Army Aviation Corps / Army Aviation Unit (AAU)
|Army Aviation Training Unit||Beijing MR|
|1st Army Aviation Regiment||54th Group||Army Jinan MR|
|2nd Army Aviation Regiment||13th Group||Army Chengdu MR|
|3rd Army Aviation Regiment||21st Group||Army Lanzhou MR|
|4th Army Aviation Regiment||65th Group||Army Beijing MR|
|5th Army Aviation Regiment||1st Group||Army Nanjing MR|
|6th Army Aviation Regiment||42nd Group Army||Guangzhou MR|
|7th Army Aviation Regiment||23rd Group Army||Shenyang MR|
|8th Army Aviation Regiment||38th Group Army||Beijing MR|
|9th Army Aviation Regiment||39th Group Army||Shenyang MR|
|1st Special Aviation Unit|
|2nd Special Aviation Unit||Nanjing|
|3rd Special Aviation Unit||Tianjin|
|4th Special Aviation Unit||Huzhou|
In 2003 control of the Army Aviation Bureau was moved from the PLA Ground Forces to a position directly subordinate to the General Staff Department of the Central Military Commission. This seemed to indicate that it had a prominence as a strategic striking force that approached that of the Airborne Forces, which are usually under the peacetime command of the PLA Air Force. Army Aviation's increasing resources were reflected in the build-up of new brigades combining multiple helicopter regiments. By 2013 the Lanzhou, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Chengdu Military Area (Region) Commands had new Army Aviation brigades, with some sources speculating that by the 2020s the PLA could have 10 such brigades with around 1,000 helicopters.
By 2013 the PLA's Army Aviation force had approximately 600 helicopters that were either of foreign origin or based on foreign designs. Army Aviation operated nearly 300 Russian Mil Mi-8/17 family acquired since the early 1990s, and a similar number of Z-8 [based on the Aerospatiale SA321 Super Frelon] and Z-9 [based on the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin]. However, new Z-19 and Z-10 attack helicopters - the former a development of the Z-9 and the latter developed with aid from Russia's Kamov design bureau - were entering Army Aviation regiments. Z-10s comprise the PLA Army Aviation Thunder Flight aerobatic team.
Foreign helicopter technology remained important for China's Army Aviation, however. Russian reports noted there was continued Chinese interest in developing a new 40-tonne capable heavy lift helicopter. Web images confirmed that the 'Z-20' program was making progress toward production following the success of the Z-10. The Z-20, a 10-tonne helicopter similar to the Sikorsky S-70 and first seen in model form at the 2008 Zhuhai show, had been in development since the late 1990s.
The Army Aviation Unit (AAU) was established in April 1986 [some sources report 1988] directly under General Staff Department (GSD) command. It is responsible for deploying helicopters and light aircraft to support ground operations, performing anti-tank, special forces insertion, and electronic countermeasure operations. PLA Army Aviation Corps was organized by transferring the majority of PLAAF helicopters into the new organization.
With the exception of a single flight of two Y-8 (An-12) transports, all aircraft in the PLAAC are rotary wing. The AAU possesses a small number of S-70C Sikorsky helicopters which have been converted into command, control, and communication platforms. The AAU's main helicopter fleet includes over 200 Z-8 transports, over 100 Z-9A, and more than 30 Mi-8/Mi-17 helicopters. The Harbin Aircraft Co. developed the gunship variant of the Z-9A -- the WZ-9 -- for the AAU. A dozen Gazelle helicopter gunships were procured in 1988 and deployed to the 38th Group Army in the Beijing MR.
There are 5 Helicopter Brigades assigned to the Beijing Shi, Shanyang, Tianjin, Guangzhou and Shanghai Shi War Zone commands. Each Brigade typically controls 1 to 3 regular Aviation Regiments and two or more reserve units. While historically PLAAC Aviation Regiments operated a single type of helicopter, newer equipment is being issued on a squadron basis.
There were originally 22 Aviation Regiments. Today there are 9 active regiments plus the Army Aviation Training Regiment. There are also approximately 9 reserve regiments and about 5 special army aviation units. Nominally "regiments" these units operate a single squadron.
The original 10 regular Aviation Regiments assigned to the Aviation Brigades were originally equipped as follows: 2 with Z-6 (Improved Mi-4), 2 with Mi-17 (Improved Mi-8), 1 with Mi-8 (a reengineered Mi-4 with turbine engines), 3 with Z-8 (this datum is in dispute), and 2 with Z-9G (Eurocopter AS-365 Dauphin 2). The reserve Helicopter Regiments are all equipped with the Z-5 (Mi-4) but may be converting to the Z-6 (if it is not misidentified). There is also a special unit equipped entirely with WZ-9 gunships in the Nanjing Military Region.
Army Aviation Corps Regiments normally have three squadrons ("flying units") which typically operate 8-12 machines. The aircraft, however, actually belong to a single "maintenance unit" which issues the machines to the squadrons as required. A squadron can theoretically operate more machines if there are enough aircraft and pilots available. The word the Chinese prefer to translate "squadron" better corresponds to the English "flight."
While this represents a significant capability, when compared with a corps (which a Group Army is), the rotary wing support available to PLA units is modest. Certain Rapid Deployment Force units are associated with specific aviation regiments for operations. Nevertheless, this organization is logical and it permits selected Group Army commanders to control a critical resource.
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