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The PLA Daily carried the following report on December 7,2012:

“The Air Force of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently conducted a comprehensive support drill for multi-types of aircraft on double-runway under information conditions at an airport in southwest China. Nearly 100 fighters of over 10 different types open the curtain of the base-oriented transformation of the combat support mode of the PLA Air Force.

“According to Zhan Houshun, chief commanding officer of the drill and deputy commander of the air force under the Chengdu Military Area Command (MAC) of the PLA, there was only one runway for taking-off and landing at the airports of the PLA Air Force in the past, which could only support relatively a few types of aircraft to simultaneously implement the combat and training missions. But the airports with two runways for aircraft to take off and land at the same time can not only simultaneously support the flight of various types of active fighters, but also be used for the taking-off and landing of all types of domestic civil airplanes, Zhan Houshun added.

“The reporters saw on the drill site that the aircraft took off and landed on the double-runway for 12 sorties within 10 minutes. At the same time, more than 200 support vehicles of various types and hundreds of officers and men were making preparation before aircraft’s taking-off and carrying out maintenance after aircraft’s landing for various types of aircraft on the parking aprons on the east and west sides of the airport.

“After the drill, Zhang Jian, commanding officers of the main control tower of the east runway of the airport, said that “The aircraft throughput per hour for the first drill was one third more than that at the airport in the past, and the peak throughput was even doubled, exceeding the aircraft throughput per hour at the civil airport with the same size, which was beyond the imagination of an old pilot with more than 20 years of flying experience like me.”

“Zhang Feiran, director of the Military Material and Fuel Supply Section of the Logistics Department of the air force under the Chengdu MAC, said the fuel consumption in the 5-odd-hour-long drill was four times the daily consumption of the airport in the past. To meet fuel demands, a fuel supply center and a set of straight-line pressure-refueling system were installed on each runway.  “According to Zhang Hong, chief of an air station who participated in the drill, support for double-runway doubled their workload while the number of supporting personnel and equipment did not change, which obliged them to improve the supporting process, optimize the supporting methods and enhance the supporting personnel’s capability of “one-post with multi skills”.  

“According to Fang Dianrong, commander of the air force under the Chengdu MAC, the goal of the drill is to explore the new mode for base construction, operation and management of multi-type-aircraft comprehensive support.”

2. The “People’s Daily” of the Communist Party of China further reported as follows on December 10,2012:

“ Takeoff and landing drills were recently held at an airport in southwest China. About 100 fighter jets of 10-plus types participated in the drill.

“’Dual-runway’ means that an airport has two runways used for aircraft takeoff and landing, which is the first time in the history of air force airports,” said Zhan Houshun, commander in chief and assistant commander of the air force in Chengdu Military Region. In the past, the air force airports had only one runway to guarantee the simultaneous combats and training tasks of a few types of fighter jets. Now, the dual-runway airport can not only guarantee the flight of fighter jets in service but also meet the requirements of takeoff and landing of domestic civil aircraft of all models.

“ On the scene of exercises, 12 aircraft conducted takeoff and landing in turn on the dual-runway airport in just 10 minutes. On the tarmacs of eastern and western sides of the airport, more than 200 vehicles and hundreds of officers and soldiers have prepared for the takeoff and landing of various types of aircraft. The drill site looked rigorous and orderly.

“ Zhang Feiran, director of the oil supply office under the Chengdu Military Region’s naval logistics department, said that the launch of “dual runways” is a new test of the logistics department’s capability. The drill lasted more than five hours, but used four times as much oil as the airport did in one day. The office built two oil supply centers and a straight pressure refueling system for the two runways, and conducted information technology-based real-time monitoring throughout the drill, in order to ensure rapid and accurate refueling operations.

“ The launch of ‘dual runways’ forces us to change logistic concepts and improve logistic services,” said Zhang Hong, head of an air force station who participated in the drill. Dual runways require double workload, but the number of logistics staff and facilities has not increased two-fold. Therefore, air force stations must streamline logistic procedures, improve their services, and enhance the abilities of their staff.

“ Fang Dianrong, commander of the Chengdu Military Region’s naval force, said that the purpose of the drill was to explore new ways of building, operating, and managing comprehensive logistic bases for multiple types of aircraft, find the weak links in capacity-building, and increase the military’s ability to win local wars using information technology.”

3.The PLA Daily and the People’s Daily did not identify the airbase in which the exercise was held. The same day, the Associated Press of the US disseminated the following report:

“China’s air force has staged one of its largest-ever drills amid heightened tensions with Japan and Beijing’s southern neighbors over territorial claims, state media reported Friday.

“ The air combat exercises involving more than 100 pilots were held over 11 days last month in the vast northwestern region of Xinjiang, according to the website of the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily and other official news outlets.

“ Pilots practiced engaging in dog fights and countering electro-magnetic interference, the reports said.

“ Aircraft taking part came from 14 separate units and included China’s most modern jet fighters, the J-10 and J-11, along with older models and two-seater Sukhoi Su-30s purchased from Russia, the reports said.

“ The exercises are a vivid demonstration of China’s vastly improved military capabilities that have unnerved other Asian nations and spurred a renewed U.S. focus on the region. The Global Times newspaper published by People’s Daily called them the largest in recent years in both firepower and numbers of aircraft, and said they also involved large numbers of technicians and experts on missiles, radar and other related technologies.”

4.Surprisingly, the details disseminated by the AP have not so far figured in the reports of the PLA Daily, which indicate merely a one-day exercise in an airbase under the Chengdu Military Region, to test the logistic capability of a new type of dual-use (civilian and military), double-runway airbase. The Chengdu Military Region is responsible for operations in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) bordering on India’s Arunachal Pradesh. This appears to have been of a purely tactical and not strategic significance.

5.The AP report talks of a more complex 11-day exercise in the Xinjiang area bordering India’s Aksai Chin now under Chinese occupation with logistic as well as operational objectives. The area of the exercise comes under the Lanzhou Military Region, which is responsible for operations in and across Xinjiang. This area borders India’s Ladakh and Pak-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan.

6.If the details disseminated by the AP are correct, this was a strategic air power demonstration exercise. The exact dates of the exercise are not clear, but it appears to have been held around the time our Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh was due to go to Japan. His visit was postponed due to new elections being called in Japan. The exercise also coincided with the growing tension between Japan and China on the Senkaku Islands in the East Chine Sea.

7.While there has been increasing co-operation between the Navies of India and Japan, one has not been seeing similar co-operation between the two Air Forces. Was the exercise meant to deter such co-operation? ( 10-12-12)

( The writer is B.Raman, Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. Of India, New Delhi, and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail: . Twitter @SORBONNE75)

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