Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Army AviationAircraft and Units

  • Published

Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Army AviationAircraft and Units by Andreas Rupprecht. Harpia Publishing, 2018, 256 pp. 

Compared to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force and Naval Aviation, the PLA’s Army Aviation (PLA AA) is the least known and understood of the country’s aviation branches. The PLA AA’s formation was only approved in 1986 and established as the Army Aviation Corps in January 1988 using helicopters inherited from the Air Force. Beginning as a single regiment, the first true army aviation brigade was formed in 2009, and the force is now expanded to around a dozen frontline units operating hundreds of different helicopters. In its current form, the PLA AA has established itself as a major force in support of the PLA ground forces.

The PLA AA developed in an era of rapid transformation from Vietnam-era helicopters to more modern platforms, especially those used by the United States in campaigns like Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Additionally, the PLA AA began replacing much of their older Eastern bloc aircraft with more updated designs either through direct purchases, European suppliers, licensing agreements, reversed engineered western designs, or organically developed rotary-winged platforms. The strategic political situation along China’s borders also greatly influenced the PLA AA’s development: the return of Hong Kong and Macau, the continual challenges with the Republic of Taiwan, and internal struggles following the Tiananmen Square and Xinjiang riots.

This version of Modern Chinese Warplanes’ chapters brings to life, through high-quality illustrations and in-depth analysis, the full spectrum of the PLA AA. Previous editions of Modern Chinese Warplanes only covered the PLA Air Force and naval aviation aircraft and organizations. In this latest edition, the author provides seven informative chapters, ranging from the history and future of the PLA AA to individual aircraft (rotary- and fixed-winged and unmanned air systems (UAS)) and weapon types to the PLA AA training syllabus and order of battle for every PLA AA aviation battalion or brigade. Additionally, the author’s book also covers some lesser-known details of the PLA AA from aircraft markings and serial number systems to the 18,000 personnel-strong auxiliary and paramilitary assets like the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force (the equivalent of a gendarmerie) and the Border Defense Corps.

For those veterans and readers who came of age during the Cold War era, Modern Chinese Warplanes has the academic feel of the Soviet Military Power book series published between 1983-91 by the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The authors address not only the platforms and organizations but highlights the PLA AA’s issues and limitations, such as the major limitation of approximately 1,000 PLA AA aircraft (as compared to the US Army’s 3,500 aircraft) are required to cover a widely diverse demographic and geographic areas from the East and South China Seas to the Himalayas and along the borders of Mongolia, Russia, and the former Soviet Republics. Additionally, the PLA AA aircraft performance is still lacking in comparison to many of their western counterparts in terms of range and flight performances, but that deficiency is slowly being addressed with the induction of more modern aircraft and UAS types.

For many US military planners, the information provided in this edition of Modern Chinese Warplanes on the development of PLA AA rotorcraft air-to-air systems and UAS platforms will prove useful in the post-Operation Enduring Freedom planning and doctrine development environment. What is missing from an otherwise well-written book is a chapter on tactical air traffic services and aviation maintenance organizations, as well as fuel and ammunition support equipment vital to the employment of modern combat rotary-winged platforms. Correcting this oversight of not including PLA AA support organizations would provide a clearer picture of how Chinese army commanders might employ their army aviation assets in the future.

Colonel Jayson Altieri, USA, Retired

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."