PLAAF: Coercive Air Force Of The 21st Century

PLAAF dur­ing the Deng era was also look­ing to improve its deter­rent capa­bil­i­ty by strength­en­ing air­borne forces, enhanc­ing quick mobil­i­ty and increas­ing the strate­gic reach, which until now had been its innate weak­ness. It also start­ed to per­ceive itself as a unique ser­vice capa­ble of engag­ing in local bor­der wars because of its intrin­sic qual­i­ty of reach and speed; and fur­ther strength­ened by its rapid reac­tion force capa­ble of attain­ing the laid down polit­i­cal objec­tives and end the war as quick­ly as pos­si­ble; an ear­li­er domain of the PLA, which ceased as a result of soul-search­ing by the ground forces. PLAAF dur­ing this peri­od also start­ed to under­stand the con­cepts of air supe­ri­or­i­ty, fire­pow­er, manoeu­vra­bil­i­ty, con­trol of elec­tron­ic means and tech­nol­o­gy; all crit­i­cal and with­out which the strate­gic objec­tives could not have been achieved. It there­fore ini­ti­at­ed sig­nif­i­cant reforms in the force struc­ture, train­ing and weapon sys­tems and rede­fined its role with greater clar­i­ty by list­ing out areas of respon­si­bil­i­ty in terms of its offen­sive capa­bil­i­ties to car­ry out air strikes and attain air suprema­cy. It was almost a fore­gone con­clu­sion that any future war would have to be mul­ti-dimen­sion­al involv­ing land, sea, air and space; there­fore no sin­gle ser­vice could afford the lux­u­ry of being over­bear­ing. Hence, it took more than three decades for the estab­lish­ment to con­vince PLA that; ‘the largest obsta­cle for any ground force or a unit­ed cam­paign came from the air’, and the onus for this ideation­al shift will nec­es­sar­i­ly have to be attrib­uted to Deng’s will­ing­ness to accept the tran­scen­dent nature of air pow­er and Wang Hai’s sur­pass­ing influ­ence on Deng dur­ing the Sino-Viet­nam con­flict. Also, soon after the Gulf war; PLA was left with no oth­er option than to accept the gospel truth that the biggest chal­lenge for the ground forces actu­al­ly came from the air and for the first time also acknowl­edg­ing the inher­ent lim­i­ta­tion in the con­cept of PLA being the sole under­writer to guar­an­tee secu­ri­ty; a prime con­cern for all Chi­nese cit­i­zens and its pol­i­cy for­mu­la­tors. PLA as a result was left with no oth­er choice than to coerce PLAAF to mod­ernise and pre­pare itself to fight major air bat­tles away from home. The major take-away from the peri­od of tran­si­tion was that it accen­tu­at­ed the role of infor­ma­tion, high-end tech­nol­o­gy, weapon­ry and air pow­er. Also the accep­tance of air pow­er being piv­otal and an impor­tant ele­ment of the deci­sion mak­ing appa­ra­tus and an inde­pen­dent instru­ment in the con­text of a joint cam­paign was a result of Deng’s broad-mind­ed approach; which helped PLAAF tran­scend into becom­ing an offen­sive air force and prepar­ing to take on the cen­tre-stage to chal­lenge the best in the world.

PLAAF’s aspi­ra­tions

PLAAF was quick to embrace RMA after the Gulf war and by the turn of the cen­tu­ry start­ed con­sol­i­dat­ing on var­i­ous aspects like infor­ma­tised and asym­met­ric war­fare tech­niques. It aug­ment­ed its ear­li­er capac­i­ty to car­ry out air strikes, recon­nais­sance and ear­ly warn­ing, air and mis­sile defence and enhance its strate­gic aero­space pow­er CHINESE HAUTEUR An ISO 9001:2008 Cer­ti­fied Mag­a­zine pow­er pro­jec­tion capa­bil­i­ty in an effort to build itself into a strate­gic air force by 2020. The 2010 white paper fur­ther states that there has been a con­cert­ed effort on part of PLAAF to accel­er­ate the tran­si­tion from being a tac­ti­cal air force look­ing at ter­ri­to­r­i­al air defence to now being able to par­tic­i­pate in both offen­sive and defen­sive oper­a­tions2. Hu Jin­tao had also said that “we will ensure that our armed forces are capa­ble of win­ning a war in the infor­ma­tion age, mod­erni­sa­tion of weapons and equip­ment should be accel­er­at­ed and per­son­nel train­ing enhanced. We will grad­u­al­ly increase spend­ing on nation­al defence as the econ­o­my grows and con­tin­ue to mod­ernise nation­al defence and the armed forces.” 


Resource con­straints and the rapid rise of sec­ond artillery may have ini­tial­ly con­tributed to the slow pace of PLAAF’s mod­erni­sa­tion in the ear­ly 1990s; how­ev­er the pace of China’s eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment and the surge in the arms trade with coun­tries in South Amer­i­ca, Africa, Iran and Pak­istan could have off­set PLAAF’s ear­ly setback

China’s use of air­pow­er in the 21st cen­tu­ry is also guid­ed by the phi­los­o­phy of coer­cion aimed at com­pelling to change the behav­iour of the tar­get State and then become a mid­wife to the con­tin­u­a­tion of the State’s pol­i­cy by oth­er means. It also acknowl­edged the huge poten­tial of air­pow­er being an effi­ca­cious tool to influ­ence inter­na­tion­al dis­putes both through active and pas­sive means, which could fur­ther also be employed for decap­i­ta­tion of lead­er­ship and ‘denial’ with­out the deploy­ment of any cred­i­ble ground threat. At the same time they were cau­tious against bequeath­ing over­ar­ch­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty in one sin­gle ‘pow­er’; main­ly because of the lim­it­ed capa­bil­i­ty of its armed forces and more so of its ‘air­pow­er’ assets. They believed that with lim­it­ed capa­bil­i­ty, chang­ing region­al archi­tec­ture and under the weight of geopol­i­tics, no sin­gle ‘pow­er’ could win for them future wars against a strong and a robust adver­sary like Amer­i­ca. Hence to bridge the gap between aspi­ra­tions and capa­bil­i­ties; the Chi­nese resort­ed to the con­cept of ‘joint­ness’ which in their design includ­ed ground forces, air force, navy, sec­ond artillery and also the space based assets. Although PLAAF in the past has had issues over con­trol of space-based assets, but has nev­er laid too much impor­tance oth­er than to state the obvi­ous that aero­space pow­er has a broad­er scope as com­pared to air­pow­er and both have an inher­ent capac­i­ty to guar­an­tee ‘air supe­ri­or­i­ty’. They also believed that build­ing a cred­i­ble air force with enhanced fire-pow­er capa­bil­i­ty, will large­ly help them to off­set their major short­com­ings in the face of a pow­er­ful adver­sary and there­fore air­pow­er in their cal­cu­lus was turn­ing out to be an extreme­ly pow­er­ful tool of PRC’s coer­cion strat­e­gy3. Attain­ment of ‘air supe­ri­or­i­ty’ con­tin­ues to be the soul for all future wars whether fought in an envi­ron­ment of a joint cam­paign or an inde­pen­dent air cam­paign; prob­a­bly inspired by Colonel John War­den III, when he stat­ed that “no coun­try has won a war in the face of ene­my air supe­ri­or­i­ty, no major offen­sive has ever suc­ceed­ed against an oppo­nent who con­trolled the air and no defence has sus­tained against an ene­my who had air supe­ri­or­i­ty”4. PLAAF’s larg­er aim is to evolve a seam­less aero­space strat­e­gy with a poten­tial to be spread out over a bat­tle space area envis­aged larg­er than ever in the past. It ini­ti­at­ed this process by induct­ing mul­ti­ple plat­forms, devel­op­ing potent EW capa­bil­i­ties, inte­grat­ing com­bat and con­trol sys­tem in a mod­ern air com­bat envi­ron­ment with enhanced capa­bil­i­ties and lethal strike option. PLAAF was in a state of tran­si­tion, redefin­ing its ear­li­er mis­sion exclu­sive­ly respon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing sup­port to its ground forces to now grad­u­at­ing and becom­ing an inde­pen­dent ser­vice capa­ble of pro­vid­ing deter­rence and con­duct­ing strate­gic attack. Over the years PLAAF has made sig­nif­i­cant inroads in devel­op­ing con­cepts relat­ed to aero­space pow­er in a joint envi­ron­ment involv­ing PLAN, sec­ond artillery and space based assets. 

2–03/31/c_13806851.htm,White paper on China’s Nation­al Defence 2010, accessed on July14, 2011.
3 Accord­ing to Mark Stokes, coer­cive pow­er is dif­fer­ent from brute force and attempts to dis­suade the adver­sary from tak­ing an action and there­fore can con­sist of diplo­mat­ic coer­cion and mil­i­tary coer­cion. As per Daniel L Byman’s def­i­n­i­tion both mil­i­tary and diplo­mat­ic coer­cion can force anoth­er gov­ern­ment to choose between mak­ing con­ces­sions or suf­fer­ing the con­se­quences.
4 Colonel John A War­den III, The Air Cam­paign, Plan­ning for Com­bat, (Wash­ing­ton: Pergamon-Brassey’s, 1989), pp.10.

Team GlobDef

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

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →