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From Theory to Practice: People's Liberation Army Air Force Aviation Training at the Operational Unit


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An examination of People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) fighter and attack pilot training at the unit level can assist in the evaluation of PLAAF training as a whole. We exploit open-source literature - to include PLAAF service newspaper Kongjun Bao (Air Force News) - to produce an overview of the duration, nature, and content of fighter pilot training. Where appropriate and possible, we compare this training with unit-level pilot training in the U.S. Air Force (USAF). The extent to which Chinese efforts to improve the realism and rigor of training at the unit level succeed ultimately depends on institutional factors. Our findings suggest that the PLAAF is professionalizing unit training through adherence to less-scripted, combat-realistic training that trains for the battlefield, not for the test. The PLAAF seeks to cultivate more autonomous decisionmaking among fighter pilots and has recently begun to shift training away from an emphasis on ground control to a system that encourages independent decisionmaking. However, structural weaknesses persist, and aviators continue to struggle under less-scripted environments and when coordinating operations with other elements.



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