STRATEGY AND DOCTRINE
STRATEGY AND DOCTRINE
The People's Liberation Army's (PLA) current strategy of "active defense" (jiji fangyu)
consists of taking tactically offensive action within a basically defensive
strategy. The defending forces undertake offensive operations in order to wear
down the adversary while the enemy is strategically on the offensive and
attacking. The PLAAF's two primary roles in the overall active defense strategy
are to provide air defense for the nation and to support the ground forces.
Although the PLAAF has actually performed its two primary
missions for over four decades, it apparently accomplished this for the most
part without a formalized, written doctrine. Therefore, as a result of the
problems encountered during the 1979 border war with
AIR DEFENSE POLICY
DETERRENCE: The article stated that
PRIORITY TO RESISTING AN ATTACK:
COUNTERATTACK: From an overall air defense perspective, a defensive
counterattack against an enemy's base is a more active combat operation than
resisting an enemy attack; however, this type of attack is a defensive attack,
and even this has its special requirements. Since
The article concluded that
The 1991 article provided an historical perspective of air
defense, and stated that the development of air defense weapons is moving
toward "integration of both offense and defense, and of attack and
counterattack." The article concluded by stating that
*The PLA .reorganized its ground fighting forces in 1985
from an infantry-heavy field army (yezhanjun)
structure to corps size units called "group armies" (jituan jun). 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 1985, the 1979 Sino-Vietnam
border conflict provided the impetus for the development of the concept which
was finalized in 1982.
PLAAF aviation troops can support Group Army operations due
to their high degree of mobility and their ability to concentrate force in a
short period of time. The main characteristics of the aviation troops in
supporting field positional defense are as follows:
- Combat lines are relatively stable.
MISSION AND REQUIREMENTS
The PLAAF normally performs the following support missions for defending Group Army field positions:
- Wipe out and suppress the enemy which is assaulting defensive positions or breaking through defenses, and support ground troops who are defending important defensive areas.
(JIJI ZHIYUAN): Each branch of the PLAAF and each unit must establish
the philosophy that the victory is a ground force victory, and, in accordance
with the uniform coordination action plan, beginning with the needs of the
ground force units, take the initiative to cooperate and provide active
support. It is necessary to make the best possible use of the capabilities of
one's own weapons and equipment, using one's strengths to strike the enemy's
weaknesses, and use inferior equipment to defeat an enemy with superior
equipment. It is necessary to foster a combat style of bravery and tenacity,
and of continuous combat to overcome various types of difficulties, and no
matter what the cost, provide air support during key times and decisive stages
of the campaign, actively completing support operations missions assigned by
the Combined Arms commander.
OF AIR POWER (JIZHONG SHIYONG): "Concentrate superior forces to
wipe out each and every enemy soldier" is the Army's traditional method of
combat. It is the primary rule in defeating the enemy. In ground force unit
field positional defensive operations, it is necessary to concentrate a limited
amount of air support to be used along the main direction of ground defenses,
and at key times during the campaign, to strike important targets which are the
greatest threat. To strive to attain air superiority within a certain time and
over a certain area, and to gain local air superiority and wipe out enemy
troops to effectively support ground force units in completing their most
important missions. It is especially important when aviation troops are small,
to stress their concentrated use and not to divide the forces. In order to
ensure that aviation troops are concentrated in use, the campaign must:
- Deploy forces in a reasonable manner to ensure that,
under dispersed conditions, they can mobilize large numbers and quickly
concentrate them in a specific area.
- Control a certain amount of reserve forces to ensure
they will not lose the opportunity to reinforce support operations along main
defensive directions, or to attack a major target that has just appeared.
- Carry out a high degree of unified command to ensure
that within the shortest possible time, support forces can be concentrated for use
along main directions and at key times.
(LINGHUO TIDONG): Flexible mobility is an important aspect of air
power. Only through the use of forces with flexible mobility is it possible to
win major victories at a small cost. Flexible mobility includes the following:
- Timely concentration, dispersion, and shifting of
- Clever use of weather, terrain, and the enemy's
weaknesses to mask your intentions.
- Selection of tactics such as an advantageous flight route, low altitude, small formation, and multiple directions and flight levels to attack the enemy.
(MIOIE XIETONG): Close Army and Air Force coordination is an important
precondition for success in modern Combined Arms operations. The principles for
coordination are as follows:
- When conducting counterattacks or when resisting
paratroop drops, the campaign reserves should be the primary force.
- When resisting encirclement, the unit responsible
for the major mission should be the main force.
- Among the different PLAAF branches and units, that
branch or unit tasked with the major operational mission should be the main
- The drafting of the coordinated action plan (xietong dongzuo jihua) is usually directed by the campaign commander (zhanyi zhihuiyuan) and his
- When deciding on the missions of each type of force,
the PLAAF should strike targets the ground forces cannot strike; and for major
targets which must be attacked by more than one type of force, there must be
close coordination to prevent casualties from friendly forces.
- During operational actions, aviation troops should act in accordance with the coordinated Army-Air Force action plan's strict rules of time, place, target, and requirements. They should also make best use of ground artillery to suppress the enemy's air defense forces and weapons to facilitate completion of the strike mission. When coordination is lost or disrupted, everyone should take whatever effective measures are appropriate to quickly adjust and reestablish coordination.
(YANMI FANGHU): Tight protection is important for destroying the enemy,
preserving yourself, and sustaining'support for
ground troops during combat. PLAAF airfields and air bases are important
targets for the enemy, so
- Dispersing Forces (fensan peizhi) -- One
airfield normally has one regiment, which will disperse under the proper
conditions. The regiment should make complete use of civil, sod, and old airfields,
as well as highways to disperse its aircraft. As an example, the November 1989
issue of Hangkong Zhishi (Aerospace Knowledge)
described the first time use on 2 September of the
- Camouflage and Concealment (yinbi
weizhuang) -- This can be accomplished by
making complete use of aircraft cave shelters, small hangars, single aircraft
shelters, and dispersal areas, and by adopting camouflage measures, building
false targets, and concealing the real and making the false obvious.
- Increasing civil-military cooperative defense
of airfields, deploying air defense forces, establishing emergency repair
teams, and strengthening ground and antiair defense
for the airfields. Particular attention must be paid to cooperative defense of
front line airfields, so that aviation troops can smoothly carry out their
PLAAF support for ground forces comes under the unified control of the Front Army, with the PLAAF and Group Armies organized to carry out the Front Army's orders. A Group Army is organized as part of the Front Army and is responsible for supporting operations. Normally, the PLAAF and an Army/Group Army set up an Operations Section (zuozhan xiaozu), or the PLAAF and an Army set up a Forward Command Post (qianzhi), which is responsible for organizing command. Bomber and ground attack aviation units assign a Target Controller Section (mubiao yindao zu) to coordinate directly with a ground force Division.
- Receive orders and carry out the combat support
- Relay the Combined Arms commanders' orders and
- Recommend how to use aviation troops.
- Report intelligence.
- Maintain close cooperation with the ground force
- Control aircraft to strike the target.
The Target Controller Section's primary missions are as
- Convey the ground force unit's air support request (kongyuan shenqing).
- Report intelligence.
- Maintain close cooperation with the ground force
- Control aircraft to strike the target.
DRAFTING THE COORDINATED ACTION PLAN
Coordinated ground-air operations should be under the
Combined Arms commander and the direction of its Headquarters Department, which
call together representatives from every service and branch to jointly
establish a coordinated action plan (xietong dongzuo jihua). The PLAAF's
representatives should accurately understand the following:
- What the overall concept of the Group Army's field
positional defensive campaign is.
- What the PLAAF's support mission is.
- How to report the PLAAF's situation.
- How to recommend the
proper use of the PLAAF
The PLAAF representatives should also make the following
clear in the coordinated action plan:
- What the PLAAF's mission is and the total number of
sorties that can be generated to support to ground units.
- What the overall mission is and the number of
sorties during each phase of a campaign.
- What the separate areas are between the PLAAF,
ground artillery, and tactical surface-to-surface missile units,
etc., for attacking .targets.
- How to establish coordinated communications liaison
and methods with each concerned branch and unit to mutually report the
- How to request timing and procedures for aviation
troop sortie generation.
- What the timing and methods are for suppressing
enemy ground air defense weapons.
- What the methods are for Army-Air Force
liaison, mutual identification (xianghu shibie/1FF),
and indicating targets.
- What plan there is to deal with special circumstances.
The coordinated action plan is the foundation for Army-Air
Force coordination. Aviation and ground force units must strictly carry out the
plan in order to avoid an imbalance of ground-air coordination which
leads to mistakenly harming friendly forces and influencing the outcome of the
attack. If a new situation arises during the campaign that disrupts the
coordinated action, then everyone must try as hard as possible to restore the
originally agreed upon plan to deal with the situation.
METHODS FOR REQUESTING AIR SUPPORT
There are several methods for requesting air support and
sortie generation. Normally, the requests are made according to the degree of
urgency, the nature of the target, special characteristics of different
aircraft, and determination of support requirements for Army-Air Force
communications liaison. Based on
This is an advance request for air support by ground units based on the
Army-Air Force coordinated action plan. The procedures are as follows:
- The ground unit that needs support coordinates with
the same level Air Force Operations Section or Target Controller Section, and
passes information on the target, time, requirement, and expected attack
results through the ground force's command system. After the information passes
up through the command system echelon by echelon, then
is finally reported as a whole to the Front Army Command Post. Advance requests
can be proposed daily and can be carried out by stages (3 or 5 days).
- After the request is approved, the order is passed
down through the Air Force's command system to the aviation unit to carry out.
The Army's command system notifies the ground units that will receive the air
ACT ACCORDING TO A
PLAN: After the advance request is approved and an aviation unit
receives its support mission orders, the aviation unit completes advance
preparations to carry out the support mission. The unit then acts according to
the time schedule in the plan.
CALLING FOR AN AIR
STRIKE: After the advance request is approved and an aviation unit
receives its support mission orders, the aviation unit completes advance
preparations to carry out the support mission according to the ground unit's
requirements. The aviation unit does not act until it receives a call. Call
procedures are as follows:
- A ground unit proposes the strike up to the Combined
Arms Command Post, either echelon by echelon or skip echelon. At the same time,
the Air Force Operations Section is reporting to the same level's Air Force
Command Post. After the strike request receives the Group Army commander's
approval, the Air Force command system passes orders down to the aviation unit
- The call for an air strike must have a set amount of
advance time, and must take into consideration the transmission time, the time
for the aviation unit to organize for action, and the necessary time to fly to
During coordinated Army-Air Force operations, there is
also a method for a type of temporary request (linshi
shenqing) for emergency action. If a ground forces
unit temporarily proposes a request for air support based on a new situation
that arises during a battle or on a new target, an aviation unit can act
quickly. Under these conditions, there is no way to make an advance plan, so
preparations will be hasty, the pilots will not have enough time to become
familiar with target material and understand the relevant situation, and the
aircraft that are sent out to a target with unknown characteristics may carry
inappropriate weapons; therefore, it is oftentimes difficult to achieve good
METHODS OF COORDINATING ACTION
Coordination between ground force artillery units and PLAAF
bomber and ground attack aircraft units normally is organized on the method of
target and time differentiation, and the following must be clear:
- Which targets are whose.
- Times for attacking each target.
- The height of each ground artillery shell's
- Each aircraft's operating altitude.
- Times and methods for the ground artillery to
indicate targets for aviation troops and for ground artillery to suppress enemy
The primary means of coordination between aviation troops
and ground air defense units is air space differentiation (qufen
kongyu). Besides this, they can coordinate using the
methods of target, altitude, and heading differentiation.
When bomber and ground attack aircraft units strike targets
along the battle line, they must be clear on the principles of bombing at a
safe distance. In addition, when friendly aircraft pass through the battle
line, everyone must be clear on the methods of time, sorties, sectors and
altitude, ground-air identification, and target identification. There
must also be methods for communicating with the Operations Section and Target
At the present time, the primary methods for ground-air
target recognition and identification, and marking the battle line includes the
use of IFF, small navigation beacons, beacon markers, air-to-ground
remote control smoke generating equipment, and aircraftlaunched
color signal flares. Ground units discharge smoke screens and arrange panel
signals. Radio signals are the primary means of communication, and visual
signals are the alternate means. Visual signals should be selected according to
the season, weather, and terrain characteristics. They should accurately grasp
the timing, and pay attention to security to avoid revealing friendly force
movements and intentions to the enemy.
SEIZING LOCAL AIR SUPERIORITY AT KEY TIMES IN THE CAMPAIGN
Local air superiority (jubu zhikongquan) is the power to control the initiative of a
certain air space during a certain time. Grasping air superiority is the most
effective method of protecting and supporting ground unit operations. The two
methods for aviation troops to gain air superiority are aerial combat (kongzhong jiaozhan) and attacking
enemy airfields (tuji di jichang).
Interceptors are the primary means of conducting aerial
combat in order to impede, slow up, and destroy the enemy's air strike weapons.
During the planning and implementation phases, the PLAAF should combine
airfield alerts, aerial reconnaissance, and airborne search and destroy
missions in order not to lose the opportunity to destroy the enemy's air
After attacking an airfield, the PLAAF should use a few
interceptors or ground attack aircraft to select the appropriate time to
conduct blocking actions against the enemy's airfield, or use a few ground
attack aircraft, in coordination with local forces and the militia, to attack
the enemy's important radar stations and communication facilities in order to
destroy and disrupt the enemy's operations command.
DESTROYING ENEMY PREPARATIONS TO ATTACK
In order to make use of the Group Army's combat preparedness
and to inhibit the enemy's preparations to attack, aviation troops should be
timely in countering the enemy's aerial attack, striking the enemy while it is
waiting for the opportunity to attack, and, under the proper conditions, the
PLAAF should carry out aerial firepower counter-preparations.
AIR ATTACK PREPARATIONS: In order to oppose the enemy's aerial
firepower preparations (kangji diren
de hangkong huoli zhunbei)
and to protect friendly ground forces and important targets in the war area,
the PLAAF's interceptors are used as the primary means to attack the enemy's
bombers and fighter-bombers on their way. During intervals between the
enemy's attacks, the PLAAF can use a part of its bomber force to conduct brief,
vicious counterattacks against the enemy's primary forces, such as the largest
artillery and tactical rocket positions used for attacking friendly ground
forces. At the same time, the PLAAF must organize to protect its airfields
against enemy air raids, and make every effort to avoid or reduce losses.
HOLDING AREAS AND ADVANCING FORCES: Depending upon the overall
situation, the PLAAF needs to accurately use its aviation troops to attack the
enemy while it is waiting for the opportunity to attack. The purpose of this
attack is to destroy the enemy during its main preparatory period, with the
goal of weakening the enemy's attack forces and delaying its offensive actions.
- The primary targets for the attack are the areas
where the enemy is massing its forces, such as tanks and armored vehicles, etc.
- The best time for the attack is before the enemy has
dispersed or concealed its forces in the massing area, just before they depart,
or as the tanks and mechanized units pass over bridges, through passes, or
along roads where maneuver is difficult.
- The PLAAF uses various combat methods during an
attack, such as using the proper aviation weapons based on the target's
characteristics, and conducting aerial mine laying
along routes the enemy must take.
OUT AIR FIREPOWER COUNTER-PREPARATIONS: The primary mission of
air firepower counter-preparations (shishi
hangkong huoli fanzhunbei)
is to coordinate with the ground artillery against the main attacking group, in
order to attack in strength to weaken the enemy's attack forces and to delay
the enemy's attack.
The PLAAF normally uses bomber and ground attack aircraft
units, protected by interceptors, to attack the enemy's first echelon
divisions, tactical missiles, rockets, and artillery. Under certain
circumstances, the PLAAF should also attack first line airfields that have
The best time to use air firepower counter-preparations
is just before the enemy conducts its firepower preparations, but this timing
is difficult to control. In order to organize at the appropriate time, the
campaign command personnel must use each type of reconnaissance to clearly
determine and keep track of the enemy situation, make the proper evaluation,
and organize unit action.
The length of time for air firepower counter-preparations
is determined by the nature of the target, the size of forces involved and the
power of the weapons. Normally, it is required that there be
relatively intense firepower for a short period of time, concentrating the
assault to deal a serious blow to the attacking enemy. The duration is
determined by the specific situation.
When organizing air firepower to counter-preparations,
the PLAAF must retain a certain amount of reserve forces in order to cope with
an enemy attack after the counter-preparations attack.
SUPPORTING GROUND FORCES IN RESISTING ENEMY ATTACKS AND HOLDING MAJOR DEFENSIVE AREAS
Air Force support to the ground units to protect positions
and impede enemy attacks is the most intense aspect of war. The PLAAF uses its
ground attack aircraft, bombers, and interceptors to carry out this mission as
- Ground attack aircraft will be used primarily for
air firepower support of important positions.
- Bombers can also be used to conduct raids against
the advancing enemy.
- Interceptors can be used against enemy bombers and
armed helicopters that are trying to attack defensive positions.
Right after the enemy initiates an attack, the PLAAF should
seize the opportunity to conduct air firepower support. The main targets during
an attack should be based on the intentions of the Combined Anus commander and
the enemy's attack situation. Based on these, the PLAAF can provide effective
firepower support to the ground units and influence the battle along the front.
Normally, the PLAAF's mission is to destroy or suppress enemy artillery and
tactical missiles supporting the assault, and to attack the enemy's tank and
armored troops massing in the rear.
As soon as the enemy breaks through the PLA's
front line positions, the PLAAF's ground attack aircraft units should
coordinate with artillery units to attack the enemy's artillery and rocket
positions. Bomber units should be used to attack the enemy's second echelon
forces, to impede them from entering the attack, and to coordinate quickly with
obstacle -emplacing units to carry out aerial mine laying, support
defending units, quickly close up attack avenues, and stop the enemy from
expanding its attack.
When the enemy conducts a tactical nuclear strike in order
to make a breach in the PLA's lines, the PLAAF should
use its ground attack aircraft units to attack the enemy's massed armor that is
entering the attack area, and to support ground units to impede the enemy from
entering deeper into friendly territory.
In order to provide smooth support to ground units who are
defending positions, aviation units should clearly understand the ground
troops' locations and targets, should make early preparations for action, and
then should wait for the call to attack.
SUPPORTING GROUND FORCE UNIT COUNTERATTACKS
A counterattack is meant to 1) destroy an attacking enemy
which has broken through, and 2) to stabilize the defensive posture. This is an
important time for the PLAAF's aviation troops, who must concentrate their
force to carry out support to the counterattacking units.
FOR THE COUNTERATTACKING UNIT: In order to ensure the safety of
friendly counterattacking units during movement and during combat, the PLAAF
should use intercepter units to coordinate with AAA
and SAM units to strengthen air cover. In order for aviation troops to complete
their air cover mission, they should always know the counterattacking units'
deployment area, movement times, route, and engagement areas, and should
especially know the limited time and area for gaining local air superiority.
The PLAAF should also understand the methods for coordinating operations with
each type of air defense weapon in order to coordinate all actions.
LAUNCHING AN AIR
ASSAULT: In order to ensure that ground units can smoothly conduct a
counterattack and destroy the enemy who has encroached deeply into the PLA's defensive area, the PLAAF will normally use bomber
and ground attack aircraft units before the ground forces launch their
counterattack to destroy and suppress important enemy targets in the area where
friendly forces will conduct the main attack.
The procedures for friendly aviation, artillery, and rocket
units to carry out an attack in terms of place, target, time, and force is
decided by the campaign commander. The aviation troop commander can also make
target recommendations based upon the intentions of higher echelons. As such,
the aviation troop commander proposes ideas and requests approval from the
campaign commander. Under normal conditions, an air attack's main targets are
the enemy's tactical missiles, rockets, massed artillery, tanks, and massed
armor directly in front of the PLA's counterattacking
units, as well as the rear echelon units and command posts, etc.
The timing for an attack with air power is usually prior to,
or at the same time as, a ground artillery offensive. When friendly ground
force units conduct a night counterattack, the PLAAF generally does not carry
out an air power attack.
When the ground troops are counterattacking, the air and
ground situation changes quickly. In order to guard against mistakenly injuring
friendly troops, friendly forces must strictly adhere to the principles of
ground-air cooperation, strengthen ground-air liaison, accurately
understand the battlefield situation and targets' positions, clearly regulate
the bombing safety line and air-to-ground IFF, as well as methods
for the ground to identify targets for the aviation troops, etc.
COUNTERATTACKING UNITS TO DESTROY THE ATTACKING ENEMY: In order to
provide cover for counterattacking units and to ensure that they split up,
surround, and destroy the attacking enemy, the PLAAF should use ground attack
aircraft units to coordinate with ground artillery to destroy and suppress the
enemy's massed tanks and armor, artillery, and tactical missiles, as well as
those primary firepower positions being used against friendly forces. Bombers
and ground attack aircraft should be concentrated as a main force to attack the
enemy's rear echelon units and those reinforcing the enemy, to slow down their
movement, and isolate the reserve forces. Interceptors should be used to
reinforce air cover and ensure the safety of the main strength of the
counterattacking force, to blockade the surrounded enemy, and to keep the enemy
from receiving air support and resupplies. After the
ground troops successfully counterattack, aviation troops should continue to
move and adjust deployments to provide cover and support for the
COORDINATE WITH GROUND FORCE UNITS TO DESTROY AIRBORNE TROOPS
The campaign commander should use various reconnaissance
methods to determine the enemy's actions in a timely manner, to be ready to
take advantage of any combat opportunity, and carry out continuous attacks at
the farthest distance possible. Once the enemy's troops are loaded and en
route, the PLAAF should use its interceptors as the primary method of attacking
the aircraft in the air. This is the aviation troops' most advantageous time to
counter airborne operations.
When the enemy's airborne troops are landing, the PLAAF
should use its bombers and ground attack aircraft units to attack before they
get a foothold. The PLAAF should bottle up their advancing route, attack those
airborne forces moving toward defensive positions, and directly support the
counter-airborne operational units to surround and destroy the airborne
In order to protect ground units who are countering airborne operations, PLAAF interceptors should, under certain conditions, coordinate with the ground air defense troops to seize local air superiority over the area where the ground troops are countering airborne operations.
Aerial reconnaissance is one of the primary means of
obtaining intelligence so the campaign commander can make timely decisions and
act accordingly. Aerial reconnaissance can be done in a relatively short,
timely period to ascertain the enemy's force deployment, direction of movement,
and the situation of the rear area facilities and transportation, etc.
Normally, the PLAAF and Group Army, primarily using
specialized reconnaissance units, conduct campaign aerial reconnaissance
according to the Front Army commander's intentions. Aviation units, primarily
using an Air Division's subordinate Reconnaissance Flight (zhencha
fendui), carry out tactical
aerial reconnaissance according to the Group Army commander's orders and
requirements. In addition, any type of combat aircraft can conduct visual
reconnaissance missions. If an Air Division's subordinate Reconnaissance Flight
cannot satisfy operational needs, the campaign commander can request the Front
Army to have the Air Force-Group Army dispatch reconnaissance forces.
Aerial reconnaissance activity is conducted throughout the defensive campaign. During the campaign preparation phase, PLAAF reconnaissance should clearly focus on the enemy's forces massing along the friendly force's defensive front, especially the enemy's
missiles, nuclear weapons,
artillery, and tanks, as well as their campaign reserve forces deployment area,
and activities that could lead to carrying out an attack.
During the campaign itself, reconnaissance forces should
also clearly focus on the developing situation of the enemy's attack, the
enemy's reserve forces movement forward, and the enemy's situation on the
flanks of the PLA's counterattacking troops.
The results of aerial reconnaissance should be combined with
material from all forms of reconnaissance into a synthesized analysis. After
checking the analysis, it can then be used as data for the campaign commander
to make operational plans and command the operations.
All of the above combat actions are based on the requirements of defending a Group Army field position and what the PLAAF can do to carry out its mission. In future defensive operations, the PLAAF can only focus on organizing itself to carry out its mission based on the enemy and friendly situation, on the campaign command commander's intentions, and on the principle of using concentrated power.
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