1949. He
served in the 21st air division (Shanghai)
until 1967 when, as the division commander, he transferred to Changchun in the Shenyang MR. He
was apparently politically adroit during the Cultural Revolution. In 1968 he
was on the Jilin Provincial Revolutionary Committee
standing committee. Ma Ning later served as the
Lanzhou MRAF deputy commander prior to becoming the PLAAF commander. Ma's
political savvy allowed him to become PLAAF commander before Zhang Tingfa who had been a deputy commander before the Cultural
Revolution. Zhang, who subsequently followed Ma Ning
as commander, had the most diversified headquarters experience of any PLAAF'commanders. Zhang served as the PLAAF commander (1977-1985),
political commissar, deputy commander, chief of staff and CCP Politburo member.
Wang Hai, the current commander (1985- ), is
the first pilot to command the air force. Liu Yalou
is the only air force commander about whom a book has been written. See Sun Weitao, Liu YalouJiangiunYishi[Anecdotes
about General Liu Yalou] (Harbin: Northern Literature
and Arts Press, 1985).
 Xiao Hua later served as director of the PLA's
General Political Department (19631967). He was dismissed by JiangQing during the Cultural
 DZK, p.
41. Chang Qiankun attended the HuangpuMilitaryAcademy
(1925) before going to the Soviet Union the following
year to study flying and aeronautical engineering. He served in the military
engineering school of the Red Army's 18th 'itluan. He later published and translated at least five
books about aviation and served as the head of the Military Commission's
Aviation Bureau before the PLAAF was organized. Wang Bi, the deputy political
commissar, also was a student in the Soviet Union where
he studied aircraft engines and maintenance. He was the head of the 18th 'ituan's military engineering school. The first chief of
staff, Wang Bingzhang, was from the Second Field Army
and had considerable experience as a staff leader. When the PLAAF was
established in 1949, Chang became a deputy commander and Wang became a deputy
commander Liu Yalou used the Taiwan
liberation issue to seek the establishment of an air force paratroop (kon-gjiang bins) unit. In July 1950, the CMC
established the Au Force Marines First Brigade in Shanghai
and used as its foundation the 89th division (30th army, 9th bingtuan, Third Field Army). Thereafter the
unit's designation changed several times (i.e., air force marine first
division, paratroops division, the airborne division). It is now known as the
PLAAF 15th Air Army (kong 15 iun).
DZK, pp. 83 and 235.
Korean conflict looms large as a galvanizing event in PLAAF history. A
comparison of USAF and PLAAF accounts of the Korean conflict and air battles
Over the Taiwan Strait (1958) are informative. According to Kongjun Shi, China
w;eoaircraft and hit another 95 during the
Korean War. Chinese pilots shot down two aircraft, hit one and sustained no
losses during the 1958 engagement. According to the same history, the PLAAF
downed 110 additional manned and unmanned aircraft over a period of several
years. (Kongiun Shi, p. 2). According to USAF
data, the Far East Air Force (FEAF) Command destroyed 976 and damaged 1009
enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat. The FEAF lost 1041 aircraft of
which 147 were from air-to-air combat and 816 were from AAA fire.
["The Statistical Summary of U.S. Air Force Combat Operations iii Korea26 June 1950 to 27 July 1953," in USAF
Statistical Digest for 1954 AFR-5-24 (Washington, D.C.: U.S.Air Force, 1964), p. 15]. During the 1958 crises there
were 25 air-to-air engagements from August 23 to October 6, 1958. Nationalist pilots
destroyed 32 aircraft, downed probably three more and damaged ten. Nationalist
forces lost four of their own aircraft. Air Operations in the Taiwan
Crises of 1958 (Washington, D.C.: USAF Historical Division, November 1962),
pp. 251-256. Even during the 1980s, photographic stories in China
Pictorial and PLAAF pictorial books often showed PLAAF pilots watching an
instructor demonstrate an aircraft maneuver with a hand-held model
airplane. This technique was indicative of the emphasis on ground training.
 DZK, pp.
271, 299 and 510-514. In 1984 the serious aircraft accident rate was
0.204. Between 1950 and 1953 the rate was 4.716, but dropped to an average of
1.5 until 1959 when it finally fell below 1.0. The PLAAF's three categories of
aircraft accidents are: (1) aircraft and pilot lost; (2) aircraft lost, pilot
safe; and (3) aircraft damaged, pilot safe.
ZhoneguoRenminJiefangiunKongiunDierHangkonaXuexiaoJianshi[Brief History of the PLAAFSecondAviationSchool]
(Chengdu: Air Force Second Aviation School, August 1982), p. 7.
example, in DanadaiZhongguoKongjunthe PLAAF historical chronology has no
entries for 1972. The period from September 1971 to May 1973 is the only time
the PLAAF did not have a commander. See Nien Cheng, Life
and Death in Shanghai(London: Grafton Books, 1986); LiangHeng and Judith Shapiro, Son of the Revolution (New
York: Vintage Books, 1983); and David Milton and Nancy Dall
Milton, The Wind Will Not Subside. Years in Revolutionary China--1964-1969
(New York: Pantheon, Books, 1976).
 The PLAAFSecondAviationSchool,
for example, sent 1,669 of its staff to 11 provinces and 68 work units to carry
out "three-supports and two-militaries" activities. The
school slowly brought back staff members even though there had been considerable
atrophy of skills and knowledge. In 1964 the total authorized strength of the
school was 1,745 while in 1971 it had risen to 4,778. It appears that almost
the entire school staff was dispersed early in the Cultural Revolution. Brief
History of the PLAAFSecondAviationSchool
1949-1981, pp. 15 and 42.
Following his dismissal in 1966, Deng returned in 1973 as a vice-premier
and Party vicechairman. He also became the PLA chief
of the general staff in January 1975, only to be dismissed from all these
offices in April 1976. When he was rehabilitated for the second time at the
Third Plenum of the Ninth Party Congress in July 1977, he retained his three
previous positions, but also became a CMC vice-chairman. Yang Dezhi replaced Deng as chief -of the general staff in
1980, and Deng became the CMC chairman in 1981
Military Commission of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (ZhongguoGongchandang Zhongyang
Junshi Weiyuanhui), which is sometimes cited as the zhongyang 1'u nweior 'u7 nwei, is
commonly translated into English as the Central Military Commission (CMC). In
the 1960s and 1970s it was routinely referred to as the Military Affairs
Commission (MAC). The name of the commission in Chinese has not changed--only
the English translations. Properly speaking, zhongyang refers to the
Central Committee. It is understood in Chinese as an abbreviated noun rather
than an adjective.
p. 85. Even prior to the leadership of Wu Faxian, the
PLAAF frequently had senior officers who served as deputy ministers of the
aviation industry. The aviation industry clearly wanted full autonomy from the
There is a
set protocol order for all of the first level administrative departments and
their second level subordinate elements from the highest to lowest levels in
the chain of command The three general departments are always in the order of
General Staff Department(zongcanmoubu/zongcan), General Political Department(zongzhengzhibu/zongzheng), and
General Logistics Department (zonghouqinbu/zongzheng). The order for the military region
headquarters and the first three departments of the services (navy, air force,
and second artillery/strategic rocket forces) is the Headquarters Department,
Political Department, and Logistics Department. Due to service specific
requirements, the navy has two additional first level departments, while the
air force and second artillery each have one additional department. Even the
seven MRAFs have a set order -- Shenyang,
Jinan, and Chengdu.
 Major HqAF administrative reorganizations occurred in 1955, 1966,
1969 and 1976. There were eleven first-level departments in 1955 and
1966, three in 1969, and four in 1976. The changes between 1955 and 1966
reflected the 1957 merger of the air force and Air Defense Force and the 1958
addition of the SAM forces. In late-1957 there were 16 firstlevel departments. Every administrative organizational
change at HqAF has been followed by similar changes
at each lower level.
four active Air Corps are the First (Changchun),
and Tenth (Datong).
.The Second (Dandong)
and Fifth (Hangzhou)
Air Corps were abolished. The eight Command Posts are Dalian (former 3rd Air Corps), Tangshan (former 6th Air Corps),
Xian (former 11th Air Corps), Wulumuqi (former 9th
Air Corps), Shanghai (former 4th
Air Corps), Wuhan
(former Wuhan MRAF Hq), Kunming (former Kunming MRAF Command Post) and Lhasa. Although these
organizations are primarily responsible for defending major cities, the 7th Air
Corps became the PLAAF's "forward command post" during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese
border conflict. It was responsible for virtually all air force units in the
 On October 5, 1987, a PLAAF SAM unit
shot down a Vietnamese Mig-21 which entered Chinese air space. Given the
wartime conditions and the nature of the air space penetration, the local
commander was authorized to make the decision to shoot down the intruder. In
routine matters, information is transmitted through a semi-automatic
command and control system that links "operations centers" at each
Interview. Several PLAAF officers made this point during discussions with the
authors. The term "intervievir" as used in
this study includes official, unclassified briefings, conversations during
meetings and discussions. For obvious reasons we do not identify individuals,
specific dates or occasions
Daily (Beijing), August 16, 1989, in FBIS-CHI-89-160,
August 21, 1999, p. 39.
"The Military Budget System in the PRC," China
Tech (Hong Kong) 1:2 (June 10, 1985), pp. 1-2.
Another Hong Kong publication identifies the following
PLA budgetary divisions: development (30%), maintenance (33%) and living
expenses (36%). Additionally, the same source claims the military budget is
comprised of two broad parts: "the overall national defense budget and the
combat readiness budget." In peacetime the latter is only about 10% of the
total military budget. See Wan Li-hsing, "China's
Military Expenditure to Increase Drastically in 1990," Tan; Tai (Hong
Kong) 48'(March 31, 1990), pp. 17-18, in FBIS-CHI-90-078,
April 23, 1990, pp. 46-49.
PLAAF has not stated how many enterprises are run by budui's.
In 1989, however, it reported that more than 100 PLAAF enterprises earned
profits in excess of RMB $50,000 while several earned more than RMB $1 million.
1, 1989, p. 1.) Like other military services, the PLAAF has held conferences to
enforce strict management of military enterprises. Presumably, the managers of
these activities are no less creative than their civilian counterparts in devising
accounting methods to retain more money for the use of the enterprise or parent
Dou Dezhong, "The Chinese Air Force," Tallahassee
Air Force Association, Tallahassee, FL,
May 31, 1990. The figure of 470,000 PLAAF personnel is given in International
Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance: 1989-1990 (Oxford:
Nuffeld Press, 1989), p. 149. The average PLA ratio
of officers to conscripts and volunteers is 3.3 to 1 compared to 2.45 to 1
before the 1985 reduction in forces. WenWeiPo (Hong
Kong), April 29, 1987,
p. 3, and May 3, 1987, p. 7.
Based on the figures supplied by Senior Colonel Dou Dezhong,
the PLAAF air attache at the Chinese embassy in Washington,
D.C., the PLAAF still has not reached the
average PLA ratio. Dou's figure includes, however, "civilian
officers." If they are excluded, the PLAAF probably comes close to the
general PLA officer-conscript ratio. The PLA has published little
segmented data regaling military manpower. Although there are specified
numerical limitations on the number of general officers each service can have,
the PLA has only referred to ratios for all other officer ranks. When
ranks were assigned in 1988, the PLAAF had 126 general officers. See Zhongg_uoKongiun, 6
(November 1988), p. 1.
practice, organizations and commanders often work around their manning
authorizations. It is not uncommon in Beijing
for an officer working in one organization to be on the manning roster of
separate requirements of local jurisdictions underscore the friction that may
exist between military units and neighboring communities. This kind of local
discrimination prompts military units to establish enterprises to provide
employment for dependents and military-supported schools to educate
example, there is only one PLAAF medical training facility, but there are
numerous transportation training units. DZK, p. 504
Jun XunShouce[Military Training
Handbook], by Editorial Group of the Changsha
Military Engineering Academy, Hunan Military District (Changsha:
Hunan Education Press, May 1988), p. 107; and FBIS, October 26, 1984, p. K14.
histories do not consistently treat the airborne-forces as a sixth branch of
the air force.
terms of air transport, one Chinese analyst described the problem as follows:
"Due to historical reasons China's
military transport departments have not managed military air transport for a
fairly long time." Changing this practice involved "a new task"
as well as departing from "the previous practice of just concentrating on
railway and water transport." The issue of air transport was first
addressed in a report to the director of the PLA's
General Logistics Department in early 1985. Regulations were not put into
effect until March 1989. Prior to that time "the military used civil
transport plans to carry out its air transport tasks. It lacked unified rules
and regulations and was characterized by considerable arbitrariness in such
areas as working out transport plans and time limits." Despite these
changes, the analyst made no reference to a specific doctrine for tactical or
strategic airlift. Hong Baocai, "The Development
Military Air Transport," Liaowane
Overseas (Hong Kong), 30 (July 24, 1989), pp. 6-7, in FBIS-CHI-89-151,
August 8, 1989, pp. 41-43.
Aviation was not created until early 1950. FBIS Daily Report, March 3, 1986, p. K20.
Personnel in the PLAAF routinely refer to anti-aircraft artillery as yipao(first
artillery) and surface-to-air missile (SAM) units are referred to
artillery). The PLAAF's SAM school is still informally referred to as the ErPaoXuexiaowhich has led to some confusion with the Second
Artillery's own ErPaoXuevuan. In September 1958, the SpecialWeaponsSchool(TezhongWucLiXuexiao) was organized in Banding. It was called the
This school was responsible for.training personnel
from all services to do maintenance work on surface-to-surface,
surface-to-air and shore-to-ship missiles. In 1963,
this school became primarily responsible for training only SAM maintenance and
construction personnel and commanders.
"China Sets Up Army Air Arm to Increase Modernized Combat
Effectiveness," Hsin Wan Pao(Hong Kong), April 18, 1989, p. 4, in FBIS-CHI-89-079,
April 26, 1989, p. 40.
battles, of course, are not a unique phenomenon within the PLA or PLAAF.
Normally, these disagreements are not publicly aired. A recent but still opaque
question of turf involved the transfer of PLAAF tactical airlift helicopters to
the ground force's army aviation corps (luiunhanakong bind or luhan in the
late 1980s. It is unclear whether the PLAAF wanted to retain the tactical
airlift mission--which involved the small but modern fleet of
Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters--or give it away. It is equally
unclear whether PLA ground forces commanders felt they could do a better job
satisfying tactical airlift requirement than the PLAAF or the army ground
forces were forced to accept the mission.
 Liu Dajun and Wang Zumin, eds., Zhongg,uoShehuizhuyiGuofan Jin iixue[Chinese
Socialist Defense Economics] (Beijing: PLA Press, 1987), p. 126; Wang Baocun and Dong Haiyan, "Maikenamala Junshi GaigedeGongguoDeshi"[The Successes
and Failures of the McNamara Military Reforms] in Yang Dezhi,
HuanXiang, et. al., GuofaneFazhanZhanlueSikao[Thought on
Strategies of Defense Development] (Beijing: PLA Press, 1987), pp. 239251; Wang
Shouyun, "XinshiqideGuofangKeji he WuqiZhuangbeiFazhanZhanlueYanjiu" [A Strategic Study of the Development of
Defense S&T, Weapons and Equipment in the New Period] in ZongCanmoubuJunxunbu,
ed., GuofangXiandaihuaFazhanZhanlueYaniiu[A Study of Development Strategy for Defense
Modernization] (Beijing: Military Translation Press, 1987), p. 233.
 The 25%
reduction in force figure is routinely cited. There is perhaps-an
assumption among Chinese and foreign analysts that the reduction was applied
across the board in all services. According to Dan;edaiZhongu~ o Kongjun, the
CMC authorized only a 20% reduction for the PLAAF on August 5, 1985. DZK, p. 675.
reviewing the manuscript, Paul Godwin pointed out that the linkage between the
doctrines of imminent war and extended peace is not particularly clear. He
notes, for example, that debates about the imminent war doctrine continued from
1973 until the Third Plenum in December 1978. The doctrine of extended peace
did not become dominant until 1985.
officers and non-technical officers wear the same ranks, but they wear
different collar insignia.
 In the
main, the retirement costs of volunteers and NCOs are handled by the local
governments in the areas where they retire. Officer or cadre retirement
procedures are more complex. Some officers, depending on whether they entered
military service prior to lixiu status) or after October 1, 1949tuixiu
status), are transferred to civilian units that may assume some of the
retirement costs. A new office with HqAF is the
Retired Cadre Bureau (laoganbuiu). In turn, it has two offices. The first is
the Retired Division lixiuchu
and is responsible for cadres who joined the military prior to October 1, 1949. These cadres receive
100 percent of their active duty salary. They also are entitled to live in a
retired cadre sanitorium(ganxiusuo).
The second is the Retired Division Luixiuchu) which is responsible for cadres who joined the
military after October 1, 1949.
They receive 80-90 percent of their active duty salary. They are not
entitled to live in a sanitorium. This division helps
find housing and possibly other employment. Theie are
separate sanitoriums for each of the first level
departments at HqAF. The MRAF Political Department's
Cadre/Personnel Division (ganbuchu) is responsible for all sanitoriums
at the MRAF Hq level. One PLAAF commander commented
that in his region as much as 20 percent of his budget was used to support
retired air force personnel. Retired officers may be entitled to retain the quarters
they occupied at retirement for an indefinite period of time. There may also be
provisions for the spouses and families of deceased retired military officers
to continue receiving housing benefits. These practices are consistent with
those that exist in large government ministries.
See Gu Ling and Li Ling, eds., TuiwuJunrenZhishiShouce[Handbook for
Retired Military Personnel] (Beijing: PLA Press, 1986).
 The PLA
reorganized its ground fighting forces in 1985 from an infantry-heavy
field army (yezhanjun) structure to corps size
units called "group armies" (jituanjun) .
Generally, group armies combine several infantry divisions with armor divisions
or brigades, as well as artillery, engineering, anti-aircraft,
communications and other specialty forces into an integrated, combined arms fighting
force. Although the first references to a group army were not seen until 1983
(supplied by Paul Godwin), the 1979 Sino-Vietnam border conflict provided
the impetus for development of the concept which was finalized in 1982.
sources have not clarified how regional PLAAF assets are assigned to specific
group armies. From the standpoint of joint operations in the West, it appears
that the Chinese employment of supporting air power has focused on tactical
applications. Their published analysis has not yet indicated how they propose
to control the employment of air power at the theater or campaign level (i.e.,
the military region). At the theater level the pressing question is not how air
force units interact with specific ground divisions, but how theater commanders
broker competing demands for limited air assets.
 The 8th
and 9th Flying Schools were abolished, and the 11th FlyingSchool was changed to the Test
Flight and TrainingCenter.
The Surface-to-Air Missile, Weather, Political, Radar, and
Communications Engineering academies, as well as the Engineering and Air Force
Command colleges, have begun awarding masters degrees.
pp. 503-504. Initial pilot training now lasts for four years as an undergraduate
and is divided into two distinct parts. The first part (20 months) is held at
one of two basic flying schools. The second part, which consists of three
phases (28 months), is conducted at one of the ten flying academies. Graduates
receive a degree in military science and are commissioned second lieutenants.
They are also give the AEP of a deputy company commander fulian'i
. Actual flight training (155 hours) begins at a flying academy where students
train in the CJ-6. They get an additional 130 hours in the F-5.
Training at the "transition training bases" (gaizhuangxunlianiidi) lasts for
one year (100120 flying hours). The pilots begin flying the F-5 for basic
airmanship, then transition to the F-6 or F-7. Upon graduation, the
pilots are expected to be capable of flying in "three weather
conditions" (i.e., day and night visual flight rules/VFR, and day
instrument flight rules/IFR). Thereafter annual flying hours vary according to
the type of aircraft: bombers (80 hours), fighters (100-110 hours) and
the A-5 ground attack aircraft (150 hours). DZK, pp. 503-504.
Graduation from a military school or academy with a college degree is not that
common in the world. In many advanced, western countries military academy
graduates and pilots still do not enjoy the same educational status as
graduates of civilian colleges or universities.
four aeronautical grades are 3rd, 2nd, 1st, and special grade in ascending
order of excellence. The grades are assigned to pilots, navigators,
communications personnel, gunnery personnel, and instructor pilots. The
criteria for acquiring these grades include time on station, flying hours,
special missions, and ability to "fly in four weather conditions"
(i.e., day and night visual flight regulations/VFR, and day and night
.instrument flight regulations/IFR). DZK, p. 507.
The PLAAF established age limits for its pilots in the 1980s: fighter and
ground attack pilots (43-45 years); bomber pilots (48-50 years);
transport pilots (55 years); helicopter pilots (47-50 years); and female
pilots (48 years). The average age of fighter and ground attack pilots is 28
ZhongguoRenminJiefangiunZhenazhiGongzuo Fence [Chinese People's Liberation Army
Political Work Volume] in Vol. 8 of Zhong;~uoDabaikeOuanshu -
Junshi [Great Chinese Encyclopedia - Military] (Beijing: Military
Science Press, 1987), pp. 46-49, 53-55; HaijunBeihaiJianduiHangkongbingbuZhengzhibu, ed., JunduiJicengZhenggongShivongShouce[Practical Handbook of Military Grassroots
Political Work] (Beijing: Navy Press, 1987), pp. 1-34.
The maternal part of the metaphor has been used to describe the General Staff
Department's Foreign Affairs Bureau (FAB) which Chinese officers describe as "our mother-in-law. It is a little different."
 Most of
this criticism appeared in attacks against the so-called "peaceful
evolution" efforts of Western states to subvert the nature of China's
political and social system. See RuiBian, "The Strategic Goals of the West in Promoting
'Peaceful Evolution,"' Banvuetan [Semimonthly
Talks] 19 (October 10, 1989), pp. 56-59, in FBIS, JPRS Report: China, JPRSCAR-89-112,
November 22, 1989, pp. 1-3; Liu Guohua,
"At an All-Army Political Work Meeting Yang Baibing
Explains 'Several Questions on Strengthening and Improving Army Political Work
in the New Situation,"' Jiefang'ut n Bao. December 19, 1989, p. 1, in FBISCHI-90-018S,
January 26, 1990, pp. 32-34; and QiuJichen, "Protect the Army's Purity As We Do Our
Eyes," Jiefang~ ut
n Bao. March
30, 1990, pp. 11-13. The peaceful evolution theme came into
its own after June 1989. There were obscure references to it at least as early
as July 1988 when Chinese writers claimed to detect peaceful but subversive
western initiatives in Eastern Europe. See FBIS, JPRS
JPRS-039-88, July 22,
1988, p. 5.
tone of this paragraph should not be construed to mean that the political
commissar system is accepted uncritically. The consistent unwillingness of
officers to talk about the system in any detail underscores the existence of a
host of sensitivities. There appears to be a dichotomy of attitudes among some
officers. Officers, who are always party members, are generally comfortable
with party control. Concurrently, some officers (read party members) are not
always comfortable with the commissar system as a component of routine military
affairs. Their reasons are unclear, but in many instances they may not have
much to do with basic party principles or policies.
this practice was explained to Western air force officers, PLAAF officials were
routinely vague about how command jurisdictions are resolved when the
distinction between a military and political issue is unclear. A synthesis of variou's'explanations is that through years of experience,
line and political officers have acquired an unwritten understanding or
tolerance of the recurrent differences. Understanding the distinctions has
become part of the air force's culture and a necessary staff skill.
Additionally, commissars and commanders frequently work together at different
organizational levels where they may develop personalized working
relationships. (Five of the seven MRAF political commissars  had previous
HqAF or MRAF command staff positions. The Shenyang
and Beijing MRAF commanders and political commissars worked together for
several years.) Disagreements or conflicts are normally viewed as more
personality than jurisdiction dependent. The rationality of the explanation
collapses when political struggles within the party lead to a politicalization of even the most routine operational
matters--as frequently happened during the Cultural Revolution.
Bueschel, p. 53. PLAAF and Ministry of Aviation Industry
histories confirm the expectations, but underscore how seriously modernization
was undermined in 1968 and 1969.
renaming of the AirForceMuseum(KongiunBowu~ u~an) at Shahezhen Airfield near the Great Wall in 1988 illustrates
some of the underlying tension between the civilian aviation industry and the
PLAAF. The museum was long referred to in PLAAF circles as the AirForceMuseum.
By 1988 the PLAAF was prepared to open the museum to the general public. When
Premier Li Peng visited the museum that year, he is
reported to have commented, "It is a fine aviation museum." According
to PLAAF sources, Ministry of Aviation Industry (MAI) personnel immediately
used Li Peng's statement as official approval of MAI
participation. To the consternation of some PLAAF personnel, the name of the
museum was subsequently changed to the AviationMuseum(Hangkong Bowuguan).
began copying the Soviet SA-2 SAM in 1959 and called it the Hongqi-1
(HQ1/CSA-1). The PLAAF received its first missiles in 1965. The Hongqi-2
(HQ-2/CSA-2), which is a modified HQ-1, entered the inventory
in 1966. Although a mobile SAM, the Hongqi-61 (HQ-61), has been
under development for several years. Problems have apparently plagued the
they were modified, the MIG-19, MIG-21, TU-16 and MI-4
became the F-6 Jian6/J-6), F-7 Jian-7/J-7), B-6
on -6/H-6) and Zhi-5 Z-5).
 The Nanchang A-5 ian -5/Q-5)
was derived from t MIG-19. It was originate called the Xiongving 302. Western writers initially
called it the Shenyanr F-6bis. In response to
PLAAF requirements, the Chengdu Aircraft Company (CAC) developed a deltawing interceptor known as the F-9 during the
1960s. The project was canceled in 1969--as were many projects at
that time--in favor of the F-8 under development at the
Shenyang Aircraft Company (SAC). Also in response to PLAAF requirements, the Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Company (NAMC) developed
the F-12 light interceptor in the 1960s and conducted the first test
flight in December 1970. Although several prototypes were produced, this
project was also canceled. A model of the F-9 is in the museum of the
Beijing Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (referred to as Beihang) while an F-12 is displayed at the ShahezhenAviationMuseum north of Beijing.
to various articles in Hangkong Shibao, from
1986 to 1989 the F-8II incorporated 157 new or modified pieces of F-8
equipment which amounted to about one third of all the F-8's equipment.
Some of these modifications include the WP-13 engine, the FDSX=02 and
FDSX-03 electronic anti-skid brake system, the KJ-12
autopilot, the use of titanium alloy in 64 load bearing areas, and a new radome. During the development process, 94 primary
experiments were performed.
E. Fink and Paul Proctor, "Shenyang
Focuses on Commercial Projects As Military Aircraft Requirements Shrink," Aviation
Week and Space Technology, December
11, 1989, p. 70. From 1985 to May 1990, the Chinese F-8II
development project actually consisted of two programs. One program was the
integration of an American fire control system acquired through the "Peace
Pearl" program. The second program involved the installation of a Chinese
fire control system. Peace Pearl
was a $502 million project funded solely by the PLAAF through a United
States foreign military sales (FMS) program.
The PRC-US program originally called for modernizing 50 basic F-8II
aircraft with a modified Westinghouse AN/APG 66 radar and fire control computer, a Litton LN-39 inertial navigation
system and a head-up display.
Deal for Modernizing F-8 Jet," Los Angeles
Times, May 15, 1990, p.
 Zhu Yaping, photo caption in Zhongguo
Hangkong HangtianBao. June 7, 1990; JiefangiunBao, November
15, 1990, p. 1.
the Chinese aviation industry has produced for export the F-7M and A-5M
with western avionics, the PLAAF has not been interested in purchasing large
numbers of these aircraft. One major reason is that the Ministry of Aero-Space
Industry (MAS) requires the air force to pay hard currency for the foreign
equipment on the aircraft. This requirement substantially increases the unit
cost of each aircraft. The PLAAF receive renminbiprocurement funds from the GSD, but the foreign currency costs must be made
up by the air force. The PLAAF naturally wants to pay for the entire aircraft
in renminbi which would mean a net loss
for MAS factories.
Richard G. O'Lone, "Chinese Air Force Developing
Few New Aircraft Designs," Aviation Week and Space Technology, December
7, 1987, pp. 55-56; and Richard G. O'Lone, "China Modernizes Military Aircraft in Atmosphere of Fiscal
Austerity," Aviation Week and Space Technology, December 11, 1989,
design, development and testing of new aircraft involves a lengthy process.
Chinese aviation historians claim that it was the Cultural Revolution that
extended some development cycles well beyond ten years. During the Cultural
Revolution, demands were placed on aviation engineers to develop aircraft in
two or three years. If China
is now developing new fighter aircraft, the factories and institutes will still
have to go through several time-intensive phases. The design phase will
take at least four to five years. The test flight phase will take another four
to five years depending on the design. Once aircraft development reaches
finalization, the training of pilots and maintenance personnel may take six to
twelve months. Depending on the type of aircraft, it could take another six to
twelve months to produce enough (10-15) aircraft to equip the initial
receiving squadron. According to JiefangiunBao, it took one PLAAF unit three years to become
operational after the initial fighters began to arrive. Of the four factories
that currently produce combat aircraft (Shenyang/F-8, Chengdu/F-7,
Nanchang/A-5 and Xi'anlB-6 and B-7/FB-7), the only real
design competition exists between Shenyang
and Chengdu. Besides the F-8II,
the only new combat aircraft undergoing flight testing is the B-7/FB-7
Hon -7/ ianhon -7) ground attack aircraft
Comparing the time it has taken to complete development of past aircraft-including
the F-8 and F-811--it appears that the B-7/FB-7
will not be ready for deployment until at least the late-1990s--and
even then in small numbers. If other aircraft are being designed, past
experience suggests it will be well into the 2000s before they are ready for
October 7, 1988, p. 1.
Ming Cheung, "Comrades in.Arms: China Signals
Willingness to Resume Soviet Ties," Far Eastern Economic Review July 19, 1990, p. 30; and February 14, 1991, pp. 8-9.
 "Fuelling Speculation," Far Eastern Economic Review, February 21, 1991, p. 9.
current HqAF deputy commanders who are Korean War
veterans are Lin Hu, Li Yongtai
and Liu Zhitian. The MRAF commanders are Liu Yudi (Beijing),
Sun Jinghua (Lanzhou)
and HouShujun (Chengdu).
The MRAF deputy commanders are Yao Xian (Beijing)
and Han Decai (Nanjing).
are still several cases in which deputy unit commanders outrank their
commanders because they have more time in service. It will therefore take
several years before the oldest officers reach retirement age and the rank
structure becomes fully rational.
 Zhang Shuyun, "Enhance Awareness of the Quality of Military
December 14, 1990, p. 4,
in FBIS-CHI-9i-003, January 4, 1991, p. 38.
We do not
contend the PLAAF has been totally depoliticized. All militaries have a
political dimension. We believe the evidence supports the view that the PLAAF--and
other PLA services--have become much less involved in parochial