PLA Air Force (PLAAF): Doctrine and Strategy

This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Del­hi-India

Defence and Security Alert (DSA

Chang­ing PLA, Chang­ing PLA Air Force -“We should keep deep­en­ing and broad­en­ing prepa­ra­tions for mil­i­tary strug­gle, quick­en the pace of the mod­erni­sa­tion work of the troops and keep enhanc­ing the capa­bil­i­ty of accom­plish­ing diver­si­fied mil­i­tary tasks with win­ning localised wars under infor­ma­tised con­di­tions as the core”.
— Hu Jin­tao to PLA Air Force Offi­cers Attend­ing 11th PLA Air Force Par­ty Con­gress on 22 May 2009.

An ana­lyt­i­cal overview of the Doc­trine and Strat­e­gy of the Chi­nese PLAAF. The writer high­lights that change in the PLAAF is hap­pen­ing across a wide front and in myr­i­ad endeav­ours, in oper­a­tional mat­ters, in insti­tu­tion­al affairs and in the acqui­si­tion of new capa­bil­i­ties. Today, the PLAAF is more oper­a­tional­ly capa­ble than at any time in its past. The years 1993, 2002 and 2004 rep­re­sent impor­tant bench­marks for Chi­nese mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion. In 1993, the Chi­nese lead­er­ship and the PLA issued the equiv­a­lent of a new nation­al mil­i­tary strat­e­gy. In 2002, the entire PLA was told to rethink how it would incor­po­rate 21st cen­tu­ry infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies and oper­a­tions in out­er space, cyber space and in the elec­tro­mag­net­ic spec­trum to con­duct infor­ma­tion inten­sive oper­a­tions. In 2004, the PLA Air Force, pro­mul­gat­ed a ser­vice spe­cif­ic Space Oper­a­tions con­cept, being Pre­pared for Simul­ta­ne­ous Offen­sive and Defen­sive Oper­a­tions, yield­ing a sig­nif­i­cant PLAAF role in strate­gic deter­rence and a desire for the capa­bil­i­ty to win high-tech local wars with air­pow­er. The PLA Air Force, PLA Navy and the Sec­ond Artillery are now being described as “strate­gic” ser­vices with strate­gic lev­el mis­sions in their own right.

 -
Click to enlarge

The People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Air Force (PLAAF) is an organ­i­sa­tion under­go­ing a series of major tran­si­tions and sig­nif­i­cant changes. Like the rest of the Chi­nese armed forces, change in the PLAAF is hap­pen­ing across a wide front and in myr­i­ad endeav­ours, in oper­a­tional mat­ters, in insti­tu­tion­al affairs and in the acqui­si­tion of new capa­bil­i­ties. Today, the PLAAF is more oper­a­tional­ly capa­ble than at any time in its past and it is enjoy­ing the fruits of years of focused and sus­tained reform and mod­erni­sa­tion.1

Oper­a­tion Desert Storm (1991) shocked the PLA into the real­i­sa­tion that, if it did not begin to focus on being able to engage in high-tech, infor­ma­tion age war­fare, then it would fall even fur­ther behind the world’s mod­ern mil­i­taries than it already had. Hence, the CMC pro­mul­gat­ed a new nation­al mil­i­tary strat­e­gy.

The years 1993, 2002 and 2004 rep­re­sent impor­tant bench­marks for Chi­nese mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion as well as for the PLAAF. In 1993, the Chi­nese lead­er­ship and the PLA issued the equiv­a­lent of a new nation­al mil­i­tary strat­e­gy. The objec­tive in pro­mul­gat­ing “The Mil­i­tary Strate­gic Guide­lines for the New Peri­od” was to refo­cus China’s mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion objec­tives across and well into, the new cen­tu­ry to enable the PLA to fight and win wars based on high-tech weapons and joint oper­a­tional con­cepts. In 2002, the entire PLA was told to rethink how it would incor­po­rate 21st cen­tu­ry infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies and oper­a­tions in out­er space, cyber space and in the elec­tro­mag­net­ic spec­trum to con­duct infor­ma­tion inten­sive oper­a­tions “Local Wars Under Infor­ma­tised Con­di­tions,” in the par­lance of the PLA. In 2004, the PLA Air Force, for the first time in its his­to­ry, pro­mul­gat­ed a ser­vice spe­cif­ic “Space Oper­a­tions, Being Pre­pared for Simul­ta­ne­ous Offen­sive and Defen­sive Oper­a­tions.”

The expo­sure to these ideas has dri­ven recog­ni­tion of the air force as a major nation­al capa­bil­i­ty to con­tain and win wars, yield­ing a sig­nif­i­cant PLAAF role in strate­gic deter­rence and a desire for the capa­bil­i­ty to win high-tech local wars with air­pow­er. Also in 2004, the CMC direct­ed the PLA to devel­op high-tech con­ven­tion­al war fight­ing capa­bil­i­ties as well as prepar­ing for non-tra­di­tion­al secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions. “The His­toric Mis­sions of Our Mil­i­tary in the New Peri­od of the New Cen­tu­ry,” artic­u­lat­ed by PRC Pres­i­dent and CCP leader Hu Jin­tao in 2004, pro­vid­ed the PLA with a man­date to think beyond con­ven­tion­al war fight­ing sce­nar­ios. The PLA, lit­er­al­ly bor­row­ing a term pre­vi­ous­ly used by the US armed forces, now speaks of engag­ing in “Mil­i­tary Oper­a­tions Oth­er Than War” (MOOTW).2

Air­craft acqui­si­tion

The PLAAF divides its air­craft acqui­si­tion into five peri­ods. The first peri­od revolved around the rela­tion­ship with the Sovi­et Union (1949–1960), which had a last­ing impact on the devel­op­ment of China’s avi­a­tion indus­try and PLAAF force com­po­si­tion. Dur­ing that peri­od, Chi­na acquired about 3,000 Sovi­et air­craft and received pro­duc­tion rights to var­i­ous mod­els.

The sec­ond peri­od began in July 1960, when the Sovi­et Union noti­fied Chi­na that it was with­draw­ing all of its spe­cial­ists and can­celling all of its con­tracts. Chi­na then spent sev­er­al years attempt­ing to either mod­i­fy or reverse engi­neer some of the air­craft and mis­siles fur­nished by the Sovi­et Union. After 1965, the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion severe­ly dis­rupt­ed PLAAF efforts. Between 1969 and 1971, con­tin­ued dis­rup­tions led to pro­found qual­i­ty con­trol prob­lems.

The third peri­od began fol­low­ing the 1979 bor­der con­flict with Viet­nam, when the PLAAF realised that the F‑6 could no longer meet its long-term require­ments. As a result, the PLAAF ter­mi­nat­ed the F‑6 pro­gramme and mon­ey was infused into the F‑7 and F‑8 pro­grammes, which were fal­ter­ing at the time. This led Chi­na and the PLAAF to begin nego­ti­a­tions with the Unit­ed States, result­ing in a for­eign mil­i­tary sales con­tract (known as the Peace Pearl Pro­gramme) in the late 1980s to upgrade the fire con­trol sys­tem on the F‑8II with F‑16 class avion­ics.

The fourth peri­od occurred dur­ing the 1990s, when Chi­na turned back to Rus­sia for weapon sys­tems and tech­nol­o­gy. Dur­ing this peri­od, the PLAAF pur­chased Su-27s, Su-30s, and Il-76s from Moscow. The Shenyang Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion also began assem­bling and pro­duc­ing the Chi­nese-licensed copy of the Su-27, known as the F‑11. The PLAAF deployed its first F‑11s to an oper­a­tional unit in 2000.3

The fifth peri­od cov­ers the 2000s. Dur­ing this peri­od, the PLAAF has deployed Chi­nese pro­duced FB-7s, F‑10s, and K‑8s, as well as mod­i­fied B‑6 bombers capa­ble of car­ry­ing air launched cruise mis­siles. Although Chi­na pro­duces all of these air­craft, most of them either are based on for­eign air­craft and tech­nol­o­gy or include key for­eign com­po­nents, such as the engines.

The cur­rent oper­a­tional com­po­nent of the “Mil­i­tary Strate­gic Guide­lines for the New Peri­od” is known as the “Active Defence” strat­e­gy as adjust­ed for the con­duct of “Local Wars under Infor­ma­tised Con­di­tions.” The “Active Defence” or “Active Defence Mil­i­tary Strat­e­gy” estab­lish­es set of broad strate­gic con­cepts and prin­ci­ples and a set of very gen­er­al oper­a­tional con­cepts, for pros­e­cut­ing war at the strate­gic lev­el of con­flict. It applies to all PLA ser­vices and branch­es. “Active Defence” strat­e­gy has remained rel­a­tive­ly con­stant

The pic­ture today is quite dif­fer­ent. The PLAAF is replac­ing old­er fight­ers with third and fourth gen­er­a­tion air­craft fit­ted with long range, pre­ci­sion strike weapons for land attack and anti-ship mis­sions and, in some of these air­craft, in-flight refu­elling capa­bil­i­ties, which when ful­ly oper­a­tional, will extend oper­at­ing lim­its. These include Russ­ian designed Su-27s and Su-30s but also China’s own domes­ti­cal­ly devel­oped J‑10, which is assessed to be com­pa­ra­ble in capa­bil­i­ty to the US F‑16. Many PLAAF fight­ers now car­ry beyond visu­al range air-to-air mis­siles and PGMs and the PLAAF pos­sess a first gen­er­a­tion air-launched cruise mis­sile (ALCM), car­ried on the H‑6 medi­um bomber. Chi­na is exper­i­ment­ing with domes­ti­cal­ly pro­duced air­borne warn­ing and con­trol sys­tem (AWACS) air­craft and PLAAF air­craft now rou­tine­ly oper­ate at low lev­el, over water, in bad weath­er and at night (some­times all at once). Based on recent trends, these changes are like­ly to accel­er­ate in the future, so that, with­in anoth­er decade, the capa­bil­i­ties of China’s air force would have strate­gic reach.4

The defence White Paper of 2004, in unam­bigu­ous terms, states that Chi­na intends to even­tu­al­ly achieve “com­mand of the air and sea” and the abil­i­ty to “con­duct strate­gic counter-strikes.” The PLA Air Force (Aero­space Pow­er), PLA Navy and the Sec­ond Artillery are now being described as “strate­gic” ser­vices with strate­gic lev­el mis­sions in their own right.

Mil­i­tary doc­trine and strat­e­gy

Chi­na does not pub­lish equiv­a­lents to the US Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Strat­e­gy, Nation­al Defence Strat­e­gy, or Nation­al Mil­i­tary Strat­e­gy. Rather, Chi­na uses “white papers,” speech­es and arti­cles as the prin­ci­pal mech­a­nisms to com­mu­ni­cate pol­i­cy and strat­e­gy pub­licly. The trans­paren­cy of China’s mil­i­tary and secu­ri­ty affairs has improved in recent years, includ­ing its bien­ni­al pub­li­ca­tion of Defence White Papers. The Defence White Papers 2008 and 2010 sum­marise China’s defence pol­i­cy as uphold­ing nation­al secu­ri­ty and uni­ty and ensur­ing the inter­ests of nation­al devel­op­ment.

Oper­a­tional The­o­ry (zuozhan lilun, i.e., doc­trine): There is no sin­gle Chi­nese word for “doc­trine,” and the PLA does not use a word sub­sti­tute for “doc­trine” in refer­ring to its own oper­a­tional the­o­ry or oper­a­tional con­cepts. How­ev­er, recog­nis­ing that the Amer­i­cans do use that word, PLA oper­a­tions pro­fes­sion­als trans­late “US doc­trine” as “Amer­i­can Mil­i­tary Oper­a­tional The­o­ry.” Under­stand­ing the link­age between oper­a­tional the­o­ry and oper­a­tional prac­tice in the PLA is an impor­tant tool for iden­ti­fy­ing oper­a­tional con­cepts.

Active Defence (jiji fangyu): The cur­rent oper­a­tional com­po­nent of the “Mil­i­tary Strate­gic Guide­lines for the New Peri­od” is known as the “Active Defence” strat­e­gy as adjust­ed for the con­duct of “Local Wars under Infor­ma­tised Con­di­tions.” The “Active Defence” or “Active Defence Mil­i­tary Strat­e­gy” estab­lish­es set of broad strate­gic con­cepts and prin­ci­ples and a set of very gen­er­al oper­a­tional con­cepts, for pros­e­cut­ing war at the strate­gic lev­el of con­flict. It applies to all PLA ser­vices and branch­es. “Active Defence” strat­e­gy has remained rel­a­tive­ly con­stant.

—————————————-
1 DOD, Annu­al Report to Con­gress: Mil­i­tary Pow­er of the People’s Repub­lic of Chi­na 2009 (Wash­ing­ton, DC: Gov­ern­ment Print­ing Office, 2009), VII. P 206.
2 China’s Nation­al Defence in 2010. Infor­ma­tion Office of the People’s Repub­lic of Chi­na. Down­loaded from URL:http:// www. china.org.cn/ government/ whitepaper/ node. 7114675. htm on 31 March 2011.
3 Tong Hui, Chi­nese Mil­i­tary Avi­a­tion, 1995–2009, Sec­tion 1: Fight­ers, 1–2, avail­able at http://cnair.top81.cn/.
4 IHS (Glob­al) Lim­it­ed, “World Air Forces, Chi­na,” Jane’s World Air Forces, (Sin­ga­pore: IHS, July 2009), P, 3–5.

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →