DoD: China To Have Regional AF by 2020
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is undergoing dramatic changes that will make it “one of the world’s foremost air forces by 2020,” according to a handbook to be released this week by the Pentagon’s principal source for air and space intelligence.
Published by the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), “People’s Liberation Army Air Force: 2010” says the PLAAF is aiming to “extend its reach and its lethality,” and is a growing air power the U.S. Air Force “must take seriously.” Defense News received an advance copy.
“It has the potential to be an air force, among other regional air forces, that will shape the future operational environment in the Asia-Pacific region and, perhaps one day, even beyond,” the handbook says.
The PLAAF is trying “to catch up” with the U.S. and other advanced foreign militaries, in an effort “to credibly engage in hightech 21st-century combat.” The Chinese were heavily influenced by the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which “shocked the PLA into the realization” that it had to begin focusing on high-tech and information-age warfare or risk falling further behind modern militaries around the world.
The PLAAF has traditionally been asked to concentrate solely on the defense of Chinese territory but is now also being asked to protect Chinese interests beyond its borders. Since the 1990s, China has largely shaped its modernization efforts around Taiwan, but the PLAAF is beginning to look at scenarios involving Japan, India and the South China Sea.
China also has modified key doctrinal concepts as more advanced fighter aircraft and new airborne early warning and control aircraft, such as the KJ-200 and KJ-2000, are fielded. The recent unveiling of the stealthy J-20 fighter will further adjust doctrine.
One prominent trend has been efforts to improve joint doctrine. In 2004, the PLAAF was tasked with “its own service-level strategy,” known as “Integrated Air and Space, Being Prepared for Simultaneous Offensive and Defense Operations.” Then, in 2009, the PLAAF implemented a revision of 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 report said.
The PLAAF will face challenges as it moves from a primarily tactical asset to a “strategic air force,” and there are some “weighty systemic and technological challenges that will guarantee a certain amount of friction.” The intent of the study is to educate U.S. Air Force personnel about the PLAAF “beyond weapon systems, equipment, and order of battle information.”
The handbook focuses on the PLAAF’s history, leadership, organization, political system, personnel, education, training, logistics, maintenance and foreign relations.
PLAAF’s order of battle and weapons is already thoroughly covered in other U.S. government reports on China, said a NASIC source.
The NASIC report complements the Office of Naval Intelligence’s 2007 handbook on the PLA Navy and Dennis Blasko’s book, “The Chinese Army Today.”