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American Forces Press Service

Pace Visits Chinese Air Base, Checks Out Su-27 Fighter-Bomber

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ANSHAN, China, March 24, 2007 – In a move toward openness, Chinese military officials let the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff examine their top-of-the-line combat aircraft and allowed him to speak with pilots and ground personnel here.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace and his party toured Anshan Air Base, home of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s 1st Air Division, and he examined a Chinese-built Su-27 fighter-bomber. The base was part of a visit to the Shenyang Military Region.

The 1st Air Division has three flying regiments and has Su-27s, F-8s and F-7Es. The Su-27 is the top of the food chain for the PLA Air Force, and Pace was the first American to get such a close look at the aircraft, senior Chinese officials said.

NATO pilots know the aircraft by the code name Flanker, and former Soviet Union engineers designed it to counter the American F-15 Eagle. The Su-27 was engineered to be an air superiority fighter and the Chinese still use it in that role, but they also can use it as a precision ground-attack aircraft. The Russians licensed the Chinese to build the plane in China.

The Su-27 does have some drawbacks. Some of the avionic packages are Russian, and the “warranty isn’t the best,” said a U.S. military official speaking on background. There is no air-to-air refueling capability for the Su-27, and that limits the Flanker to a range of about 1,500 kilometers.

Pace, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman, and Air Force Brig. Gen. Ralph Jodice, the defense attaché at the American embassy in Beijing, climbed into the cockpit of the aircraft. In addition, Chinese pilots flew four aircraft around the airfield to give the chairman and his party a small look at what the aircraft can do in the air.

While he said examining the aircraft was good, Pace said he was even more interested in the PLA Air Force personnel. The chairman spoke to pilots and enlisted men about their service, the qualities of their aircraft and their training and experience of the personnel. He said they were highly motivated and impressed him with their professionalism.

Chinese officials said all their pilots are college graduates and that 96 percent of them are capable of handling complex air operations. The officials said pilots average 120 hours of flying time per year with most of their training centered on tactical considerations. Roughly 35 percent of pilot training is at night. They said they had about 130 pilots for the 100 aircraft in the unit.

In comparison, U.S. Air Force pilots average about 250 flying hours per year and there are roughly 120 pilots per 100 aircraft.

Pace thanked the Chinese personnel for their work. He said their efforts are helping to bring China and the United States closer together. Pace told the airmen that the United States and China have many common national interests and that it is in Asia’s and the world’s interest for the two countries to cooperate.

During the visit, the base commander pinned a set of Chinese pilot wings on Pace’s uniform. Pace told the commander, and all the pilots he met, that, “while I did not earn the wings, I will wear them as a compliment to your professionalism.”

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