Sunday, February 26, 2006

A PLAAF General's US Tour

General Zheng Qunliang was then commanding general of the First Division of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). In a recently published diary, he described his trip to the US with an official Chinese military delegate. The diary confirmed some worrisome problems of the PLAAF.

General Zheng observed that it took the USAF 20 minutes to reload missile to an F-15, while it took the PLAAF as long as three hours to do the same to an F-8II. He was also impressed when the USAF fighters took off in group formation under bad weather, when the PLAAF wouldn't allow in fear of accidents.

General Zheng was also impressed by the strong disciplinary behavior showed by the men and women in the US military. He noticed people observe the speed limit in base. He also noticed that drivers stopped at the entrance to the airport to check tires so that they wouldn't bring any stones in.

After the midair collision of a Chinese fighter and a US spy plane in April 2001, news agencies published some areal photos of the Chinese military airport, Lingshui airfield in Hainan Province, where the damaged spy plane made an emergence landing. Despite the fact that the Lingshui airport is one of the most important front line airbase for the PLAAF, military commentators were astonished that it had only one runway. The entire base could be blocked by one bomb fell on the runway, or by one runway accident. At the time, commentators suspected that this was the result of financial difficulty of the PLAAF. At the Elmendorf AFB, it seemed General Zhang was surprised to see the two runways setup. In the diary, he portrayed it as a departure from the traditional one runway concept. Commentators also criticized that expensive fighters were parked on the airfield separated by well-trimmed bushes, but with no bunkers. Even mild weather will damage the fighters. Although it must look good in visual, spreading shrapnel of one bomb can destroy multiple planes even without direct hit.

A satellite image of the Lingshui military airfield captured by IKONOS at 10:32 am on April 10, 2001. The US spy plane can be seen on the taxiway adjacent to the north end of the runway. Picture from the

Another surprise General Zheng documented was that the air control tower was occupied by sergeants at the Travis AFB. In China, it is filled with commanding officers.

The first division was among the earliest Chinese air force engaged in the Korean War. At the early stage of the Korean War, pilots of the first division entered the war zone with merely 20 hours training and shot down the first US plane, an F-84, on the afternoon of January 29th, 1951. The First Division participated almost all PLA military actions, including shooting down US unmanned spy plane and patrolling the Taiwan Strait.

The First Division is one of the most elite forces in the PLAAF. It is equipped with F-11 (Chinese version of Su-27 Flanker), F-8II (two engine fighter derived from Mig-21), FBC-1 (ground attack version of Mig-21) and Z-9. It is based in Anshan, Liaoning in the northeast of China. Current Commanding General is PLAAF major general Wang Hai.

PLAAF major general Zheng Qunliang currently is the commending general of the PLAAF Wuhan Command. After returned to China, he pushed for the short path touching down protocol he observed in the US, and shortened the touching down time by three minutes, as reported in a China News article dated Nov 9th, 1999. The diary was dated by day and month, but not by year. General Zheng is also a photographer.

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