This report examines the roles, missions and developments in training within the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) Naval Aviation branch. Naval Aviation provides the PLAN with its own air capability independent of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF). Historically, Naval Aviation fighters have intercepted aircraft along China’s coast but have not provided air cover for naval ships at sea, and fighters still rarely provide air cover for at-sea vessels. However, Naval Aviation’s role is being increasingly transformed to include maritime patrol, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), offensive strikes against land targets and ships at sea, logistical support, airborne early warning (AEW), and helicopter support for the PLAN’s escort task forces in the Gulf of Aden. Naval Aviation remains a largely land-based force, though the PLAN’s increasing fleet of destroyers, frigates, landing ships and replenishment vessels are equipped with shipborne helicopters for operational and logistics air requirements. The much anticipated and speculated-about Chinese aircraft carrier program will impart an altogether new dimension to Naval Aviation as it seeks to operate farther offshore, to protect Chinese interests abroad; however, the PLAN is many years away from integrating a viable carrier component into its overall naval strategy.
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