Cover: The Chinese Air Force's First Steps Toward Becoming an Expeditionary Air Force

The Chinese Air Force's First Steps Toward Becoming an Expeditionary Air Force

Published Nov 10, 2017

by Cristina L. Garafola, Timothy R. Heath


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الخطوات الأولى التي اتخذتها القوات الجوية الصينية لتصبح قوة جوية للتدخل السريع

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Research Questions

  1. What steps is the People's Liberation Army Air Force taking toward becoming an expeditionary air force?
  2. What are the implications for China's military and its ability to protect its emerging overseas interests?

This report is based on RAND Project AIR FORCE Strategy and Doctrine Program research that was presented at the second China Aerospace Studies Institute conference, sponsored by Headquarters, U.S. Air Force. It took place on May 2, 2016, at the RAND Corporation's Washington office in Arlington, Va. Experts on airpower, military operations, and Chinese military modernization participated in the conference and provided valuable feedback to the report's authors. The four resulting reports assess notable developments and implications of China's emerging aerospace expeditionary and power-projection capabilities. As China's economic, diplomatic, and security interests continue to expand, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and, in particular, its aerospace forces (including its air force, naval aviation, and space capabilities) will require more robust power projection and expeditionary capabilities on par with China's expanding global footprint. In addition to traditional security concerns (e.g., Taiwan and maritime territorial disputes), such issues as countering terrorism, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and sea-lane protection have now become factors in the PLA's training, doctrine, and modernization efforts. Command of space — including the military use of outer space — is also of increasing interest to the PLA as it seeks to develop new capabilities and operating concepts to support its growing range of military missions. This report focuses on the PLA Air Force's initial steps toward becoming an expeditionary air force, a development that will have important implications for the reach of China's military and its ability to protect China's emerging overseas interests.

Key Findings

Nonwar, Peacekeeping, and Foreign Missions Have Informed the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) of Its Limitations

  • Domestic experiences, such as participation in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake rescue effort, helped the PLAAF improve its abilities to navigate across vast distances, exercise command and control, and anticipate logistics and maintenance needs at remote locations.
  • The first international exercise involving PLAAF participation overseas was Peace Mission 2007.
  • The PLAAF has also carried out relief efforts to other countries as well as its first noncombatant evacuation operation involving the use of military aircraft to evacuate Chinese citizens from Libya in 2011.
  • The PLAAF has recently expanded its role in foreign military exchanges by attending international air shows and air competitions beginning in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the United States Air Force and conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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