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People's Liberation Army Air Force

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) (Pinyin: Zhō ngguó Rénmín Jiě fàngjū n Kō n) is the aviation branch of the People's Liberation Army, the military of the People's Republic ngjū of China. It currently consists of approximately 400,000 personnel and 2643 combat aircraft[1] .

Although the Chinese Red Army (PLA's predecessor) had operated a few aircraft since the Second Sino-Japanese War, the first organized air arm of the PLA was the Nanyuan Flying Group, formed in the summer of 1949 with about 40 ex-Nationalist aircraft, responsible for the air defence of the soon-to-be capital city of Beijing, China. The PLAAF itself was founded on 11 November 1949, shortly after the establishment of the People's Republic of China. At the beginning it relied heavily on Soviet help and was armed with Soviet aircraft. Within 6 years, the PLAAF began manufacturing its own aircraft, but initially these were copies of Soviet types. The first of them was the J-2, corresponding to the MiG-15. Some western observers refer to the upgraded MiG-15bis variant as J-4, but PLAAF never used "J-4" aircraft designation. Soviet involvement also extended to training combat pilots. Those took part to some degree in the Korean War, where Chinese pilots along with their Russian counterparts often engaged American aircraft in combat. This increased cooperation between the two Communist nations also allowed the Chinese to begin building their own versions of the MiG-17 and MiG-19: the J-5 and J-6. The 1960s proved to be a difficult period for the PLAAF. This was due to the break in relations with the Soviet Union, and as a consequence the Chinese aircraft industry almost collapsed. The outbreak of the Vietnam War helped it to recover, though, as the PRC government began providing the forces of North Vietnam with J-2s, J-5s, and some J-6s. The 1960s also saw the first indigenous Chinese designs, namely the J-8. Although the PLAAF received significant support from Western nations in the 1980s when China was seen as a counterweight to Soviet power, this support ended in 1989 as a result of the Chinese crackdown on the Tiananmen protests of 1989 and the later collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ironically, China's former foe, Russia, became its principal arms supplier to the effect that Chinese economic growth allowed Russia to sustain its aerospace industry. Between the Vietnam War and the early 1990s, the PLAAF's flying consisted mostly of large numbers of near-obsolete Soviet planes. The main mission scenario under consideration by the PLAAF during this time was to support the PLA in defending China against a massive Soviet tank invasion. Under the doctrine of People's War, Chinese air strategy involved large numbers of short-range lowtechnology fighters. This mix of forces would not have stood up well to the Republic of China Air Force, which had fewer but much more modern planes such as the F-16 and Mirage 2000.

Modernisation Programme
In the early 1990s, the PLAAF began a program of modernisation, motivated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as the possibility of military conflict with the Republic of China on Taiwan and perhaps also involving the United States. This process began with the acquisition of Su-27s in the early 1990s and the development of various fourth-generation aircraft, including the domestic J-10, and the JF-17 in collaboration with Pakistan. The PLAAF also strived to improve its pilot training and continued to retire obsolete aircraft. This resulted in a reduction of the overall number of aircraft in the PLAAF with a concurrent increase in quality of its air fleet.

The 21st century has seen the continuation of the modernisation programme with China's huge economic growth. It acquired 76 Su-30MKK's from 2000 to 2003, and 24 upgraded Su-30MKK2's in 2004. It also produced around 100 J-11s (from 2002 onwards) and bought 3 batches (at a total of 76) of the Su-27SK/UBK. Production of the J-10 fighter began in 2002. The PLAAF also began developing its own tanker aircraft, which it previously lacked, by modifying old Soviet planes such as the Tu-16 Badger (in China known as the H-6). In 2005 it announced plans to buy approximately 30 IL-76 transport planes and eight Il-78 tanker planes from Russia, which would greatly increase its troop airlift capability and offer extended range to many aircraft. The PRC is restricted in arms acquisitions due to the on-going arms embargo imposed on it by the European Union and United States. It seems unlikely that fully built offensive hardware will be allowed for export to China from the EU even if the embargo is ever lifted. In that case, China would concentrate on buying avionics and similar technology. The current goal is to have a mostly fourth-generation air force (with integrated C4ISR systems for increased battle effectiveness), giving it an advantage over the older fourth-generation aircraft of the Republic of China, even though the ROCAF has been authorised by the US to purchase F-16 C/D block fighters to help replace its older F-5s. The PLAAF is also developing its own fifth-generation fighter, the J-XX, as a possible counter to late generation Western fighters; however it is still under development.


Headquarters Air Force (HqAF)

The HqAF consists of four departments: Command, Political, Logistic, and Equipment, which mirrors the four general departments of the PLA.

Military region air forces (MRAF) o Division (Fighter, Attack, Bomber)  Regiment  Squadron

The PLAAF typically uses the system of threes in its organisation at Division and below, i.e. 3 Regiments per Division, 3 Squadrons per Regiment, and so on. There are also Independent Regiments within the MRAFs. There are also 2 Airborne Corps (15th, 16th) under direct control of HqPLAAF.

Aircraft inventory
Aircraft Bombardier Challenger 600 Changhe Z11 Origin Type Versions In Notes service[2]


VIP transport

CL 601



utility helicopter J-7 J-7 II JJ-7

20 322 99 50

Chengdu J-7



version of the MiG-21 [2]

Chengdu J-10 China



fourth generation domestic, fielded in limited numbers (up to 100 in service according to aviation weekly) Serial production beginning; 3.5-generation fighter jointly-produced by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAC) and Pakistani Aeronautical Complex (PAC), currently under development. [3]

Chengdu JF17 Thunder

China Pakistan



Eurocopter Cougar


transport helicopter bomber conversion trainer transport transport

AS 332


Harbin H-5


H-5 HJ-5


version of the Il-28 (Cold war, mostly retired) [4]

Harbin Y-11 Harbin Y-12


15 2


Hongdu JL-8

China Pakistan



Ilyushin Il-18 Soviet Union



Ilyushin Il-76 Russia



PLAAF imported a number of Ilyushin Il76MD medium-range transport, and the Il-78 tankers in 1990s & 2005. (Modern) [5] (14 in service + 30 to be delivered)

Mil Mi-8


transport helicopter transport helicopter trainer


Mil Mi-17 Nanchang CJ-6



Imported from Russia


1,419 ground attack aircraft developed from the MiG19 [6] (Cold war) Copy of the Russian An12 (Cold War) [7] (80+ in service) Many versions for special missions in service. version of the MiG-19 [8] (Mostly retired, few used in training/reserve units)

Nanchang QChina 5



Shaanxi Y-8


tactical transport


Shenyang J-6 China

fighter J-6 advanced JJ-6 trainer JZ-6 reconnaissance


Shenyang J-8 China Shenyang J11



indigenous 3rd generation fighter [9] version of the Su-27 [10] (200 Licensed,~100 have currently been assembled) Licensed copy of Russian Antonov An-2, made since 1950s. Light utility/transport aircraft [11] (Cold War)




Shijiazhuang Y-5


utility transport


Sikorsky S70

United States

transport helicopter fighter conversion trainer fighter conversion trainer passenger transport bomber



Sukhoi Su-27 Russia

Su-27SK 36 Su40 27UBK Su30MKK 76 Su24 30MK2 Tu154M H-6 HY-6 7 122 10


Sukhoi Su-30 Russia

Tupolev Tu154 Xian H-6


Some converted for special missions version of the Tu-16 Badger [13] Copy of the Russian An24, Y-7H based on An-26 (Cold War) [14]


Xian Y-7




Shenyang J-8B

Chengdu J-10

Many of the main types of PLAAF aircraft have been specially modified and carry no clear distinct designation. The following types of modifications have been reported:

Harbin H-5: A number of these older aircraft had been modified as HD-5 aircraft and operated with electronic countermeasures suites. They are being phased out.  Ilyushin Il-76: One of the many platforms which the Chinese have attempted to use for an airborne early warning aircraft under the KJ-2000 program.  Shaanxi Y-8: A large number of trials and programs have made use of this utilitarian airframe: o A few have been modified for electronic countermeasures as a replacement for the Harbin HD-5 being phased out. o 2 or more have been given a ventral canoe housing an electronic support measures array beneath the forward fuselage, as well as a farm of antennae on the loading ramp. o 2 have been included in the KJ-200 airborne early warning program. o 2 have been modified similarly to the KJ-200 program for air surveillance and command. o Some have been given the British Marconi Electronic Systems Argus2000 airborne early warning system o 4 have been modified as maritime patrol aircraft o 2 have been modified for electronic intelligence gathering, with a variety of electronic equipment. o 1 has been modified as an airborne command post, recognizable by a farm of antennae above the cockpit. o 1 is being tested with cheek mounted radar for battlefield surveillance. o 1 is operated as a radar test bed, nominally in civil guise. o 1 is operated as an avionics test bed, nominally in civil guise.

Some of the Y-8 aircraft in service are of the recent Y-8-F600 modernized variant.  Shenyang J-5: While the MiG-17 and the locally built derivative, the J-5, have been retired from PLAAF service, some have been converted to drones and UAVs for various purposes.[15]  Tupolev Tu-154: Two or more of these airliners have had three bulges built underneath their fuselages for use in the electronic support measures role. Another handful have been modified for electronic intelligence gathering.  Xian Y-7: At least one was modified for maritime patrol work under the name Fearless Albatross and participated in the 2nd half of the joint Sino-USA maritime search and rescue exercise held near Chinese coast. Another example is operated by the government as an avionics testbed in civil guise. A few may also have been modified as training aircraft.

China continues to develop its aircraft technology, and while few details are available regarding aircraft development programs, some reported efforts include:
    

J-XX - Western designation for a fifth-generation fighter supposedly under development by SAC (producer of J-11). JL-9 also known as FTC-2000 Mountain Eagle, a modernized 2-seat JJ-7 trainer based on the MiG-21U (Upgraded) [16] L-15 Advanced Lead-In Trainer (LIFT) (Modern) [17] Changhe WZ-10 - attack helicopter (Number in service unknown) Y-9 - Multi-purpose transport aircraft under development (Under Development) [18]

In addition to aircraft operated by the PLAAF, a substantial helicopter fleet is operated directly by the People's Liberation Army, while a broad range of combat aircraft, transports, and support planes is flown by the People's Liberation Army Navy. Some types often reported as PLAAF aircraft in fact are only operational with other branches:
        

Aérospatiale Alouette III: 6 SA 316 helicopters are operated by the Army. Aérospatiale Gazelle: Purchased from Europe in the late 1980s, 8 SA 342L helicopters are operated by the Army. Beriev Be-200: 15 antisubmarine patrol aircraft ordered for the Navy. Changhe Z-8: A license produced version of the SA 321 Super Frelon, 12 are operated by the Navy. Harbin Z-9: A license produced version of the SA 365 Dauphin, 25 are operated by each the Army and Navy. Kamov Ka-28: 8 of the Russian helicopters are operated by the Navy. Kamov Ka-29: 40 transport helicopters ordered for the Navy. Kamov Ka-31: 20 antisubmarine helicopters ordered for the Navy. Xian JH-7: 20 to 40 operated by the Navy.


PLAAF Insignia

The markings of the PLAAF are a red star in front of a red band, it is slightly similar to the insignia of the United States Air Force. The Red star contains the Chinese characters for eight and one, representing August 1, 1927, the date of the formation of the PLA. PLAAF aircraft carry these markings on the fins as well.