PLA Air Force - Training
In the 1980s the Air Force made serious efforts to raise the education level and improve the training of its pilots. Superannuated pilots were retired or assigned to other duties. All new pilots were at least middle-school graduates. The time it took to train a qualified pilot capable of performing combat missions reportedly was reduced from four or five years to two years. Training emphasized raising technical and tactical skills in individual pilots and participation in combined-arms operations. Flight safety also increased.
The PLAAF combat potential remained constrained by the notoriously poor training of Chinese pilots. Bomber pilots typically fly approximately 80 hours a year; fighter pilots 100-110 hours; and ground attack pilots 150 hours. In the United States, flight hours per Primary Authorized Aircraft are consistently in excess of 300 hours per year. Pilots in operational units do not get enough flying practice to maintain a high state of readiness, nor do they have adequate opportunity to practice new tactics demanded by advanced aircraft. All-weather and over-ocean navigation skills required of pilots in advanced countries are poorly developed in the PLAAF. Although pilots use simulators, these are of very basic design and do not compare to those used by modern Air Forces. The PLAAF's training of logistics personnel remains a shortcoming, and weak logistics contributed to the limited utilization of air power in the Sino-Vietnamese conflict of 1979.
Logistics within the PLAAF remains a challenge, and through the mid-1990s almost all movement of spares and supplies was by rail. More recently, in some instances large transport planes have been used to move support personnel and equipment in operational exercises. The Air Force Oil Research Institute has contributed to the development of a multifunctional aviation petroleum, oil and lubricant storage, supply and maintenance system.
In 2001 the traditional training formations were reformed in accordance with the principle of consistency between war and training. Fighter pilots, flight commanders and ground support personnel such as maintenance workers all showed extreme inability to adapt to the unprecedented strong confrontations and highly intensive training. This was followed by flight incidents as a result. In 2002, plane crashes involving primary and advanced trainer aircraft, Chinese-made Jian-7 [J-7, F-7], Jian-8 [J-8, F-8], Hong-6 [H-6, B-6], Qiang-5 [Q-5, A-5], transport planes, and even the imported Sukhoi-27s, occurred one after another within one year. The most serious of them was the crash of a Sukhoi-30 MKK from the Air Force's Third Division due to the violation of operational rules during flight.
That was the price the air force had to pay to make the great leap from laxity to preparedness for military struggles. After a one-year adaptation period, flight incidents were basically kept under 0.1 per 10,000 flight hours. By 2004 the third-generation aircraft wings and Hong-6 wings are now all capable of operations in all territories. The Jian-7, Jian-8, and Qiang-5 wings in all military regions except Lanzhou and Chengdu are capable of over water operations.
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