Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chinese Air Forces

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is in the midst of a transition between the limited, largely air defence force it used to be, and a more advanced force with modern equipment, doctrine, and capabilities. While the size of the force has shrunk considerably over the past 15 years, the same could not be said about its quality and capabilities. With the introduction of new generation aircraft, precision-guided munitions, support aircraft that serve as force multipliers, and modernised C4ISR capabilities, the PLAAF is now not only capable of carrying out traditional missions such as air defence and support for ground forces, but could also undertake offensive strikes against ground and naval targets beyond China’s borders.
Currently the PLAAF and PLA Naval Aviation operate a mixed fighter fleet consisting of both older aircraft fielded in the 1980s, and newer designs introduced in the 1990s and later. The thousands of J-6 (MiG-19 Farmer) fighters that once made up the fighter fleet have been retired. The current inventory is composed primarily of third- and fourth-generation fighters and fighter-bombers, including 800~1,000 J-7 (MiG-21 Fishbed) and J-8II fighters, 76 Russian-built Su-27 fighters, 95~116 Chinese-assembled J-11 fighters, 76 Russian Su-30MKK multirole fighters, and some 60~80 Chinese indigenous J-10 multirole fighters.
It is still not clear as whether the PLAAF intends to replace its ageing H-6 (Tu-16 Badger) intermediate-range bomber fleet with the Russian Tu-22M and Tu-95 bombers, which were offered to China in 2005. The modernisation of its ground-attack forces continued with the delivery of more JH-7 fighter-bombers. So far at least five JH-7 regiments (3 in the Naval Aviation and 2 in the Air Force) have been identified. At the same time, older aircraft are being upgraded with new systems and capabilities to extend their service life. The ageing H-6 bomber is now being used for carrying the land-attack cruise missile, while the obsolete Q-5 attackers are given the ability to deliver laser-guided munitions.
The PLAAF has been seeking to acquire more long-range transport aircraft to improve its airlift capabilities. Additional to the 14 IL-76MD transport aircraft in service since the 1990s, China ordered another 30 IL-76s plus 4 IL-78 tankers in 2005, but the delivery of these aircraft has been postponed due to a production problem in Russia. At the same time, China is developing an indigenous four-engine turboprop transport aircraft of the C-130-class to replace its Y-8 (An-12 Cub) transport. Once these aircraft are in place, China’s power projection capabilities to regions beyond its border would be greatly enhanced.
An important trend of PLAAF’s modernisation efforts in recent years is the development and deployment of support aircraft serving as force multipliers to enhance the effectiveness of its combat aircraft. These support aircraft include tankers, AEW and AWACS aircraft, electronic warfare and intelligence collection aircraft, search & rescue aircraft etc. For example, during the rescue and disaster relief mission in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, a PLAAF communication relay aircraft cruised over the disaster zone to provide command and control support for the rescue troops on the ground, demonstrating the sort of capabilities not possessed by the force only few years before.

No comments:

Post a Comment