PLA Air Force Organization
The PLAAF has realigned its organization by disbanding “divisions,” and expanding “regiments” into “brigades” to simplify command levels. It has been commissioning next generation of fighters and large transport planes, speeding up modernization efforts, strengthening strategic projection capabilities, and sharpening its capabilities in air command and control, long-distance strike, and air superiority by intensively conducting long-range flight training and drills, so as to apply its strong air power to seize air supremacy.
Commonly referred to as its “primary branch,” the Aviation Branch dominates PLAAF planning and decision-making. The Aviation Branch is responsible for operating and maintaining the full spectrum of the PLAAF’s fixed-wing aircraft, including its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and helicopters. There are six types of fixed-wing aircraft in its inventory: fighter/ multi-role aircraft ( J-class), fighter-bombers ( JH-class), bombers (H-class), ground attack aircraft (Q-class), transport aircraft (Y-class), and reconnaissance aircraft ( JZ-class).
Separate from fixed-wing aircraft, the PLAAF maintained and operated its own integrated air defense system (IADS). The PLAAF possesses “one of the largest SAM forces in the world” and is upgrading its forces with longer-range, more capable systems. The PLAAF also fields anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) units, an airborne force, and radar units. Each of these five types of forces — aviation, SAMs, AAA, airborne, and radar — is organized into a separate branch.
In addition to the five combat branches, the PLAAF also maintains specialized units of troops for a variety of support missions. These are: communications, electronic countermeasures, chemical defense, and technical reconnaissance (as well as certain types of radar units). Communications troops perform functions related to communications, navigation, and automated command support to the PLAAF.
Little information is available on electronic countermeasures troops in the open literature. However, it can be assumed that they lead the effort to install and maintain electronic countermeasures upgrades to PLAAF aircraft. Chemical defense troops, which actually include nuclear, biological, and chemical defense, are charged with decontaminating PLAAF locations or assets affected by not only chemical but radiological weapons as well. Chemical units are fielded in battalion-, company-, and platoon-sized units.
Technical reconnaissance troops conduct work similar to electronic countermeasures troops in that they are responsible for intercepting, decoding, processing, and analyzing different varieties of signals intelligence including both communications intelligence and ELINT. They also conduct measures and signature intelligence (MASINT). Technical reconnaissance troops support PLAAF units at the regiment level and below and are distributed throughout other types of units including aviation, airborne, and radar units.
During the 20th Century, detailed information concerning the PLA order of battle was not readily available in the unclassified literature. The single most authoritative source, of such information was the Directory of PRC Military Personalities, produced for many years under the sponsoship of the US Military Liasion Office at the US Consulate in Hong Kong now compiled by Serold Hawaii Inc. This estimable work lists thousands of PLA military officers and their associated posts and units. Although unique reference work provides a reasonably illuminating depiction of the PLA ground forces order of battle, coverage of the PLA Air Force is rather more fragmentary. At the Division level, only 29 of the reported 45 Air Divisions are even alluded to in the Directory, and of these only half a dozen are identified with any specificity.
Other sources of information included former military or intelligence officers that have watched the PLAAF for several years. For example, the collected works of Kenneth Allen, including his publication on the PLAAF for the Defense Intelligence Agency are of significant value as it sheds light on the organizational history of many of the divisions that have been active at some point in the PLAAF history. China-Military.org, maintained and written by Rick Kamer, is an extremely valuable resource, that tracks the current status of PLAAF units and deployments, including tail numbers and types of aircraft.
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