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 Although the PLAAF was not formally established until November 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) became involved in aviation as early as 1924. The concept for the PLAAF did not actually take shape, however, until the early 1940s at Yanan. Two Chinese aviation pioneers were trained in the Soviet Union and had a large impact on the PLAAF's formation. In addition, Soviet involvement at flying schools and operational units in the early 1950s were very important in influencing the PLAAF's organization. This section provides an overview of the history of the PLAAF and PLA Air Defense Force (ADF), discusses the 1979 Sino-Vietnam border conflict, and highlights the PLAAF's organization today. 


In September 1924, which was during the first Nationalist Party (Kuomintang/KMT) and CCP united period, Sun Yatsen's GuangzhouRevolutionary Government established an Aviation Bureau (hangkong ju) and a military flying school in Guangzhou. Two classes (50 people) received 12 months of training from 1924-1925. Eighteen of the people (9 KMT and 9 CCP) were sent to the Soviet Union from 1925 to March 1927 for advanced flight training. Two of the key CCP members who were sent to the Soviet Union during the early years and later helped shape the PLAAF were Chang Qiankun and Wang Bi.

 Chang Qiankun (born 1904) remained in the Soviet Union until 1938, then went to Dihua (Wulumuqi) until the CCP sent him to Yanan in late 1940. Over the next several years, he served in several positions, including director of the CCP Central Committee Military Commission's Aviation Bureau and PLAAF deputy commander.

 In April 1927, Wang Bi moved from Moscow's Sun Yatsen University to the Soviet Union's Air Force Ground Support School, where he graduated in September 1929. He then served in the Soviet Air Force until September 1938. Like Chang Qiankun, he went to Dihua in 1938 before being sent to Yanan in 1940. After 1949, he served primarily in political commissar and aircraft maintenance positions, but finished as a PLAAF deputy commander. He died in 1977.


* According to Chinese-English dictionaries published in China, three terms -- zhongyang junshi weiyuanhui, zhongyang junwei, and junwei -- are used interchangeably to mean the Military Commission of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Although these terms have always been used in Chinese, Western publications have translated them differently, and, consequently, certain Chinese publications printed for outside consumption have followed the Western practice. For example, Western publications originally translated them as the Military Affairs Commission (MAC), but later changed to the Central Military Commission (CMC).

   In January 1941, the Military Commission decided to start an Air Force Engineering School, even though the CCP had no aircraft or airfields. The school was charged with teaching basic aviation theory and aviation armament. Liu Yuti, who was the Beijing Military Region Air Force (MRAF) commander until late 1990, was one of the first 100 students. Wang Bi was the first commandant, and Chang Qiankun was the first chief instructor. On 10 March 1941, the 18th Group Army Engineering School was formally established.

 In May 1944 at Yanan, the Military Commission decided to establish an Aviation Section (hangkong zu) under the 18th Group Army's General Staff Department. The Aviation Section, which was responsible for all aviation work, was abolished in October 1945. Wang Bi and Chang Qiankun were the first director and deputy director, respectively.

 In September 1945, the Aviation Section sent a 30 member team from Yanan to northeast China to begin preparations for setting up an aviation school. On 1 March 1946, the Northeast Democratic United Army Aviation School was established at Tonghua, in southeast Jilin Province. In May, the school moved north to Mudanjiang, and the first class began in July with four basic trainers and a few type 99 advanced trainers. Due to KMT harassment, the school moved north again in November to the eastern shore of Xingkai lake. However, it moved back to Mudanjiang in November 1948. This school is known as the Northeast Old Aviation School (dongbei lao hangxiao). Many of the initial instructors and ground support personnel were Japanese Air Force members who remained in China after the surrender in 1945. By July 1949, the school had trained 560 people, including 126 pilots. The rest received various ground support training. 


In August 1949, the Soviet Union agreed to help China establish six aviation schools and to sell China 434 aircraft of all types. The school at Mudanjiang was approved as the seventh shortly thereafter. In addition, the Soviets provided advisors for each of the schools. By then, they had also collected 113 KMT aircraft, 1278 engines, 74000 bombs, and 2267 technicians, and had repaired 40 airfields.

 In March 1949, the Military Commission Aviation Bureau (junwei hangkong ju) was established, with Chang Qiankun as the Director and Wang Bi as the Political Commissar. The Aviation Bureau, located at #7 Dengshikou Tongfuxia Dao in Beijing, had 64 people. Almost immediately, the Aviation Bureau took people from the Northeast Old Aviation School and organized an Aviation Section (hangkong zu) in the Huadong, Huazhong, and Huabei areas. It also set up an Aviation Office (hangkong bangongshi) in Beijing, Jinan, Nanchang, Changsha, Wuhan, and Shanghai, and an Aviation Station (hangkong zhan) in Tianjin, Xuzhou, Qingdao, Hangzhou, Taiyuan, and Zhangjiakou. The Aviation Bureau was organized administratively into four divisions and two offices as shown in Figure 1.

 - Operations and Education Division (zuozhan jiaoyu chu)

-Aeronautical Engineering Division(hangkong gongcheng chu)

- Civil Aviation Division (minhang chu)

- Intelligence Office (qingbao ke)     

- Supply Office (gongying ke)                                       

 On 11 November 1949, the Military Commission abolished the Aviation Bureau and formally established the PLAADm using the Fourth Field Army's 14th bingtuan as its basis. The first Commander was Liu Yalou, and the first Political Commissar was Xiao Hua. Chang Qiankun, who was appointed as a Deputy Commander and Director of the training Department, and Wang Bi, who was appointed as the Deputy Political Commissar and Director of the Aeronautical Engineering Department, were the only two people left who had studied in the Soviet Union.

Initially, Headquarters Air Force (HqAF) only had three first level administrative departments Headquarters, Political, and Logistics. By the end of the first year, however, this had expanded to six -- Headquarters, Political, Training, Engineering, Logistics, and Cadre/ Personnel. The PLAAF Party Committee was established in July 1950. The HqAF organization from November 1949 - May 1953 is shown in Figure 2.

   Headquarters Department (siling bu)

 - Operations Department (zuozhan bu)

- Reconnaissance Office (zhencha chu)

- Communications Division (tongxin chu)

- Air Traffic Control Division(hangxing chu)

- Formation Division (duilie chu)      

-  Confidential Division (jiyao chu)  

-  Administrative Division(guanli chu)

 Political Department (zhengzhi bu)

  - Organization Department (zuzhi bu)

-  Propaganda Department (xuanchuan bu)

- Security Department (baowei bu)

- Liaison Department (lianluo bu)

- Directly Subordinate Political Division (zhizheng chu)

- Secretariat Division (mishu chu)

 Training Department (xunlian bu)

 - Training Division (xunlian chu)

- Regulations Division (tiaoling chu)

- Schools Administrative Division (xuexiao guanli chu)

- Editing & Translation Division (bianyi chu)

 Engineering Department (gongcheng bu)

 - Aircraft Maintenance Division (jiwu chu)

- Field Maintenance Division (waichang chu)

- Procurement Division (dinghuo chu)

- Repair Division (xiuli chu)

- Equipment Division (qicai chu)

- Special Equipment Division (teshe chu)

- Armament Division (junxie chu)

 Logistics Department (houqin bu)

 - General Office (bangong shi)

- Political Department (zhengzhi bu)

- Supply Department (gongying bu)

- Health Department (weisheng bu)

- Fuels Division (youliao chu)

- Finance Division (caiwu chu)

- Airfield Construction Division (jichang jianshe chu)

- Barracks Management Division (yingfang guanli chu)

- Transportation Division (yunshu chu)

- Armament Division (junxie chu)

 Cadre/Personnel Department (ganbu bu)

 - Military Cadre Division (junshi ganbu chu)

- Political Cadre Division (zhengzhi ganbu chu)

- School Cadre Division (xuexiao ganbu chu)

- Logistics Cadre Division (houqin ganbu chu)

- Secretariat Division (mishu chu)

  Between August 1950 and September 1951, the Aviation Offices, which had been established under the Aviation Bureau in early 1949, expanded and became MRAF Headquarters. Administratively, each MRAF Headquarters had a Headquarters Department (siling bu), Political Department (zhengzhi bu), Logistics Department (houqin bu), Aircraft Maintenance Department (jiwu bu), and Cadre/Personnel Department (ganbu bu). In addition, a Soviet Combined Aviation Troop Group arrived in Shanghai, Nanjing, and Xuzhou in February 1950 to help with China's air defense. The Soviets began returning home in July 1951. Shown below are the names, dates, and locations of the six original Aviation Offices (Huabei/North China, Huadong/East China, Xibei/Northwest, Xinan/Southwest, Dongbei/Northeast, and Huazhong/Central China), and the names, dates, and locations of the MRAF Headquarters (junqu kongjun) once they were established.

Huabei Apr 1949 Beijing Huabei Oct 1950 Beijing
Huadong Sep 1949 Shanghai Huadong Aug 1950 Nanjing
Xibei Nov 1949 Lanzhou Xibei Sep 1950 Lanzhou
Xinan Jan 1950 Chongqing Xinan Sep 1950 Chengdu
Dongbei Jan 1950 Shenyang Dongbei Aug 1950 Shenyang
Huazhong Feb 1950 Wuhan Zhongnan Sep 1950 Wuhan

In May 1955, the six Military Regions (MR) were reapportioned and renamed and the MRAFs followed suit by changing their names. Although four of the MRAFs remained in the same location, two of them moved. The Zhongnan (South Central) MRAF in Wuhan moved to Guangzhou as the Guangzhou MRAF, and the Xinan MRAF in Chengdu moved to Wuhan to become the Wuhan MRAF. The MRAF Headquarters changes are shown below:

1950 MRAFs       1950 LOCATION  1955 MRAFs
Dongbei (Northeast) Beijing   Shenyang MRAF
Huabei (North China Beijing   Beijing MRAF
Huadong (East China Nanjing   Nanjing MRAF
Zhongnan (South Central)
Guangzhou MRAF
Xibei (Northwest) Lanzhou  Lanzhou MRAF
Xinan (Southwest)  Chengdu   Wuhan MRAF

In addition to realigning the MRAFs, the HqAF organization was restructured in May 1955 to include 11 first level administrative departments plus a Military Law Division. The 1955 structure is shown in Figure 3.

- Headquarters Department (siling bu)

 - Political Department (zhengzhi bu)

 - Cadre/Personnel Department (ganbu bu)

 - Military Training Department (junshi xunlian bu)

 - Military Schools Administrative Department (junshi xuexiao guanli bu)

 - Engineering Department (gongcheng bu)

 - Military Procurement Department(junshi dinghuo bu)                                  

 - Airfield Construction Department (xiujian bu)                                                           

 - Logistics Department (houqin bu)

 - Finance Department (caiwu bu)                                                                                    

 - Directly Subordinate Political Department (zhishu zhengzhi bu)                            

- Military Law Division (junfa chu)                                                                                 

The first flying squadron (zhongdui)was established in July 1949 at Beijing Nanyuan. It had three flights (two fighter and one bomber), including six P-51s, two Mosquito bombers, and two PT-19 trainers. By October, 19 more aircraft arrived and one transport flight was added.

 The first aviation unit established as part of the PLAAF was designated the PLAAF 4th Combined Brigade (huncheng lu), and- consisted of the 10th and 11th Fighter Regiments, the 12th Bomber Regiment, and the 13th Attack Regiment. It was established in Nanjing on 19 June 1950, and moved to Shanghai on 8 August. The brigade used the 90th Infantry Division as its base. On 28 October 1950, the 4th Combined Brigade became the PLAAF 4th Fighter Brigade, and changed again on 31 October 1950 to the PLAAF 4th Division. The four regiments were split and became the backbone of the four aviation divisions. On 30 March 1956, the 4th Division changed its name to the 1st Air Division with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Regiments.

 In August 1950, the PLAAF established its first development plan for the years 1950 to 1953. The plan called for training 25,400 technical troops, establishing about 100 aviation regiments, repairing over 100 airfields, setting up eleven aircraft repair factories, and increasing the size of the PLAAF to 290,000. For the most part, these goals were reached by the end of 1953.  


 In April 1949, in order to protect Beijing, the Huabei MR established the Ping-Jin (Beiping-Tianjin) Garrison Headquarters (weishu fangkong siling bu), with Nie Rongzhen as the Commander and Bo Yibo as the Political Commissar. On 23 April, the Nanjing Air Defense Headquarters (fangkong siling bu) was established, and in July, the Shanghai Garrison Headquarters established a Shanghai Air Defense Division (fangkong chu).

 As more cities were liberated, the PLA's eight field antiaircraft artillery (AAA) regiments became responsible their air defense. The first AAA group (dadui) was formed in November 1945 in Liaoning Province. By August 1949, there were eight AAA regiments, but the PLA bought enough AAA from the Soviet Union to form ten more regiments. Later, the 6th AAA Regiment became the Air Defense School's (fangkong xuexiao) training unit, and the 8th AAA Regiment merged with the 12th Regiment. So, by the end of 1949, there were 16 AAA regiments, located in Shenyang, Anshan, Fushun, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Qishuyan, Wuhan, and Changsha.

 In March 1950, the Shanghai Air Defense Headquarters (fangkong siling bu) was established. In April, the Shanghai Air Defense Command Post (fangkong zhihuisuo) was formed, with subordinate fighter, AAA, searchlight, and antiaircraft reporting (duikong qingbao) command offices (zhihuishi). Between May and September, a radar element was established, then expanded to a radar battalion. In August, a searchlight regiment was established.

 Between March-May 1950, three AAA divisions were established to control the AAA regiments. The 1st AAA Division was organized in Wuhan, with its subordinate 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 9th Regiments stationed in the Leizhou Peninsula, Guangzhou, and Wuhan. The 2nd AAA Division was formed in Shenyang, with the subordinate 4th and 5th Regiments stationed in Shenyang, Anshan, and Xiaofengman. The 3rd AAA Division was established in Shanghai, with the subordinate 11th, 14th, 17th, and 18th Regiments, all of which were stationed in Shanghai.

 On 23 October 1950, the PLA Air Defense Headquarters (fangkong siling bu) was formally established with Zhou Shidi as the Commander and Zhong Chibing as the Political Commissar. At this time, there were two AAA divisions (the 2nd had changed to the Dongbei MR Air Defense Headquarters/junqu fangkong siling bu), 16 AAA regiments, one searchlight regiment, two radar battalions, and one aircraft observation battalion (duikong jianshi ying). Shortly thereafter, there were four MR Air Defense Headquarters (Huadong, Huabei, Dongbei, and Zhongnan). In addition, command organizations for the Xinan MR Air Defense Division (fangkong chu), the Andong and xiaofengman Air Defense Headquarters, the Zhejiang and Fujian Air Defense Divisions, and the Nanjing, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Nanchang Air Defense Command Posts (fangkong zhihuisuo) were formed.

From the beginning of the Korean War in June 1950 until July 1953, the Air Defense Troops had the following units:

                - 2 AAA divisions (the 101st and 102nd)

                - The 1st AAA Division became the Zhongnan MR Air Defense Headquarters

                - The 3rd AAA Division became a Field AAA Division

                - 33 AAA regiments

                - 8 independent AAA battalions

                - 4 searchlight regiment

                - 1 radar regiment

                - 8 radar battalions

                - 17 aircraft observation battalions

 In addition, the Air Defense Force established the following schools during the early year:

 - Advanced Air Defense School (gaoji fangkong xuexiao)

- AAA School (gaoshepao xuexiao)

- Air Defense School (fangkong xuexiao)

- Radar School (leida xuexiao)

- Maintenance School (jishu xuexiao)

- 3 Preparatory Schools (yubei xuexiao)

 In March 1955, Yang Chengwu became Commander of the Air Defense Troops. In August 1955, the PLA Air Defense Troops (fangkong budui) became the PLA Air Defense Force (ADF/fangkongjun), and the PLA Air Defense Headquarters (fangkong siling bu) became the PLA Air Defense Force Headquarters (fangkongjun siling bu). From this point on, the ADF became a service (junzhong) equivalent to the Air Force and Navy.

 When the ADF and PLAAF merged in May 1957, the ADF had the following units:

 - Shenyang, Beijing, Nanjing, and Guangzhou MR Air Defense Headquarters

- 1 ADF Corps (fangkongjun diyi jun) formed in Fuzhou in September 1955

- 8 Schools

- AAA troops

- Searchlight troops

- Aircraft reporting troops

- 149,000 personnel


 When the PLAAF and ADF merged, the new PLAAF leadership incorporated members of both forces as follows:

 - Commander

                 Liu Yalou                               (PLAAF)                0491/0068/2869

- Political Commissar

                Wu Faxian                             (PLAAF)                0702/3127/2009

- Deputy Commanders

                Wang Bingzhang                 (PLAAF)                3769/4426/3864

                Liu Zhen                                (PLAAF)                0491/7201

                Cheng Jun                             (ADF)                     2052/6874

                Cao Lihuai                             (PLAAF)                2580/6849/2037

                Tan Jiashu                             (ADF)                     6223/1367/6615

                Chang Qiankun                    (PLAAF)                1603/0051/0981

                Xu Shenji                               (PLAAF)                1776/3234/0679

 Based on the initial decision to have the PLAAF and ADF merge, the following organizational changes took place:

 - The ADF's command organization AAA troops, searchlight troops, and aircraft reporting troops were kept intact

 - The PLAAF's radar flights (fendui) and the ADF's aircraft reporting troops were merged

 - Administrative elements with similar duties were combined

 - Air Defense Command Posts (fangkong zhihuisuo) at each PLAAF and ADF level were merged into a unified Air Defense Operations Command Post (fangkong zuozhan zhihuisuo)

 - All of the ADF's schools were kept intact

 Following the merger and the addition of the surface-to-air missile (SAM) Troops in 1958, the PLAAF consisted of the following branches (bingzhong):

 - The PLAAF's Aviation Troops (hangkong bing) included fighters, bombers, reconnaissance aircraft, transports and each type of specialized aviation troop units. From the end of the Korean War to 1957, some of the existing air divisions expanded from two to three regiments. From 1960-1965, more air divisions were created to guard the coast. From 1966-1976, aviation troop units were expanded to cover the rest of China.

 - At the time of the PLAAF-ADF merger, the ADF'S AAA Troops (gaoshepao bing) already had 11 AAA divisions. In 1958, one of the AAA division's headquarters changed to a SAM training base. From 1959 to 1975, the number of AAA units expanded; however, there was a fairly large reduction in 1975.

 - The PLAAF's SAM Troops (dikong daodan bing) began when China received its first SA-2 missiles (five launchers and 62 missiles) from the Soviet Union in October 1958. The first batch of SAMs was organized into three battalions, consisting of people borrowed from the AAA, radar, aviation maintenance, and searchlight troops. The first SAM division was formed on 1 April 1964 as the 4th Independent AAA Division. In September 1958, a Special Weapons School (tezhong wuqi xuexiao) was organized in Banding and called the 15th Aviation School (hangkong xuexiao). It was responsible for training all services on surface-to-surface, surface-to- air, and shore-to-ship missile maintenance. In 1963, however, this school became responsible only for training SAM commanders, maintenance, and construction.

 - After the 1957 merger, the ADF's Aircraft Reporting Troops (duikong pingbao bing) changed their name to PLAAF Radar Troops (kongjun leida bing), and became a PLAAF branch. The PLAAF's original radar flights (leida fendui) became subordinate to the radar regiments.

 - After the merger-, the ADF's Searchlight Troops (tanzhao deng bing) also became a PLAAF branch, with six regiments to support aviation and AAA troop night operations. In April 1974, the Searchlight Troops were abolished.

 - On 26 July 1950, the PLAAF's Airborne Troops (kongjiang bing) began when the Military Commission established the PLAAF 1st Marine Brigade (luzhan diyi lu) was established in Shanghai, using the Third Field Army's 9th bingtuan's 30th Corps' (jun) 89th Division as a basis. On 1 August, the brigade's Headquarters moved to Kaifeng, Henan Province, while Kaifeng and Zhengzhou, Henan Province, were designated as the brigade's training bases. This brigade eventually became an airborne division (kongjiang bing shi). Thereafter, the unit's designation changed several times, becoming the Air Force Marine First Division, the Paratroops Division (sanbing shi), then the Airborne Division (kongjiang bing shi). In May 1961, the Military Commission changed the Army's 15th Army (15 jun), which had fought during the Korean War, into the PLAAF 15th Airborne Army (kongjun kongjiang bing di 15 jun), and subordinated the PLAAF's original airborne division to this new Army. Today, it is known as the PLAAF 15th Airborne Army (kong 15 jun). In October 1964, an aviation transport regiment was created to support the airborne troops. In December 1969, the first helicopter regiment was assigned to the airborne troops, and the number of personnel and equipment increased. In 1975, the airborne troops underwent a reduction in force, yet new types of weapons were introduced.

 The May 1955 HqAF reorganization which provided for 11 first level administrative departments reflected the needs of the three general departments (san zongbu) -- General Staff Department (GSD), General Political Department (GPD) and General Logistics Department (GLD). When the PLAAF and ADF merged, the AAA Command Department (gaoshepao bing zhihui bu), the Radar Department (leida bing bu), and the Searchlight Department (tanzhao deng bing bu) were added. In June 1957, the Finance Department (caiwu bu) was incorporated into the Logistics Department, and in September 1957, the Headquarters Department's Communications Division (tongxin chu) became a first level Communications Department (tongxin bu).

 From 1958-1965, two HqAF first level departments were added and five more merged into other departments as follows:

 - The Military Scientific Research Department (junshi kexue yanjiu bu/keyan bu) was added

 - The Technical Department (jishu bu) was added and became responsible for SAMs, but this department was later merged with the AAA Command Department. In June 1966, they again split, and the Second AAA Command Department (dier gaoshepao bing zhihui bu) was established.

 - The Military Procurement Department merged into the Engineering Department

 - The Airfield Construction Department merged into the Logistics Department

 - The Searchlight Department merged into the AAA Command Department

 - The Cadre/Personnel Department merged into the Political Department

 - The Communications Department merged into the Headquarters Department

 As a result of these changes, HqAF had 11 first level administrative departments from 1966-1969 as shown in Figure 4.

 - Headquarters Department (siling bu)

 - Political Department (zhengzhi bu)

 - Logistics Department (houqin bu)

 - Engineering Department (gongcheng bu)

 - Training Department (junxun bu)

 - Schools Department (junxiao bu)

 - Scientific Research Department (keyan bu) 

 - AAA Command Department(gaoshepao bing zhihui bu)

- 2nd AAA Command Department (dier gaoshepao bing zhihui bu)                                                         

 - Radar Department (leida bing bu)  

 - Directly Subordinate Political

 Department (zhishu zhengzhi bu)                            

In 1969 the PLA carried out a reduction in force, and on 25 September HqAF was reduced to three first level departments (3 da bu) as shown in Figure 5.

 -Headquarters Department (siling bu)

- Political Department (zhengzhi bu)

-Logistics Department (houqin bu

In addition to reducing the number of first level departments, the following departments were changed:

- The Training and Schools Departments were merged into the  Training Department                                              

- The AAA Command Department, 2nd AAA Command Department, Radar Department, and Scientific Research Department were reduced in size and became subordinate to the Headquarters Department                  

  - The Engineering and Directly Subordinate Political Departments were abolished

 - The Engineering Department's administrative and field maintenance work became the Headquarters Department's responsibility

 - The Engineering Department's repair and procurement work became the Logistics Department's responsibility

When the Engineering Department was abolished, this created big problems for maintenance support, so the Engineering Department was reactivated as the Aeronautical Engineering Department(hangkong gongcheng bu) in May 1976 as the fourth first level administrative department (Figure 6). This structure of four first level department remains in effect today. Sections 10, 11, and 12 show the numerous organizational changes that also took place within the Military Regions between 1958 and 1985.




Following the disruption of the Cultural Revolution, the PLAAF consistently cites the Third Plenum of the 11th Party Congress in 1978 as the beginning of its current phase of regularization (zhengguihua) and modernization (xiandaihua). However, the PLAAF was not prepared mentally or operationally for the 17 February to 16 March 1979 border conflict with Vietnam, which China called a self-defense operation. The PLAAF began its preparations in the Guangxi Autonomous Region about 45 days prior to the first day of operations.

 The Guangzhou MRAF Headquarters established a Forward Command Post (qianzhi) which worked together with the 7th Air Corps at Nanning as the unified authority for the PLAAF's participation in the conflict. The PLAAF identified as one of its first missions the need to educate the troops in Guangxi about the reasons for the upcoming operations, and the need to motivate them to work all out preparing for the influx of troops. Upon receiving the combat readiness alert, all of the troops in the region received intensive education by studying the Military Commission's and HqAF's orders and relevant newspaper articles. In addition, three simple principles were put forth -- everything is subordinate to war; resolutely carry out orders; and hard work comes first.

 One of the most important tasks during this period was to prepare the airfields in Guangxi for the influx of over 20,000 PLAAF aviation, SAM, and AAA troops. The Guangzhou MRAF's Logistics Department was responsible for organizing the housing, material, transportation, and fuel support for these troops and their equipment, as well as the helicopter rescue and transport support for wounded soldiers at the front line. The airfields also took this opportunity to build, repair, and/or acquire new equipment or facilities which they had not been able to do previously.

 According to the PLA, "the Vietnamese Air Force did not dare start anything during the border conflict, which the Chinese limited to a certain area, time frame, and goals, because the PLAAF was able to maintain air superiority." Therefore, the PLAAF restricted its missions to fighter reconnaissance and early warning missions along the border, helicopter rescue missions to pick up wounded soldiers, and air transport missions. Since there was no air war, the PLAAF did not use any ground attack aircraft or bombers. As a result, only about one-fourth of the fuel estimated for combat was used, and the difficulties with fuel consumption were fewer than expected, but several organizational and facilities problems were highlighted (See Section 18 for further details).


 Today, the PLAAF is under the leadership of the Military Commission through the General Staff Department (Figure7). As a service arm, the Air Force's position in the chain of command is slightly higher than that of the seven military regions. The PLAAF's primary missions are to defend China's land and air space and to support the ground forces, using its aviation, air defense, and airborne units. Secondary missions include assisting socialist construction, providing relief and rescue operations, and supporting artificial rainmaking. The seven Military Region commanders are responsible for combined operations, while the MRAF commanders are responsible for flight and air defense operations. Since 1988, each MRAF commander has also become a Military Region deputy commander. The seven MRAF's, are organized in the following protocol order -- Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Jinan, and Chengdu.

 In order to perform its operational missions, the PLAAF, which is one of the PLA's three services (junzhong) along with the Navy and Second Artillery (strategic rocket forces), is organized into five branches (bingzhong) -- aviation (hangkong bing), AAA (gaoshepao bing), SAM (dikong daodan bing), radar (leida bing), and communications (tongxin bing). The aviation branch, which includes fighters, ground attack aircraft, bombers, transports, and reconnaissance aircraft, is the PLAAF's main arm. The Air Force also has Airborne Troops (kongjiang bing) and logistics units (houqin budui), as well as directly subordinate units (zhishu budui), such as procuratorates (jiancha yuan), research institutes (yanjiusuo), hospitals (yiyuan), and academies/ schools (xueyuan/xuexiao). In addition, it has an integrated political structure at every level to ensure Party control of the military.

 The primary missions of the PLAAF's Aviation Troops five main components are shown below:

 Fighter Aviation Troops (qianji hangkong bing)

 - Resist enemy air attacks, and protect the safety of important national targets

 - Carry out air superiority

 - Protect important Army and Naval deployments and important group army combat maneuvers, cut off encircling enemy troops from the air, impede the enemy from conducting aerial maneuvers and aerial logistics support

 - Support the combat actions of other aviation troop units and airborne troops

 - Destroy the enemy's airborne troops

 - Conduct aerial reconnaissance, and impede the enemy's aerial reconnaissance capability

 - Conduct attacks at critical times

 Bomber Aviation Troops (hongzha hangkong bing)

 - Destroy enemy missiles, nuclear weapons, and missile bases (launch sites), associated warehouses, and production bases

 - Attack important enemy deployment areas. Destroy and suppress enemy tanks and artillery, command structure, defense works, and important military warehouses.

 - Support the struggle for air superiority. Destroy and suppress enemy airfields, aircraft, and personnel

 - Destroy and suppress enemy combat ships, transport vessels, amphibious landing craft, and naval bases and ports

 - Impede enemy transportation. Destroy rail hubs, roads, bridges, crossing points, wharves, fuel lines, and transportation equipment

 - Destroy important enemy rear area targets

 - Support airborne force movements, and destroy enemy airborne forces

 - Conduct aerial minelaying and anti-submarine warfare

 - Conduct aerial reconnaissance and electronic countermeasures

 Ground Attack Aviation Troops (qiangji hangkong bing)

 - Directly support ground force operations. Destroy enemy missiles, nuclear weapons, tanks, artillery emplacements, command structure, defense works, and transportation

 - Support amphibious landing forces, and destroy enemy amphibious forces

 - Support airborne forces, and destroy enemy airborne forces

 - Join air superiority battles. Destroy enemy front line airfields and radar sites, and conduct aerial reconnaissance

 Reconnaissance Aviation Troops (zhencha hangkong bing)

 - Support anti-attack and air superiority combat. Clarify enemy aviation deployments, missiles and nuclear weapons deployment sites, as well as air force and naval bases and aircraft carrier positions

 - Reconnoiter enemy headquarters facilities, military sites, industries, and transportation

 - Conduct electron reconnaissance, as well as clarify the enemy's electronic equipment capabilities and locations

 - Inspect the friendly force camouflage situation and effective measures against a surprise enemy attack

 Transportation Aviation Troops (yunshu hangkong bing)

 - Support ground forces from the air, and help move other PLAAF units between airfields

 - Transport airborne troops to conduct combat

 - Transport troops and cargo, and aerial drop weapons, material, and materiel

 - Conduct air rescue, communications, reconnaissance, and political propaganda

 - Support troops, guerrillas, and militia conducting operations behind enemy lines

 - Conduct Party and political work, including cargo and aerial drops to help the masses during natural disasters 


 Within the PLAAF, the chain of command is organized into four levels -- HqAF, MRAF Headquarters, Air Corps/Command Posts, and operational units. The command staff at each level consists of the following personnel:

 - Commander

- Political commissar

- Deputy commanders)

- Deputy political commissars)

- Chief of staff (Director, Headquarters Department)

- Director, political element

- Director, logistics element

- Director, maintenance element   


 The administrative organization (xingzheng jigou/tizhi) at the HqAF, MRAF, and Air Corps levels includes the four big/first level departments (4 da bu/yiji bu), plus their second level departments/bureaus (erji bu). Within the Command Posts, the Headquarters Department is the only first level department. The collective elements within any one of the administrative organizations are collectively referred to as bumen, such as the Logistics Department as a whole is known as the hougin bumen (See Figure 8). Altogether, administrative elements within the various headquarters include departments (bu), bureaus (ju), divisions (chu), offices (shi/ke), sections (zu), and branches (gu). The four big/first level departments at HqAF are the same as those in 1976 (Figure 6). These are sometimes referred to as the military (junshi), political (zhengzhi), logistics (houqin), and aeronautical engineering (hangkong gongcheng) elements (jiguan) or departments (bumen).


For the most part, each of the four first level departments are represented throughout the lower echelons in the chain of command from the three general departments (GSD, GPD, GLD) to the lowest PLAAF echelon. The one exception is in the area of maintenance, whereby the Aeronautical Engineering Department is responsible for aircraft maintenance, but the Logistics Department is responsible for all non-aviation maintenance. Figure 9 shows the first level organization for the three general departments, three services (Navy, Air Force, and Second Artillery), and Military Regions. 


 All personnel within the PLAAF, regardless of whether they are in a non-operational administrative/staff element/unit (danwei) or an operational unit (budui), have an Army-equivalent position (zhiwu dengji) at the Military Region (MR/da junqu), army (jun), division (shi), regiment (tuan), battalion lying), company (lian), or squad (ban) level. For example, a pilot cadet graduates from a flying academy at the Army-equivalent position of a deputy company commander (fulian zhi). Non-operational administrative elements/units include all personnel within the various headquarters, such as HqAF, MRAF Headquarters, Command Posts, and Air Corps, as well as directly subordinate units such as research institutes. In 1988, the PLAAF had approximately 1125 regiment and above administrative/staff units (danwei).

 Even though ranks were re-instituted in 1988, a person's rank is still not as important as the Army-equivalent position that person holds. Although the PLAAF commander and political commissar can make recommendations for assignments, the Military Commission makes the final decision on all personnel appointments above the Air Corps (jun) level.

  As of 1988, people who do not progress past a particular Army-equivalent position must retire at the following ages:


Army Equivalent Position                                            Retirement Age


Military Region (da junqu) commander                                      65

Army (jun) commander                                                             60

Division (shi) commander                                                          55

Regiment (tuan) commander                                                      45

Battalion lying) commander                                                       40

Company (lian) commander                                                      35

Platoon (pai) commander                                                          30

 At HqAF, the senior positions range from a Military Region commander to an Army commander equivalent position. In the late 1980s, the Director of the Logistics Department was changed from an Army commander equivalent to a Military Region deputy commander equivalent. At HqAF, the directors of all of the second level departments within the four first level departments are equivalent to division (shi) commanders. The HqAF-Army position equivalents are shown below:

 HpAF Position                                                                                   Army-Equivalent Position 

Commander                                                                                       MR Commander

Political Commissar                                                                            MR Commander

Deputy Commander                                                                           MR Deputy Commander

Deputy Political Commissar                                                                MR Deputy Commander

Chief of Staff                                                                                      MR Deputy Commander

Deputy Chief of Staff                                                                          Army Commander

Director, Political Dept                                                                        MR Deputy Commander

Director, Logistics Dept                                                                      MR Deputy Commander

Director, Aero-Engineer Dept                                                            Army Commander

 The MRAF-Army position equivalents are shown below. Prior to the August 1985 Military Region reorganization, MRAF Headquarters were at the same level as a bingtuan. However, the 1985 reorganization abolished the bingtuan level.

 MRAF Hq Position                                                                             Army-Equivalent Position 

Commander                                                                                        MR Deputy Commander

Political Commissar                                                                             MR Deputy Commander

Deputy Commander                                                                            Army Commander

Deputy Political Commissar                                                                 Army Commander

Chief of Staff                                                                                       Army Commander

Director, Political Dept                                                                        Army Commander 

The Command Post-Army position equivalents are either Army/Air Corps (jun), deputy Army/Air Corps (fujun), or Division (shi) commanders levels as shown below: 

Command Post Position                                                                                                         Army-Equivalent Position 

Dalian CP Commander                                                                                                          Army/Air Corps Commander

Tangshan CP Commander                                                                                                     Army/Air Corps Deputy Commander

Xian CP Commander                                                                                                            Army/Air Corps Commander

Wulumuqi CP Commander                                                                                                    Army/Air Corps Commander

Shanghai CP Commander                                                                                                      Army/Air Corps Deputy Commander

Wuhan CP Commander                                                                                                         Army/Air Corps Commander

Kunming CP Commander                                                                                                      Army/Air Corps Commander

Chengdu CP Commander                                                                                                      Army/Air Corps Commander

Lhasa CP Commander                                                                                                           Division Commander



 On 1 October 1988, the PLA instituted a new rank system for the first time since ranks were abolished in 1965. When the ranks were re-instituted, the PLA as a whole had 17 three star, 146 two star, and 1251 one star generals and admirals. Of the 128 PLAAF general officers, there was only one general (three star) -- the commander. The exact number of lieutenant generals (two stars) and major generals (one star) were not specified. According to the PLA's Foreign Affairs Bureau, the PLAAF uses the following ranks and English equivalents:

 Chinese      English  Abbreviation
 Shangjiang (3 star)  General   Gen
Zhongjiang (2 star) Lieutenant General Lt Gen
Shaojiang (1 star) Major General Lt Gen
Daxiao    Senior Colonel Sr Col
Shangxiao Colonel  Col
Zhongxiao          Lieutenant Colonel Lt Col
Shaoxiao   Major    Maj
Shangwei Captain  Capt
 Zhongwei    First Lieutenant 1Lt
Shaowei   Second Lieutenant 2Lt
Junshizhang   Master Sergeant Msgt
Zhuanye Junshi   Technical Sergeant Tsgt
Shangshi Sergeant First Class SFC
Zhongshi    Sergeant    SGT
Xiashi   Corpora l CPL
Shangdengbing Private First Class PFC
Liebing   Private PVT


 In addition to re-instituting ranks, the PLA also implemented a civil-service (wenzhi ganbu) system in August 1988. As a result, the PLAAF reduced its number of active duty personnel considerably. For example, almost everyone except the key command personnel in the academies, research institutes, and headquarters administrative positions became civil servants. This move had its advantages and disadvantages -- key personnel such as those in research institutes, who would normally have to retire if they were not promoted to the next higher Army-equivalent position are now allowed to remain in their jobs until a much later age; however, this created rivalry between active duty and civil service personnel to determine who is higher or lower in the pecking order.

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