People's Liberation Army Air Force

  (Redirected from PLAAF)

The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF; 中国人民解放军空军), also known as the Chinese Air Force (中国空军) and the People's Air Force (人民空军), is an aerial service branch of the People's Liberation Army, the regular armed forces of the People's Republic of China. The PLAAF was officially established on 11 November 1949 and it is composed of 5 branches which are aviation, anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles, radar and Airborne Corps.[5]

People's Liberation Army Air Force
Emblem of People's Liberation Army Air Force.svg
Emblem of the People's Liberation Army Air Force
Founded11 November 1949; 71 years ago (1949-11-11) [1]
Country People's Republic of China
AllegianceCommunist Party of China [2]
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare, airborne warfare, and air defense; nationwide air traffic control (above civil aviation authorities)
Size395,000 active personnel as of 2020[3]
3370+ aircraft as of 2020[4]
Part ofPeople's Liberation Army
Motto(s)Serve the People
MarchMarch of the Chinese Air Force [zh]
CommanderAir Force General Ding Laihang
Political CommissarAir Force General Yu Zhongfu
RoundelRoundel of China.svg Roundel of China – Low Visibility – Type 2.svg
FlagAir Force Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg
Aircraft flown
BomberJH-7, H-6
KJ-200, KJ-500, KJ-2000, TU-154
FighterChengdu J-7, Shenyang J-8, Chengdu J-10, Shenyang J-11,Shenyang J-16, Chengdu J-20, Su-27, Su-30MKK, Su-35S
HelicopterHarbin Z-8, Harbin Z-9
InterceptorShenyang J-8
TrainerHongdu L-15, Hongdu JL-8, JL-9
TransportXian Y-20, Shaanxi Y-9, Shaanxi Y-8, Xian Y-7, Il-76
TankerH-6U, Il-78
People's Liberation Army Air Force
Simplified Chinese中国人民解放军空军
Traditional Chinese中國人民解放軍空軍
Literal meaningChina People Liberation Army Air Army


Korean War to the Sino-Soviet SplitEdit

The PLA's first organized air unit, was formed in July 1949 at Beijing Nanyuan Airport. It consisted of six P-51s, two Mosquitoes, and two PT-19s.[6] On 25 October 1949, Liu Yalou was appointed as the chief of air force in the People's Liberation Army. By 11 November, the air force command was officially formed[7] from the headquarters of Liu Yalou's 14th bingtuan (which Witson translates as "Army"). The process was aided by significant Soviet assistance.[8]

The air force expanded rapidly during the Korean War. Two brigades were created in 1950, but disbanded in the early 1950s and replaced by division; both had subordinate regiments.[9] During the war, 26 divisions and a smaller number of independent regiments and schools were created by personnel transfers from the army; the air force inherited the army's organization and was commanded by army officers.[10] By early 1954, there were 28 divisions, with 70 regiments, and five indepedent regiments operating 3000 aircraft.[9] The Soviets provided Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 aircraft (J-2 in Chinese service), training, and support for developing the domestic aviation industry. Shenyang Aircraft Corporation built the two-seat MiG-15UTI trainer as the JJ-2,[11] and during the war manufactured various components to maintain the Soviet-built fighters. By 1956 the People's Republic was assembling copies of MiG-15s and eight years later was producing both the Shenyang J-5 (MiG-17) and the Shenyang J-6 (MiG-19) under license.[12]

The PLAAF emerged from the war as an air defence force. The main role was to support the army by achieving air superiority using fighters, radar, and ground-based weapons.[13] This was reinforced through the 1950s and 1960s when the PLAAF's main activities were skirmishing with the Republic of China Air Force near the Taiwan Strait, and intercepting American aircraft. The bombing role was neglected due to the underestimation of the significant of air power during the war; the Chinese were impressed that they had suffered more casualties from ground fire rather than from bombing.[14] From the Korean to the Sino-Vietnamese War, PLAAF bombing missions were restrained by technical capability and political concerns over escalation.[15]

The 1960s were a difficult time for the PLAAF. Modernization and development was severely impacted by political and economic chaos of the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, and the Sino-Soviet split.[16] The prioritization of missile and nuclear weapon programs crippled aviation the industry, which markedly declined through 1963.[12] A recovery began around 1965 as J-2s, J-5s, and some J-6s were provided to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Development of the Shenyang J-8, China's first indigenous fighter, was also initiated during the 1960s.[citation needed]

Between January 1954 and 1971, 22 divisions were created for a total of 50.[9]

The 1980sEdit

Force reductions led to reorganization and streamlining starting in 1985. Before the 1985 reorganization, the Air Force reportedly had four branches: air defense, ground attack, bombing, and independent air regiments.[17] In peacetime the Air Force Directorate, under the supervision of the PLA General Staff Department, controlled the Air Force through headquarters located with, or in communication with, each of the seven military region headquarters. In war, control of the Air Force probably reverted to the regional commanders. In 1987 it was not clear how the reorganization and the incorporation of air support elements into the group armies affected air force organization. The largest Air Force organizational unit was the division, which consisted of 17,000 personnel in three regiments. A typical air defense regiment had three squadrons of three flights; each flight had three or four aircraft. The Air Force also had 220,000 air defense personnel who controlled about 100 surface-to-air missile sites and over 16,000 AA guns. In addition, it had a large number of early-warning, ground-control-intercept, and air-base radars manned by specialized troops organized into at least twenty-two independent regiments.[citation needed]

In the 1980s the Air Force made serious efforts to raise the educational level and improve the training of its pilots.[17] Superannuated pilots were retired or assigned to other duties. All new pilots were at least middle-school graduates. The time it took to train a qualified pilot capable of performing combat missions reportedly was reduced from four or five years to two years. Training emphasized raising technical and tactical skills in individual pilots and participation in combined-arms operations. Flight safety also increased.[citation needed]

From 1986 to 1988, each military region converted a division into a division-level transition training base (改装训练基地),[18] which replaced training regiments in operational divisions.[19]

In 1987 the Air Force had serious technological deficiencies — especially when compared with its principal threat, the Soviet Armed Forces — and had many needs that it could not satisfy.[20] It needed more advanced aircraft, better avionics, electronic countermeasures equipment, more powerful aircraft weaponry, a low-altitude surface-to-air missile, and better controlled antiaircraft artillery guns. Some progress was made in aircraft design with the incorporation of Western avionics into the Chengdu J-7 and Shenyang J-8, the development of refueling capabilities for the B-6D bomber and the A-5 attack fighter, increased aircraft all-weather capabilities, and the production of the HQ-2J high-altitude surface-to-air missile and the C-601 air-to-ship missile.[citation needed]

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. After the fall of the USSR, the Russian Federation became China's principal arms supplier, to the extent that Chinese economic growth allowed Russia to sustain its aerospace industry.[citation needed]

Modernization programEdit

PLAAF airmen on parade during a full honors arrival ceremony in 2000

In the late 1980s, the primary mission of the PLAAF was the defense of the mainland, and most aircraft were assigned to this role. A smaller number of ground attack and bomber units were assigned to Air interdiction and possibly close air support, and some bomber units could be used for nuclear delivery. The force had only limited military airlift and aerial reconnaissance capabilities.[citation needed]

In the early 1990s, the PLAAF began a program of modernization, motivated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as the possibility of military conflict with the Republic of China 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 FC-1 . The PLAAF also strove 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.[citation needed]

In the 2000s, there were appriximately 30 combat divisions, and 2 transport divisions.[21]

The 21st century has seen the continuation of the modernization program with China's huge economic growth. It acquired 76 Su-30MKK's from 2000 to 2003, and 24 upgraded Su-30MK2's in 2004. It also produced around 200 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 with an estimated 200 aircraft in service currently. The PLAAF also began developing its own tanker aircraft, which it previously lacked, by modifying old H-6 bomber (Tupolev Tu-16). In 2005 it announced plans to buy approximately 30 IL-76 transport planes and 8 Il-78 tanker planes, which would greatly increase its troop airlift capability and offer extended range to many aircraft, though as of 2009 this deal is still on hold.[citation needed]

Predictions of the PLAAF's future aircraft fleet indicate that it will consist of large quantities of Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-11 as its main force, with J-16 and JH-7A as the PLAAF backbone precision strike fighters. Future stealth fighter projects such as the Chengdu J-20 will be inducted into the air fleet in small numbers, assigned to elite PLAAF selected pilots. The transport fleet will comprise Y-9 medium range transport aircraft, along with the Soviet Ilyushin Il-76, and domestic Y-20 heavy transport aircraft. Its helicopter fleet will comprise Z-20, Z-15 and Mi-17 troop transporters, and the WZ-10 attack helicopter for its ground forces. AWACS/AEW will be refined variants of existing service fleet of KJ-2000 and KJ-200, with UAV/UCAV in early stages of service in the PLAAF.[citation needed]

Senior Colonel Wu Guohui has said that the PLAAF is working on a stealth bomber, which some people have called the H-18.[22]

According to a 2015 Pentagon report, PLAAF has around 600 modern aircraft.[23]

Lt Gen Xu Anxiang, PLAAF Deputy Commander, revealed the PLAAF has a multiphase roadmap for building a strong, modern air force. He said the building of a strategic force by 2020 would integrate aviation, space power, strike and defense capabilities.[citation needed]

When this goal is achieved, the PLAAF's fourth-generation equipment like J-20 and Y-20 will become the backbone of the Air Force's arsenal and J-16 along with J-10 would be main stay of PLAAF. Gen Xu also said information-based combat capabilities will be enhanced.[citation needed]

Ranks and insigniaEdit

The ranks in the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force are similar to those of the Chinese Army, formally known as the People's Liberation Army Ground Force, except that those of the PLA Air Force are prefixed by 空军 (Kong Jun) meaning Air Force. See Ranks of the People's Liberation Army or the article on an individual rank for details on the evolution of rank and insignia in the PLAAF. This article primarily covers the existing ranks and insignia.

The markings of the PLAAF are a red star in front of a red band, it is very similar to the insignia of the Russian Air Force. The Red star contains the Chinese characters for eight and one,[24][25] representing August 1, 1927, the date of the formation of the PLA. PLAAF aircraft carry these markings on the fins as well.

Aerobatic display teamEdit

The August 1st (aerobatic team) is the first PLAAF aerobatics team. It was formed in 1962. Aircraft inventory of PLAAF August 1st Aerobatic Team includes the J-10 and it has previously flown the JJ-5 and J-7. The Sky Wing and Red Falcon air demonstration teams, which operate Nanchang CJ-6 and Hongdu JL-8 respectively, were established in 2011.


Command and unit tiersEdit

The highest leadership organization is PLAAF Headquarters (PLAAF HQ). PLAAF HQ's peacetime responsibilities are force generation, modernization, and operational control of some units like the Airborne Corps and the 34th Air Transport Division.[26] PLAAF HQ contains four first-level departments: Headquarters, Political, Logistics, and Equipment.[27]

Below PLAAF HQ are the Theater Command Air Forces (TCAF); they succeeded the Military Region Air Forces (MRAF) in 2016.[28]

Before 2003, MRAF had subordinate air corps and Bases which exercised direct control over units in their area of responsibility (AOR); MRAF only directly controlled fighter and ground attack divisions in the same province as MRAF headquarters (MRAF HQ). From 2004, leadership of units was consolidated in MRAF HQ, with air corps and Bases downgraded to command posts that acted on behalf of MRAF HQ.[29] From 2012 onwards, the command posts were mostly replaced by Bases that exercised command and control over units (brigades) in their AOR and conducted joint exercises.[30]

Below TCAF/MRAF and the air corps/command posts/Bases are corps, division, brigade, and regimental level units (部队).[29]

The first divisions in the 1950s had two or three regiments. In 1953, this was standardized to three regiments per division,[21] including one training regiment.[9] Regiments had three or four flight groups, each in turn made of three or four squadrons. Between 1964 and 1970, regiments were called groups.[21] In the late 1980s, operational squadrons lost their training regiments.[19] By 2010, many divisions had only two regiments.[18] In 2019, the bomber, transport, and specialized divisions had not been reorganized into brigades and remained under the control of PLAAF HQ and TCAF headquarters.[31]

New multifunction brigades were formed starting in 2011. Brigades contain several subordinate flight groups; a flight group has one type of aircraft.[18] All fighter and ground attack divisions and regiments were reorganized into brigades.[31]

Everything from battalions to squads are considered subunits (分队).[32]

Order of battleEdit

In 2020, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) listed eight H-6 bomber regiments, with another brigade forming.[3]


The PLAAF has over 150 air bases.[citation needed]


In 2020, the PLAAF operated over 3370 aircraft, of which about 2500 were combat capable.[4] In 2014, IISS stated that combat pilots flew an average of 100-150 flying hours per year.[34] For a list of aircraft no-longer flown by the People's Liberation Army Air Force see; List of historic aircraft of the People's Liberation Army Air Force.

Current inventoryEdit

A Hongdu L-15 taxiing
A KJ-200 AEW aircraft in flight
A Sukhoi Su-30 over Lipetsk
A PLAAF Xian H-6K strategic bomber
A PLAAF KJ-2000 AEW&C aircraft
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Xian H-6 China Strategic bomber H-6K/J/M 128[35] licensed variant of the Tupolev Tu-16
Xian JH-7 China Fighter bomber JH-7A/B 69[35]
Chengdu J-7 China Fighter J-7MGF 390[35] licensed variant of the MiG-21
Shenyang J-8 China Interceptor J-8IIM 100[35]
Chengdu J-10 China Multirole J-10B/C 435[35]
Shenyang J-11 China Air superiority J-11B/D 346 licensed variant of the Su-27 – 10 on order[36]
Shenyang J-16 China Multirole 200+[citation needed]
Chengdu J-20 China Stealth Air superiority 50+[35][37]
Sukhoi Su-30 Russia Air superiority Su-30MKK 76[38]
Sukhoi Su-35 Russia Air superiority Su-35S 24[39]
Shaanxi Y-9 China AEW KJ-500 30+[40][41]
Shaanxi Y-8 China AEW KJ-200 11[35]
Ilyushin Il-76 China AEW KJ-2000 5[35] Chinese radar installed on an Ilyushin Il-76 airframe
Challenger 850 Canada SIGINT 5[35]
Electronic Warfare
Shaanxi Y-8 China electronic jamming Y-8EW 16[35]
Antonov An-30 Ukraine electronic warfare 3[35]
Tupolev Tu-154 Russia electronic warfare 2[35]
Maritime patrol
Boeing 737 United States patrol / transport 2[35]
Xian H-6 China aerial refueling HY-6U 10[42]
Ilyushin Il-78 Russia aerial refueling Il-78MP 3[35]
Xian Y-20 China strategic airlifter 40+[43]
Ilyushin Il-76 Russia strategic airlifter 22[35]
Shaanxi Y-9 China transport 30+
Shaanxi Y-8 China transport 69[35]
Xian Y-7 China transport 47[35]
Xian MA60 China transport 9[35]
Tupolev Tu-154 Russia transport 2[35]
Mil Mi-8 Russia transport Mi-8/17/171 16[35]
Changhe Z-8 China transport 34[35] licensed built Aérospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon
Harbin Z-9 China utility / CSAR 16[35] licensed built variant of the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin
Trainer aircraft
Xian Y-7 China multi-engine trainer 13[35]
Hongdu JL-8 China / Pakistan jet trainer K-8 170[35]
Hongdu L-15 China jet trainer 24+[44]
Shenyang J-6 China converted trainer JJ-6 35[45]
Chengdu J-7 China conversion trainer JJ-7 35[35]
Guimbal Cabri G2 France rotorcraft trainer 2[35]
Unmanned aerial vehicle
Guizhou Sunshine China MALE UAV 28[46]
Chengdu Pterodactyl I China MALE UAV 60[46]
Chengdu Pterodactyl 2 China MALE UAV 75[46]
Harbin Giant Eagle China MALE UAV 84[46]
Chengdu Cloud Shadow China HALE UAV 12[46]
Guizhou Soar Dragon China HALE UAV 8[46]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ "空军司令部的组建". January 23, 2015. Archived from the original on July 11, 2016. Retrieved September 16, 2018. 中国空军网_蓝天回眸_空军简史
  2. ^ "The PLA Oath" (PDF). February 2009. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved October 30, 2015. I am a member of the People's Liberation Army. I promise that I will follow the leadership of the Communist Party of China...
  3. ^ a b International Institute for Strategic Studies: The Military Balance 2020, p. 264.
  4. ^ a b International Institute for Strategic Studies: The Military Balance 2020, p. 265.
  5. ^ Rupprecht, Andreas (29 October 2018). Modern Chinese Warplanes:Chinese Air Force - Aircraft and Units. Harpia Publishing. p. 139. ISBN 978-09973092-6-3.
  6. ^ Ken Allen, Chapter 9, "PLA Air Force Organization" Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine, The PLA as Organization, ed. James C. Mulvenon and Andrew N.D. Yang (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2002), 349.
  7. ^ 《中国人民解放军军史》编写组 (2011). 中国人民解放军军史 [Military History of the Chinese PLA]. 4. Military Science Press [军事科学出版社]. p. 52. ISBN 978-7-80237-427-0.
  8. ^ Cliff, Roger; John Fei; Jeff Hagen; Elizabeth Hague; Eric Heginbotham; John Stillion (2011). "Shaking the Heavens and Splitting the Earth: Chinese Air Force Employment Concepts in the 21st Century" (PDF). RAND. p. 36. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 April 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d Trevethan (2019): pg. 8
  10. ^ Xiang (2012): pg. 73
  11. ^ "J-2 (Jian-2 Fighter aircraft 2)". 2011-05-03. Archived from the original on 2012-11-04. Retrieved 2011-06-28.
  12. ^ a b "A Country Study: China". Country Studies. Library of Congress: 584. Archived from the original on 2017-02-16. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  13. ^ Xiang (2012): pg. 73-74
  14. ^ Xiang (2012): pg. 74
  15. ^ Xiang (2012): pg. 76-77
  16. ^ Lumbering Forward: pg. 23
  17. ^ a b "A Country Study: China". Country Studies. Library of Congress: 583. Archived from the original on 2017-02-16. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  18. ^ a b c Allen (2012): pg 104
  19. ^ a b Trevethan (2019): pg. 16
  20. ^ China: A Country Study, 585
  21. ^ a b c Trevethan (2019): pg. 9
  22. ^ "Is China's H-18 bomber a joke? asks Duowei". Want China Times. 13 November 2013. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  23. ^ "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2015" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 May 2015.
  24. ^ "Military Aircraft Insignia of the World - D". Archived from the original on 27 October 2018. Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  25. ^ "Roundels of China". Archived from the original on 14 September 2015. Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  26. ^ Allen (2012): pg 109
  27. ^ Allen (2012): pg 99
  28. ^ Trevethan (2019): pg. 6
  29. ^ a b Trevethan (2019): pg. 11
  30. ^ Trevethan (2019): pg. 11-12
  31. ^ a b Trevethan (2019): pg. 1
  32. ^ Allen (2012): pg 109-110
  33. ^ International Institute for Strategic Studies: The Military Balance 2014, p. 235.
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z "World Air Forces 2020". Flightglobal Insight. 2020. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  35. ^ "World Air Forces 2019". Flightglobal Insight. 2019. Archived from the original on 23 January 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  36. ^ Zhen, Liu. "China is behind on production of its most advanced fighter jet". Business Insider. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  37. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-09-11. Retrieved 2017-09-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  38. ^ bmpd (2 December 2017). "Китай получил уже 14 истребителей Су-35".
  39. ^ 10+ KJ-500 as of 2018 Jan. Retrieved Date: 09/05/2020
  40. ^ 12+ KJ-500 to deliver in 2019 Retrieved Date: 09/05/2020
  41. ^ HY-6U Tanker Retrieved Date: 04/04/2014
  42. ^ A Whopping 20 Y-20 Airlifters Spotted in Yanliang Retrieved Date: 09/05/2020
  43. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-06. Retrieved 2013-06-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  44. ^ Hoyle and Fafard Flight International 10–16 December 2019, p. 35
  45. ^ a b c d e f Rupprecht, Andreas (29 October 2018). Modern Chinese Warplanes:Chinese Air Force - Aircraft and Units. Harpia Publishing. p. 106. ISBN 978-09973092-6-3.


Further readingEdit

  • Andreas Rupprecht and Tom Cooper: Modern Chinese Warplanes, Combat Aircraft and Units of the Chinese Air Force and Naval Aviation, Harpia Publishing (2012), ISBN 0985455403, ISBN 978-0985455408
  • Gordon, Yefim and Komissarov, Dmitry. Chinese Aircraft. Hikoki Publications. Manchester. 2008. ISBN 978-1-902109-04-6

External linksEdit