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The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) does not constitute a credible offensive threat against the United States or its Asian allies today, and this situation will not change dramatically over the coming decade. If anything, its overall capabilities relative to most of its potential rivals will diminish over the next ten years. These circumstances are a product of constrained strategic thinking in China about the role of airpower, the lack of funds needed for a comprehensive modernization program, logistics and maintenance problems, the limited training available to its pilots, and the absence of a capability to develop and manufacture advanced airpower weapon systems. Although some modern aircraft will be introduced into the PLAAF inventory during the next ten years, the rate and scale of these acquisitions will remain incremental and demonstrably insufficient to redefine the regional airpower balance.

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Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    The People's Liberation Army: Institutional Development and Defense Strategy

  • Chapter Three

    The PLAAF's Formative Years: 1924-1960

  • Chapter Four

    "Living in Interesting Times": The PLAAF in the 1960s

  • Chapter Five

    The Reform Process Begins

  • Chapter Six

    The PLAAF's Search for Airpower Strategy: Toward the 21st Century

  • Chapter Seven

    PLAAF Education and Training

  • Chapter Eight

    PLAAF Force Structure Trends

  • Chapter Nine

    Conclusions and Implications

  • Appendix A

    The Structure of the PLA, PLAAF, and Naval Aviation

  • Appendix B

    The PLAAF Budget

  • Appendix C

    The Political Commissar System

  • Appendix D

    The PLAAF Rank System

  • Appendix E

    Aircraft Procurement Programs

  • Appendix F

    Fighter Aircraft Projection

  • Appendix G

    Indigenous SAM Systems

Book Review Excerpts

"This book provides excellent chapters on the history of the PLAAF and evaluations of individual aircraft… This volume is the best military and industrial investigation of Chinese airpower since Richard Bueschel's Communist Chinese Air Power in 1968."

- Foreign Service Journal

"This informative volume sheds light not only on the People's Liberation Army Air Force, but also on the Chinese military more broadly."

- Foreign Affairs

Research conducted by

The research reported here was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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