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Air Force Colonel Dai Xu on the Chinese Air Force at Its 60th Anniversary

On November 12, 2009, for the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Air Force, the Huanqiu website published an article on the interview with Chinese Air Force Colonel Dai Xu. [1] Air Force Colonel Dai Xu is the foreign propaganda expert for the People’s Liberation Army. He graduated from the Air Force Communications School of the Air Force Politics College. He is now a part-time researcher at both the China Strategic Studies Center in Peking University and the Development Research Center on Non-Traditional Security and Peace in Zhejiang University. He is also a part-time columnist and commentator for Global Times. In this interview, Dai Xu discussed his assessment of the Chinese Air Force, China’s attitude against the war in space, his point of view on remote deterrence, as well as the Chinese Air Force’s influence in Asia-Pacific region. The followings are excerpts of this interview.

How the Chinese Air Force Ranks at the End of the Second Tier in the World

Moderator: First question, what is our Air Force’s position among the countries with strong air forces in the world? Compared to the United States and other developed countries, what are the gaps? About how long will it take in the future (for the Chinese Air Force) to be able to equal the U.S. Air Force?

Dai Xu: First, our Air Force’s position among the air forces in the world: Among the countries with great and strong air forces, we are basically between the second tier and the third. There is only one country in the first tier; obviously it is the United States. A country’s air force power represents its overall power. Whatever kind of power a nation has, it has that kind of air force. European countries and Russia belong to the second tier; Brazil and India belong to the third tier. We are now in between the second and third tier, at the end of the second tier and at the front of the third tier.

Second, our gaps with the United States and other developed countries: There is a big gap with the second tier, and an even a larger gap with the first tier, the United States. This is mainly reflected in several aspects. The first is the gap in the overall air force shapes and systems. The United States (Air Force) has a considerable amount of space elements and it is one body with space and air. Air forces in European countries and the Russian Air Force are partially one body with space and air. And we only just established the ideology for such a concept. The gap is here, the overall shape and system gap. We are two to three decades behind the United States. It would take us eight to ten years to equip ourselves.  From starting to equip to having combat capabilities, to forming a mass scale, it would still take a long period of time, so in general it should be 20 to 30 years. It is probably such a long time gap.

… I think that when our national industrial strength and technological power match that of the United States, our Air Force will match its (Air Force). When we have our own aviation industry, like Boeing, we can expect to own something such as the F22 that the United States has.

Moderator: The second question, Teacher Dai Xu, you have proposed that the Chinese Air Force should have the ability to intercept the enemy 4,000 kilometers away. Do you think we now have this capability? In other words, is the Chinese Air Force capable of defending China’s territorial airspace from invasion? Which parts need to be improved?

Dai Xu: In the Global Times and other series of media, I proposed that the new Chinese Air Force in the future should be able to conduct a war of interception 4,000 kilometers away from our shoreline. This is considered based on the national geographic situation and economic layout. Coastal areas account for only 10% of our country (territory), but produce 70% of our country’s GDP. That is, our country’s economic center and lifeblood are in the coastal areas. But we do not have an in depth defense that makes our coastal areas safe enough. Because our country has pursued a non-aligned foreign policy, we do not have any naval or air bases abroad, and therefore cannot provide our coastal defense from a wide range and great depth. We do not have any aircraft carriers, or any diving defense, so the Air Force must have a remote deterrence. … So I think that a war should not happen in our airspace and territory, because of our cities, and because our coastal zones cannot afford a war. War may happen in the public space, or over the invader’s land or airspace, but must not break out on our soil.

As to the second question, we currently do not have the ability. The Air Force’s future ability that I propose refers to the plane dimension. We also need three-dimensional vertical defense capabilities. Contemporary air forces in a lot of big countries already have the capacity to wage war from space. We advocate peaceful use of space. But we should also have the capability of anti-space warfare, just as we oppose the use of nuclear weapons, but possess nuclear weapons. … The Chinese Air Force can now defend our airspace, but must never engage war in our airspace. We pursue a defensive policy and we are not going to invade any country. However, we must not allow a war to come closer to us. … There is a need to enhance our capacities; one is to strengthen the development of our entire system. We should enhance our long-range strike capability in the vertical direction and with planes.

Moderator: Regarding the air force aircraft engine. We all know that the most advanced Taihang engines have appeared in the picture. Teacher Dai Xu, please introduce the Taihang engine and its significance to our Internet readers.

Dai Xu: In the aviation industry, the engine has always been our worry and also a heart disease for our Air Force. So far, our own people have not developed the engines of our main fighters, and we do not have a single self-developed engine. So this is the direction the Air Force as well as our aviation industry have been working toward. For the time being, we are vigorously doing research and development, and are vigorously catching up. However, by now, this technology cannot be said to be fully mature. It still cannot completely replace the imported ones and some features still need to be further improved. But I believe, with the development of our future aviation industry, we will definitely have our own engines, not only the fighter’s engine, but also large aircraft engines.

Moderator: The Taiwan Air Force is used to claim that it has a quality advantage compared to the mainland. Although cross-strait relations are at ease, the mainland Air Force is undoubtedly the imaginary enemy for the Taiwan Air Force. How do you compare the cross-strait air forces?

Dai Xu: I think we should not focus our energy on the other side of the Strait. The Taiwan issue is a very complex and comprehensive problem. To resolve the Taiwan issue requires superb strategic wisdom, and we should not stare at Taiwan. … We should not limit our development goals and strategic vision to the limited number of specific issues at hand. So I recommend that our vision should jump out of the Taiwan Strait. Look at the world, and pay attention to the world.

Moderator: What kind of concept is the so-called strategic air force? What does it refer to? We have repeatedly proposed to have the Air Force become a strategic air force? Why do we think this way? What is the purpose?

Dai Xu: The so-called strategic air force I understand is to look at the Air Force from the height of our national strategy, rather than to understand the meaning of the Air Force from the military services. The strategic Air Force is to position the Air Force from the height of world war. That is that the Air Force is no longer the Air Force of a type of military service. The so-called military service means that the Air Force is to support the army and navy operations, or accomplish the fight alone. That limits its space within the war. In fact the strategic Air Force should be on national grand strategy to a high degree. That is, the Air Force also involves the country’s relief operations in peacetime, a number of humanitarian relief operations, some anti-terrorism activities, new missions, and other concerns.

It can also play a strategic deterrence capability, which positions the Air Force from the height of our national strategy, instead of understanding the Air Force as a type of military service. Why do we propose a strategic air force at this stage? It mainly considers the current situation of the Air Force. Since our country’s industry and technology have fallen behind and the homeland defense strategy has been implemented for many years, the Air Force’s development has been greatly affected and has basically been a homeland defense type of Air Force, which is different from the nature of the world’s air forces. Therefore, based on this reality and the country’s needs, not only must the Air Force change its equipment, but it must also reconstruct its theory and strategic thinking. So this is one of the reasons why we have recently proposed to build a strategic air force. Its purpose is to enable us to understand the Air Force’s natural attributes ideologically, recognize the security challenges that our country faces, and understand the Air Force’s mission in the future of our national security and development. (Let’s) do our best to use out thoughts, actions and equipment to build a space-air-one-body air force with offensive and defensive capabilities.