Not Just the Hardware

US officials should pay attention to how the People’s Liberation Army Air Force is training and organizing its forces and not just focus on the Chinese air arm’s new aircraft programs and modernization efforts, said two veteran China analysts. The PLAAF has altered its training to reflect the lessons of US operations in the Gulf Wars, said these analysts during a May 4 presentation sponsored by AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies in Arlington, Va. As a result, the Chinese now train their surface-to-air missile forces at night, move their SAM sites, and do not operate their aircraft-tracking radars all the time, among their tactics, they said. The PLAAF “is still primarily a defensive air force,” said one of the analysts. How it shifts from offense to defense, and how it communicates with its various organizations, will determine how well it can sustain combat operations in any potential conflict, said this presenter. The analysts noted that the largest threat to Air Force assets on Guam and Okinawa comes not from the PLAAF, but rather from ballistic missiles. That’s why US forces should take heed to conduct exercises in operating in a post-strike environment, they said.