22 February 2011

National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) Report Released: “People’s Liberation Army Air Force 2010”

People’s Liberation Army Air Force 2010 (National Air and Space Intelligence Center: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, 1 August 2010).

This handbook is based on information compiled from open source Chinese publications, as well as discussions with Chinese military officials and US academicians. The intent of the study is to educate US Air Force members about China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force (PLAAF) beyond weapon systems, equipment, and order of battle information. The handbook focuses on the PLAAF’s history, leadership, organizational structure, political work system, personnel, education, training, logistics and maintenance, quality-of-life, and foreign relations. It also discusses each of the PLAAF’s four branches—aviation, surface-to-air missile, antiaircraft artillery, and airborne, but does not provide information on specific weapon systems and equipment. This handbook complements the Office of Naval Intelligence’s handbook on the PLA Navy China’s Navy 2007, and Dennis Blasko’s The Chinese Army Today, on the PLA’s ground forces.

Much like the PLA as a whole, the PLAAF has been undergoing transformational change over the past decade, transforming itself from a poorly equipped and trained organization into an increasingly capable fighting force. Dramatic changes have occurred, and continue to occur, in the areas of mission, organizational structure, personnel, education, training, and equipment.

Transformation in the PLAAF began with a change in mission and expectations; from a force focused on territorial air defense, to a force with growing regional strike missions and capabilities, and long-term expectations of being able to perform extra-regional missions supporting PRC national objectives.

To help accomplish this growing mission set, the PLAAF has focused on increasing the education and training levels of its officer corps and enlisted force. The PLAAF has become a much more professional force, still working to deal with monumental organizational, cultural and hardware changes.

Since the late 1990s, the PLA as a whole has begun to move toward what it calls integrated joint operations among its three services—Army, Navy, and Air Force—and the Second Artillery Force, which is an independent branch. The trend has moved from creating joint doctrine, to establishing joint command, training, and logistics organizations, and joint training zones. The latest step occurred in 2009, when the PLA implemented a new revision of its its Outline of Military Training and Evaluation (OMTE)—a series of regulations guiding how training will be organized, implemented, and evaluated. This current OMTE emphasizes joint training, training in Complex Electromagnetic Environment (CEME), and realism in training, including increased use of opposition forces (known as Blue Force).

The PLAAF has transformed from an overly-large technologically inferior force, and is emerging as a well equipped and increasingly well trained force, still possessing some identifiable shortcomings and weaknesses. All indicators point to the continued improvement of the PLAAF over the next decade, to the point where China is expected to have one of the world’s foremost air forces by 2020.