Chinese Air Force Iron wings of courage | Daily News

Chinese Air Force Iron wings of courage

The realm of the clouds is the domain of pilots. The Chinese Air Force has a rich heritage embellished with determination and innovation. This branch is the aerial wing of the People’s Liberation Army. It was established on November 11, 1949. The Air Force is composed of five branches: aviation, anti-aircraft artillery, surface to air missiles, radar and Airborne Corps.

Records indicate that the first air unit of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was formed in July 1949 at the Beijing Nanyuan Airport. During the Korean War, the Air Force was expanded and in 1950 the military aviators had two brigades which were subsequently disbanded. Twenty-six regiments were created absorbing Army men. Initially the Air Force inherited the command structure of the Army and was duly commanded by Army officers. These pioneers made tremendous growth and by 1954, just six years later, took pride in a fleet of 3,000 aircraft. The total strength had 28 divisions and 70 regiments.

The Soviet Union provided the Chinese with MIG-21 aircraft, which were known as J-2 in the Chinese fleet. The Shenyang Aircraft Corporation built the MIG-21 TUI version as a training fighter for the aspiring top gun pilots. Guided by the desire for excellence Chinese aeronautical engineers began to build similar aircraft by 1964: the Shenyang J-5 (MIG-17) and the Shenyang J-6 (MIG-19).

In their flight to success, the Chinese Air Force was tasked with supporting the Army to achieve air superiority and national security objectives by using fighter jets, radars and ground-based weapons. In 1985 adapting to global military trends the high command reorganized and streamlined the Air Force. At that time each Air Force division had 17,000 personnel (three regiments). The Air Force had 220,000 personnel to maintain its 100 surface-to-air missile sites and fire its 16,000 anti-aircraft guns. This was augmented by a number of air-base radars and early warning systems. The top command invested to enhance the technical and tactical skills of every pilot. By the year 2000 having made consistent growth, the Chinese Air Force had 30 combat divisions and two transport divisions.

From 2000 to 2003 the Air Force acquired 76 aircraft of the SU-3O MKK type. In addition, in 2004 they upgraded the SU-30MK2 aircraft. The Sukhoi 30MKK (NATO code name ‘Flanker G’) is a heavy class all-weather, long-range strike fighter that was developed in 1997. The aircraft has systems that can control six air-to-air missiles. It can reach a speed of Mach-2. The plane is fitted with one 30mm auto cannon, air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles and anti-radiation missiles (kh-31). The SU-30MKK can also release laser guided bombs. From 2002, the Chinese produced 200 of the J-11 aircraft. They improved their tanker aircraft and invested in IL-76 transport planes and IL-78 tankers.

Increasing its air power, the Chinese Air Force has almost 600 modern aircraft. Among its elite fighters are the Shenyang J-11 and Chengdu J-10. The Shenyang J-11 is a twin-engine jet fighter with the NATO code name ‘Flanker L’. The fighter has a speed of 2,500 Kmph and a service ceiling of 19,000 metres. This modern fighter has a combat range of 1500Km. It has 10 hard points on which it can carry a payload of rockets, missiles and free fall cluster bombs. The missiles include the PL-12 radar guided air-to-air missile, PL-9 infrared homing air-to-air missile and PL-8 air-to-air missile. The pilot can also fire the Vympel R-77 radar homing air-to-air missile.

Known as the Vigorous Dragon, the Chengdu J-10 is a single-engine multi-role fighter configured with Delta wing design. Its NATO code is ‘Firebird’. It was primarily designed for air-to-air combat. It is powered by a single turbofan. Its maximum speed is 2,300 Kmph with a service ceiling of 17,000 metres. It has 11 hard points in total and can carry air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface missiles. Its potent payload can be augmented with LT-2 laser guided bombs, GB2 and GB3 glide bombs, FT-1 satellite guided bombs and 500Kg bombs. Its avionics include pulse Doppler fire control radar.

The Chengdu J-20 is the pride of the Chinese Air Force. Known as the Mighty Dragon this is a fifth generation stealth fighter aircraft that boasts of precision strike capability. It performed its maiden flight in January 2011. The first J-20 combat unit was formed in 2018. The pilot can deliver shot-range and long-range air-to-air missiles. It also carries the PL-21 radar guided air-to- air missile and LS-6 precision munitions. This modern jet flies at a speed of Mach 2.5 with a range of 5,500Km. The Mighty Dragon has a service ceiling of 20,000 metres.

The Chinese Air Force depends on its flying giants, the Xi’an Y-20 strategic airlifter and the Illyushin-76 troop transporter to deploy its airborne troops and heavy cargo. The massive Xi’an Y-20 was launched in 2006. The aircraft is affectionately known among the airmen as the ‘Chubby Girl’. This flying giant is powered by four 12-ton Soloviev engines. The Y-20 can fly 7,800 Km. She can carry 66 tons of cargo. In her large cargo belly this plane can airlift two type 15 Black Panther Army tanks or one type of 99 Army Main Battle Tank. The aircraft has three crew members. She can reach a service ceiling of 13,000 metres.

The other heavy aircraft is the Ilyushin-76 (NATO code ‘Candid’) originally made in the Soviet Union. This plane has also been used for humanitarian and disaster relief operations. It can also be converted and used for aerial firefighting tasks, by dropping shells filled with fire retardant powder. The Xi’an-H6 is the defiant strategic bomber of the Chinese Air Force fleet. It is a similar version of the Soviet Union Tupolev bomber. This powerful aircraft entered service in October 2009. It is operated by a crew of four. The H6 has a combat range of 1,800Km. Its thundering armament includes the N-23 cannons, KD88 air-to-surface missile, YJ-100 anti-ship missile, C-601 missile and 12,000Kg of assorted bombs. The helicopters used by the Chinese include the Harbin Z-9, Changhe Z-8 (Super Falcon heavy transport) and the MI-8. The Harbin is flown by two pilots and has a service ceiling of 4,500 metres. It is fitted with two 23mm cannon. It can also carry the ET-52 torpedo and the HJ-8 anti- tank missile.

The Chinese pilots display their flying in aerobatic formation. They fly as the ‘August 1’ team and also the ‘Sky Wing’ and ‘Red Falcon’ teams. The world-famous August 1 team was founded in 1962. This dynamic team presently flies the J-10 Chengdu. They have entertained delegates from 166 countries over the years.

The Airborne Corps of the Chinese Air Force has a strength of six airborne brigades and one Special Operations brigade. These elite Air Force commandos are equipped with light tanks and self-propelled artillery. They also can deploy their PCL 181 (155mm) truck-mounted howitzer.

The Chinese Air Force has recruited women pilots since 1951. Over the years almost 580 female officers have flown with distinction. Starting to fly transport planes, today they have graduated to fly the nation’s modern combat aircraft. The Chinese Air Force soars with success extending its air dominance.


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