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15th Airborne Corps - History

The 15th Airborne Corps, or army, traces its lineage to its establishment in 1949 when the Ninth Column was reorganized and redesignated the 15th Corps. The airborne corps was set up in 1950, and initially numbered a mere 6,000 combat veterans selected from the entire People's Liberation Army. In 1961, it was joined by an infantry division with combat experience in the Korean War.

In the early 1960s, the 15th Army, an infantry army with extensive combat experience in the Korean War, was reorganized as an airborne army, subordinate to the People's Liberation Army Air Force Headquarters in Beijing. By the late 1960s, it had become evident that despite the change in the 15th Army's function and subordination, its three organic divisions - the 29th, 44th, and 45th -- had retained their numerical designators and were, with the exception of the 29th Division, the earlier referenced divisisions under the command of the Xiaogan Airborne Authority. The disposition of the 29th division was nor clear, but it is possible that elements of this division merged with original 1st Airborne Division at Kaifeng to create the new 43rd Division.

The 15th Airborne Army and its subordinate divisions, the 43rd, 44th and 45th remained at Kaifeng, Yingshan, and Huangpi until 1967, when the Cultural Revolution erupted in violence in Wuhan MR. Elements of the 15th Airborne Army, parachuted into Wuhan in July of 1967 to restore public order and secure vital military and civil facilities. During this same period, they also gained experience in air dropping supplies and paratroops over flooded areas of central China, as well as performing internal security duties in Wuhan city. These airborne units returned to their former installations by 1970.

During the Cold War, the 15th Airborne Army could have been utilized to reinforce the Urumqi area in the event of a Soviet attack on Western China. This type of combat missione might have included PLAAF airborne assault landings to harass enemy rear areas. This would include attacks on lines of communication and supply, disruption of the enemy movement of its reserves as reinforcements, and reconnaissance and intelligence gathering activities. In this role, airborne forces could also disrupt enemy offensive combat preperations through the destruction of occupied airfields, supply depots, communication centers, and the existing transportation infrastructure.

After the Cultural Revolution there was a steady increase in the frequency and sophistication of airborne training in the 15th Airborne Army. Prior to that period, PLAAF parachute training operations were primarily conducted by the 43rd Airborne Division and consisted of simple daytime jumps involving a small number of troops and supplies. The largest airborne exercise in China prior to 1967 was in the Fuzhou Military Region, and involved approcimately 45 transport aircraft that flew at altitudes of 800 meters.

Airborne troops are the favorite of many militaries in the world because they are flexible in maneuvering, capable of abrupt operations and free from domain limitations. The Chinese airborne troops developed quite slowly in the 30-plus years from the early 1950s to the end of 1980s due to the backward equipment of the PLA Air Force and the traditional idea that "army is the most important service". They were strongly influenced by traditional army in that period and were called the "flying infantry".

The fast deployment of the U.S. 82nd airborne division and the assaults operated by the 101st airborne assault division in the Gulf War in the 1990s taught the Chinese airborne troops an important lesson. It was also in that period that the airborne troops of developed countries adopted a new generation of heavy-duty equipment, which solved problems such as continuous input of heavy equipment and ammo-loaded air drop. This gave the Chinese military a strong stimulation. China'sCentral Military Commission listed airborne troops as a key unit and its development got on the "speed track".

The PLA airborne force debuted on the world arena, as evidenced by the "Peace Mission - 2005" joint military exercise, during which the Chinese PLA airborne force competed with the Russian counterparts and the airdropped officers and men drove new-type combat vehicles to quickly and accurately destroy 120-odd targets, and the "Peace Mission - 2007" joint military exercise, during which the Chinese PLA airborne force flied out of China for the first time and realized the accurate parachuting-and-landing and the continuous airdropping of heavy equipment under the complex weather conditions in the foreign country.

The Chinese military upgraded the importance of the PLA's long-range airborne ability after the Sichuan quake when most of the overland rescue forces were stranded by rock and mud slides on the way to epicenter. At 2:28 PM on May 12, 2008, a 8.0 Richter Scale earthquake pounded Wenchuan County in southwest China's Sichuan Province. The death toll from the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan Province and its neighboring region as of Thursday noon was 69,227, the State Council Information Office said in a statement September 19, 2008. The numbers of people listed as missing and injured were 17,923 and 374,643 respectively. Among 96,544 persons who were hospitalized for injury, 93,459 had been discharged, the statement said.The government spending on disaster relief and reconstruction had topped 67.556 billion yuan (about 9.88 billion U.S. dollars).

The PLA was mobilized so quickly that the first army rescuers reached the quake zone 14 minutes after the disaster occurred. More than 100,000 PLA soldiers, armed policemen and public security people's policemen as well as the rescue teams, medical teams and the engineering rush-repair teams from various provinces and municipalities hurried to the stricken areas. Officers and soldiers from the Jinan Military Area Command rushed to Wenchuan County, the epicenter, braving falling rocks and landslides all the way. As the roads to Wenchuan County, the seriously damaged area, are blocked, officers and soldiers of some of the relief troops have no choice but to move into the quake-hit areas on foot.

Paratroopers are the first to reach the isolated epicenter. The landing zone is on a high plateau, and the weather is terrible. Within four hours, they send back their first report. They will be at the heart of the rescue and recovery operation for the next three months. The 15 Army airborne paratroopers led the charge by jumping over the epicenter area in Szechuan province. Under the directive of the central government the three elite divisions of the 15th airborne corps were mobilized for the operation. Pathfinders teams (about 150 jumpers) led by the commander of the airborne school jumped in first from an altitude of 5000m. The paratroopers landed safely but once on the ground decided it was too dangerous for a mass jump and cancelled the jump for the rest of the troops for the day. On the evening of May 13, over 1,300 officers and soldiers from a certain unit of airborne forces arrived at Chengdu Shuangliu Airport in Sichuan Province by warplanes and they were about to go to the stricken areas of Deyang to carry out earthquake-relief missions. In bad weather, the PLA airborne forces conducted landing from the air over severely damaged Yingxiu Township, Wenchuan County in order to start the relief work in the stricken areas. The PLA men air-dropped relief supplies to the earthquake-stricken areas.

The PLA launched its first drill for deploying long-range air drops in civilian emergency situations on June 19, 2008. The drill was designed to train and test the ability of the PLA to mobilize military and civilian aircraft to transport and air drop materials and rescue forces in emergency situations. Involving eight heavy aircraft of the air force, Beijing Military Command and Civil Aviation Administration, the drill was the first of its kind for the army. During the drill, aircraft delivered troops, vehicles, radars and other equipments over a two-hour period.

In a separate exercise, the PLA's paratroops also encountered unprecedented challenges when 100 special airborne troopers tried to parachute onto land 4,999 meters above sea level (about 16,396 feet) in a mountainous area. Only 15 of them left the aircraft and successfully reached the target area because of the complex weather conditions and the unusual jumping height. Parachutists are trained to be dropped from about 500 meters.

More than 4000 new paratroopers of an airborne division of the Chinese People's Liberation Army participated in a field parachuting drill held on Apr. 13, 2012. They would conduct multiple training subjects including armed parachuting and night parachuting during the month-long training sesison.

Chinese and Belarusian airborne troops started their second joint training drills on 26 November 2012. The joint exercise was conducted in accordance with the exchange and cooperation programs agreed upon between the two militaries. During the 12-day exercise ending on December 7, parachuting special forces from both sides accomplished the planned task in two stages, consisting of mixed group training and integrated exercises. China and Belarus conducted their first joint training drills for airborne troops in July 2011 in Belarus.

A division of the airborne troops organized their recruits to conduct parachute training on April 11, 2013. The recruits had completed their first parachute training successfully, and then they would take more subjects of parachute training, including the armed parachute and night parachute training, in a bid to enhance their airborne combat capability.


  • Chinese Airborne forces
  • Directory of PRC Military Personalities Serold Hawaii Inc, November 2002
  • China's Air Force Enters the 21st Century Kenneth W. Allen, Glenn Krumel, Jonathan D. Pollack -- RAND 1995
  • Defense Intelligence Agency. China's Airborne Forces (April 1985)
  • Defense Intelligence Agency. People's Republic of China People's Liberation Army Air Force (May 1991, DIC-1300-445-91) [While our copy secured through the FOIA redacts the author's name, Ken Allen identifies himself as the author in multiple sources.]
  • Ken Allen. "PLA Air Force Organization" The People's Liberation Army as Organization: Reference Volume v1.0, James C. Mulvenon and Andrew N. D. Yang eds. (Santa Monico: RAND; 2002)

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Page last modified: 18-08-2021 16:41:20 ZULU