People's Liberation Army Air Force

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PLAAF Insignia

The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) (解放军空军) is the aviation branch of the People's Liberation Army, the military of the People's Republic of China.

Contents

History

The PLAAF was founded in 1949 shortly after the establishment of the People's Republic of China. At the beginning it relied heavily on Soviet help and was armed with Soviet aircraft. Within 6 years, the PLAAF began manufacturing its own aircraft, but initially these were copies of Soviet types. The first of them was the J-4, corresponding to the MiG-15.

Soviet involvement also extended to training combat pilots. Those took part to some degree in the Korean War, where Chinese pilots along with their Russian counterparts often engaged American aircraft in combat. This increased cooperation between the two Communist nations also allowed the Chinese to begin building their own versions of the MiG-17 and MiG-19: the J-5 and J-6.

The 1960s proved to be a difficult period for the PLAAF. This was due to the break in relations with the Soviet Union, and as a consequence the Chinese aircraft industry almost collapsed. The outbreak of the Vietnam War helped it to recover, though, as the PRC government began providing the forces of North Vietnam with J-4s, J-5s, and some J-6s. The 1960s also saw the first indigenous Chinese designs, namely the J-8.

Between the Vietnam War and the early 1990s, the PLAAF's flying consisted mostly of large numbers of near-obsolete Soviet planes. The main mission scenario under consideration by the PLAAF during this time was to support the PLA in defending China against a massive Soviet tank invasion. Under the doctrine of People's War, Chinese air strategy involved large numbers of short-range low-technology fighters. This mix of forces would not have stood up well to the Republic of China Air Force, which has fewer but much more modern planes such as the F-16 and Mirage 2000.

However, since the early 1990s, the PLAAF has begun a program of modernization, motivated in large parts by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the possibility of military conflict with the Republic of China on Taiwan, perhaps also involving the United States. This process began with the acquisition of Su-27s in the early 1990s and the development of various next-generation aircraft, including the J-10 and the JF-17 in collaboration with Pakistan. The PLAAF also strives to improve its pilot training and continues to retire obsolete aircraft. This has resulted in a reduction of the overall number of aircraft in the PLAAF, with a concurrent increase in quality. 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 collapse of the Soviet Union. Ironically, China's former foe, Russia, became its principal arms supplier to the effect that Chinese economic growth allowed Russia to sustain its aerospace industry.

In 2003, there were signs that the European Union would lift its arms embargo against the PRC. One hardware item in which the PRC is apparently strongly interested is the French Mirage 2000 fighter, which has also been sold to Taiwan.

Currently, the PLAAF is developing its own tanker aircraft - which it has lacked so far - by modifying old Soviet planes such as the Tu-16 Badger (in China known as the H-6). There are also plans to acquire tankers from Russia. The current modernization program is predicted to be completed by 2010, although by this time Western air forces will likely be fielding planes like the F-22, Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35. The PLAAF is also developing the J-XX as a possible counter to the upcoming generation of Western fighters.

Aircraft

Markings

The markings of the PLAAF are a red star in front of a red band, it is slightly similar to the insignia of the United States Air Force. The Red star contains the Chinese characters for "August 1" which refers to the date of the formation of the PLA in 1927. PLAAF aircraft carry these markings on the fins as well.

See also

External links


Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation

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