PLA Air Force launches training campaign for its pilots

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 3:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 3:03am

The PLA Air Force has launched a broad effort to improve its pilots' fighting skills amid a series of simmering territorial disputes around the country's airspace.

All air units from the People's Liberation Army's seven military commands simultaneously began a series of all-weather practice flights and live-fire drills before the start of the Lunar New Year holiday last month.

Details of the campaign, which follows Beijing's creation of a new air defence identification zone over disputed areas of the East China Sea, appeared in yesterday's PLA Daily, the military's official mouthpiece.

Li Jie , a researcher at the PLA Navy's Military Academy, said the training was motivated by the region's increasingly complex defence situation and improvements in the air force's hardware and weapons systems.

"Air force and naval aviation forces have been ordered to step up training because the PLA realises that China's future challenges will come from the sea and the air," Li said. "We did not focus on pilot training in the past because of a lack of advanced fighter jets and funding. But now the army has both."

The central government has poured money into the military in recent years. The official defence budget rose by nearly 11 per cent to 720 billion yuan (HK$914 billion) this year, although many military experts believe that actual spending is much higher.

The PLA Daily report listed the training campaign's seven key goals, including improving air combat preparation, revising training standards and improving safety precautions.

"[We] should take every fly as an air battle … and every mission as a preparation for war," the newspaper quoted an unnamed senior air force official as saying.

The paper also published a picture of the J-15, the country's home-grown, carrier-based fighter jet. The report said the plane from the Guangzhou military area command recently completed a day-and-night combat training in dense fog.

The air force recently disqualified nearly 200 senior pilots from leadership roles because of discipline violations, according to a China National Radio report.

Since taking control of the Communist Party and the military in November 2012, President Xi Jinping has often stressed the need for the PLA to be prepared for real combat.

News of the training push came as the military published a compilation of remarks by Xi on defence, a move analysts see as a further effort to firm up his authority over the military.

"He needs the legitimacy to push his anti-graft campaign in the PLA, which was once prided for its Red Army traditions that encourage hardworking, clean-handed styles. But those virtues were severely damaged by corruption, [which] would affect the army's combat capability," said Ni Lexiong , director of the defence policy research centre at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

The defence ministry is slated to unveil its defence budget early next month as the National People's Congress convenes for its annual plenum in Beijing.