The PLAAF in 1962

The US Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency (CIA) had made an assess­ment of Chi­nese air ca­pa­bil­ity and its ef­fec­tive­ness in op­er­a­tions against In­dia dur­ing the fron­tier war in the high Hi­malayas in Oc­to­ber-Novem­ber 1962. This has been de-clas­si­fied 50 years af­ter

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - News -

The US Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency ( CIA) had made an assess­ment of Chi­nese air ca­pa­bil­ity and its ef­fec­tive­ness in op­er­a­tions against In­dia dur­ing the fron­tier war in the high Hi­malayas in Oc­to­ber-Novem­ber 1962 this has been de-clas­si­fied 50 years af­ter and is re­pro­duced for Vayu readers.

From a hum­ble be­gin­ning in 1949 the Com­mu­nist Chi­nese Air Force has de­vel­oped rapidly into a sig­nif­i­cant force; in­deed, in com­bat strength it is now the third largest Air Force in the world. Ini­tially, and for a num­ber of years, its ex­pan­sion was made pos­si­ble by the tech­ni­cal ad­vis­ers, in­struc­tors, and air­craft by the USSR. An im­pe­tus to de­vel­op­ment was given by the Korean War. An air­craft in­dus­try was built up with ex­ten­sive aid from the Soviet Union and the man­u­fac­ture of rel­a­tively mod­ern Soviet types, such as MiG-17 fighters was started in the late fifties.

Eco­nomic and Po­lit­i­cal Con­sid­er­a­tions

The de­vel­op­ment of the air­craft in­dus­try was part of a wide pro­gramme of forced in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment, de­signed to trans­form China into a pow­er­ful self- suf­fi­cient in­dus­tri­alised na­tion in the short­est pos­si­ble time. Ini­tial progress was im­pres­sive but in 1958 the regime or­dered the adop­tion of rad­i­cal pro­grammes which at­tempted to ac­cel­er­ate greatly the pace of pro­duc­tion and de­vel­op­ment. At the same time they in­tro­duced com­munes in the coun­try­side. It is now clear that those poli­cies failed and ag­gra­vated by bad weather con­di­tions in the past three years, they have re­sulted in poor har­vests and a se­vere set­back to the econ­omy as a whole. A se­ri­ous food short­age caused a pro­nounced de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the health, strength and morale of a sig­nif­i­cant part of the pop­u­lace. A dras­tic re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of eco­nomic pri­or­i­ties in 1961 has now re­sulted in heavy in­dus­try be­ing placed af­ter agriculture and light in­dus­try. A slight im­prove­ment in the food sit­u­a­tion has been ex­pe­ri­enced in 1962.

The abrupt with­drawal in 1960 of most of the Soviet en­gi­neers, tech­ni­cians and eco­nomic ad­vis­ers, plus the sharp re­duc­tion in im­ports of Soviet equip­ment, have se­ri­ously re­duced pro­duc­tion in in­dus­tries of de­fence im­por­tance. Un­less this sit­u­a­tion is reme­died, China will be un­able to build such equip­ment as mod­ern air­craft (e.g., the MiG-21 and Tu-16) in sig­nif­i­cant quan­ti­ties for some years.

We be­lieve that as a re­sult of the dis­cord in Sino-Soviet re­la­tions, the Soviet Union has not sup­plied any mod­ern of­fen­sive air­craft to China in the past two years, although she has been will­ing to make them avail­able to other coun­tries such as Iraq, In­done­sia, and the UAR. We con­sider that as long as the se­ri­ous rift in re­la­tions re­mains, the Soviet Union will be re­luc­tant to sup­ply mod­ern air­craft to China and China will be faced with grow­ing ob­so­les­cence in her Air Forces. Even in the un­likely event of her eco­nomic prob­lems and ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­ing re­solved in the near fu­ture, it would be sev­eral years be­fore China could sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove her air ca­pa­bil­ity, un­less com­bat air­craft were di­rectly sup­plied by the USSR.

Or­gan­i­sa­tion of the Air Force

The Com­mu­nist Chi­nese Air Force (CCAF), sub­or­di­nate to the Min­istry of De­fence, is or­gan­ised as a sin­gle en­tity en­com­pass­ing all phases of air op­er­a­tions and has no op­er­a­tional com­mands. How­ever, in most other re­spects it re­flects Soviet con­cepts and prin­ci­ples. CCAF head­quar­ters is lo­cated at Pek­ing and con­sists of op­er­a­tional, lo­gis­tic and train­ing el­e­ments. The Com­mu­nist Chi­nese

Naval Air Force (CCNAF) is an in­te­gral part of the Navy with its Head­quar­ters also at Pek­ing.

The air de­fence sys­tem is con­trolled from Pek­ing through at least seven dis­trict air de­fence head­quar­ters, which are re­spon­si­ble for the co-or­di­na­tion and con­trol of ac­tiv­i­ties in their par­tic­u­lar ar­eas. Dur­ing air de­fence op­er­a­tions naval fighter units are un­der the op­er­a­tional con­trol of the CCAF, through th­ese dis­trict head­quar­ters.

Strength and De­ploy­ment

The CCAF and CCNAF have a com­bined strength of about 2,650 air­craft; the ma­jor­ity of which are jet fighters (1,920) de­ployed along the coastal pe­riph­ery and ad­ja­cent to ma­jor in­land cen­tres. The Il-28 light jet bomber force (325), the pis­ton Tu-2 light bombers (105), the special ground at­tack air­craft (40 Il-10 and 30 MiG-15), and a few ob­so­les­cent Tu-4 medium pis­ton-en­gined bombers (15) are de­ployed mainly in north­ern ar­eas. We es­ti­mate the strength of the trans­port force to be ap­prox­i­mately 195 ob­so­les­cent pis­ton-en­gined short-range air­craft, made up mainly of the Li-2, the Il-12 and the Il-14. (Th­ese are very sim­i­lar to the DC-3, and re­sem­ble the Con­vair 240).

There is a well-de­vel­oped air­field sys­tem in China. Ap­prox­i­mately 260 air­fields are dis­trib­uted through­out the coun­try, in­clud­ing 135 which are suit­able for jet fighters or light jet bombers, and 30 which can be used for medium jet bombers.

The dis­tri­bu­tion in­cludes a net­work of air­fields stretch­ing some 400 miles in­land, pro­vid­ing a strong sup­port for the coastal bases. It also pro­vides fa­cil­i­ties for re­de­ploy­ment of air­craft (mo­bil­ity is stressed in the CCAF/CCNAF) to any sec­tor in eastern and coastal re­gions from North Korea to the Indo-China bor­ders.

Most Chi­nese air­fields ad­ja­cent to the Indian bor­der are at very high al­ti­tudes and have nat­u­ral or gravel sur­faces, ren­der­ing them gen­er­ally un­suit­able for sus­tained jet op­er­a­tions. How­ever, the Chi­nese do pos­sess some air­fields in the area which are not at very high al­ti­tudes and which would be us­able for light bomber or fighter action against In­dia. The air­fields most likely to be used for op­er­a­tions against the Ladakh-Jammu & Kash­mir area, are Ho­tien (Khotan) at 3,000 feet el­e­va­tion with a crushed rock run­way, and Soche (Yarkand) at 4,400 feet el­e­va­tion with a sod or nat­u­ral sur­face.

High el­e­va­tion and nat­u­ral run­way sur­faces alone would not pre­vent the Chi­nese from con­duct­ing mil­i­tar­ily sig­nif­i­cant jet op­er­a­tions. A num­ber of op­er­a­tional fac­tors must be con­sid­ered. Air tem­per­a­ture as well as run­way length is im­por­tant in es­ti­mat­ing re­quired take-off dis­tances. We do not be­lieve that re­duc­tion in ra­dius of action and/or bomb load would ar­bi­trar­ily be re­quired in all in­stances. For ex­am­ple, at Lhasa, at 14,000 feet el­e­va­tion and 0o Centi­grade, we be­lieve that Il-28s could take off with a full load us­ing less than 5,000 feet of the avail­able 13,000 foot run­way.

Of­fen­sive Ca­pa­bil­ity

The CCAF light jet bomber force has had no op­er­a­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, but has been car­ry­ing out op­er­a­tional train­ing for sev­eral years in the bomb­ing role. It prob­a­bly has a lim­ited radar bomb­ing and ECM ca­pa­bil­ity, and we es­ti­mate that it has the abil­ity to mount rea­son­ably ef­fec­tive op­er­a­tions. A pis­ton-en­gined light bomber force is still re­tained but its ef­fec­tive­ness in the face of op­po­si­tion would be very low.

The medium bomber force pos­sesses a very lim­ited strate­gic bomb­ing ca­pa­bil­ity due to its small size. The Tu-4, a pi­s­to­nengined bomber dat­ing from 1948, would be highly vul­ner­a­ble to jet in­ter­cep­tion.

The Tu-2, with a 440 nau­ti­cal mile (nm) ra­dius and nor­mal bomb load of 3,300 pounds, would be the most re­li­able air­craft for tac­ti­cal strikes be­cause of its slower take-off speed and greater ma­neu­ver­abil­ity at low lev­els. The Il-28 could bomb tar­gets in north­ern In­dia from bases in Szechuan (Cheng-Tu), Ti­bet, Yun­nan, and pos­si­bly Sinkiang. The Tu-4 and the Tu-16, with com­bat radii of over 1,600 nau­ti­cal miles, could cover north­ern and north­east­ern In­dia, in­clud­ing New Delhi and Cal­cutta, from their base in Sian.

De­fen­sive Ca­pa­bil­ity

The CCAF/CCNAF is ba­si­cally a de­fen­sive force. About three­fourths of its air­craft are fighters, of which less than 10 per­cent have an all-weather ca­pa­bil­ity. Its air de­fence role is re­stricted by lack of the most mod­ern types of air­craft, in­suf­fi­cient fly­ing time

for com­bat pro­fi­ciency, lack of air-to-air mis­siles, and lo­gis­ti­cal weak­nesses in POL and air­craft engines and parts for sus­tained com­bat.

A com­pre­hen­sive radar net­work ex­ists long the coast from Hainan in the south to the Soviet fron­tier. In­land there is a par­tial cov­er­age up to a depth of about 500 miles.

De­spite the de­fi­cien­cies listed above, as well as weak­nesses in pi­lot pro­fi­ciency and fighter tac­tics, in China proper the CCAF/ CCNAF would have a good chance of in­ter­cept­ing in­trud­ing air­craft dur­ing day­light hours in clear vis­i­bil­ity.

The Chi­nese are not equipped to han­dle tac­ti­cal in­ter­cept air op­er­a­tions from bases in Ti­bet. The near­est jet fighter unit is prob­a­bly lo­cated at Chengdu, but units could be swiftly re­de­ployed to Ti­bet and Sinkiang.

Within China proper we have firm ev­i­dence of a small num­ber of sur­face-to-air mis­sile sites at Peip­ing, San Yuan (near Sian), and at the Shuang-cheng-tzu mis­sile test fa­cil­ity. More­over, China has a well co-or­di­nated con­ven­tional anti-air­craft de­fence sys­tem in her coastal prov­inces. In­land, how­ever, the scale of de­fence de­creases rapidly and only the more im­por­tant cities are known to have rea­son­able AA cover.

Air Trans­port ca­pa­bil­i­ties

The op­er­at­ing ca­pa­bil­ity of their trans­port force is low by Western stan­dards. Air trans­port plays an im­por­tant part in Chi­nese de­fence plans. The main task is to pro­vide lo­gis­tic and tac­ti­cal sup­port of all armed forces. In view of China’s size and com­par­a­tively poor trans­port fa­cil­i­ties, the avail­able air trans­port ef­fort is in­ad­e­quate. How­ever, a con­sid­er­able part of the small civil air force is reg­u­larly used for car­ry­ing freight, and con­ver­sion to mil­i­tary use of a small part of this fleet could quickly be ef­fected.

The Chi­nese Com­mu­nists would use trans­port air­craft in air­borne op­er­a­tions; how­ever, ex­ten­sive air­borne op­er­a­tions are un­likely if they would cause a ma­jor dis­rup­tion of es­sen­tial air trans­port op­er­a­tions. The Chi­nese are se­verely hand­i­capped by a lack of air­crew trained for air­borne op­er­a­tions, and by lack of suit­able trans­port air­craft with a ‘heavy drop’ ca­pa­bil­ity. Nev­er­the­less, in favourable cir­cum­stances a lim­ited oper­a­tion might be un­der­taken. Sup­ply drop­ping could also be car­ried out.

Air Op­er­a­tions against In­dia

Com­mu­nist China is ex­tremely sen­si­tive to the pos­si­bil­ity of an at­tack by na­tion­al­ist China in the present pe­riod of eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties, but we do not be­lieve the re­sult­ing de­sire to main­tain a strong air posture in China proper would se­ri­ously hand­i­cap Com­mu­nist China’s abil­ity to wage an air cam­paign against In­dia.

Even so, it is un­likely that the Chi­nese Com­mu­nists could de­ploy and lo­gis­ti­cally sup­port more than 290 tac­ti­cal air­craft for op­er­a­tions against In­dia (i.e., 180 jet fighters, 50 light jet bombers, and 60 light pis­ton bombers).

Lo­gis­tic Sup­port

The key to air op­er­a­tions against In­dia would be the amount of lo­gis­tic sup­port, par­tic­u­larly POL, which the Chi­nese could pro­vide to for­ward bases. We have lit­tle ev­i­dence of stock-pil­ing of air sup­plies in the Tibetan area. The­o­ret­i­cally, if the Chi­nese ex­erted a max­i­mum ef­fort, they might be able over a short pe­riod to de­liver a to­tal of 2,240 tons daily to the Tibetan area for all pur­poses. Of this daily to­tal 2,000 tons would come by road and 240 tons by air (as­sum­ing the use of vir­tu­ally all avail­able mil­i­tary and civil trans­port air­craft). It is not likely that the Chi­nese would choose to make such an all-out ef­fort. De­spite the re­cent bor­der fight­ing, the to­tal ton­nage cur­rently de­liv­ered into Ti­bet is es­ti­mated to be no more than 500 to 700 tons daily, vir­tu­ally all by road.

Be­cause of Army de­mands, the amount that could be brought in by land routes to sup­port air op­er­a­tions against In­dia would be lim­ited. How­ever, we be­lieve that up to 50 trans­port air­craft could be di­verted to sup­port such air op­er­a­tions with­out im­pos­ing un­ac­cept­able re­stric­tions on the over­all Chi­nese air trans­port sys­tem. Un­der op­ti­mum con­di­tions, th­ese 50 trans­ports could sup­ply some 60 tons daily for a sus­tained pe­riod from rail­heads in China proper. This daily ton­nage by it­self would suf­fice to sup­port the fol­low­ing al­ter­nate op­er­a­tions: 6 light bomber sor­ties at 3 short tons per fly­ing hour, or 16 pis­ton light bomber sor­ties at 1 short ton per fly­ing hour, or 28-31 jet fighter sor­ties at 1 ½ short tons per fly­ing hour, or 32-37 jet ground sup­port sor­ties at 2 short tons per fly­ing hour.

Stock­pil­ing prior to op­er­a­tions would, of course, al­low an in­creased ef­fort.

There is no rea­son, how­ever, to as­sume that Chi­nese Com­mu­nist tac­ti­cal air op­er­a­tions would be re­stricted to sup­plies which could be de­liv­ered by air. Of the po­ten­tial daily max­i­mum ton­nage which could be sup­plied by ground and air to the fron­tier ar­eas of Ti­bet and Sinkiang in all-out ef­fort, we be­lieve some 500 tons could be al­lo­cated for the sup­port of the 290 tac­ti­cal air­craft listed ear­lier.

Strate­gic air op­er­a­tions by medium bombers from bases in China proper are un­likely to be re­stricted by lo­gis­tic con­sid­er­a­tions.

Of­fen­sive Op­er­a­tions

There is no ev­i­dence of light bomber de­ploy­ment into South-West China or Ti­bet. How­ever, if China adopted such a course, a few jet light bombers, op­er­at­ing from Lhasa or, more likely, from Nagchhu Dzong, could carry out at­tacks in the NEFA area. Il-28s, op­er­at­ing from Kun­ming or Cheng-Tu could also cover most of the NEFA area. The pis­ton-en­gined Tu-2s would be suit­able for op­er­a­tions, and in com­par­i­son with jet air­craft, would prob­a­bly give a higher rate of util­i­sa­tion. How­ever, it would be highly vul­ner­a­ble to jet in­ter­cep­tion. The Chi­nese could only pro­vide very lim­ited close sup­port of their troops; in some ar­eas terrain would limit the ef­fec­tive­ness of such at­tacks.

By day, in a strate­gic role, Il-28s could also op­er­ate against cities such as Delhi and Cal­cutta from Soche (Yarkand) and Nagchhu Dzong. By night, be­cause of dif­fi­cul­ties of op­er­at­ing from Tibetan air­fields, we do not con­sider it likely that the Chi­nese would at­tempt such op­er­a­tions with the Il-28 air­craft. How­ever, we be­lieve that the light bomber force is prob­a­bly ca­pa­ble of night op­er­a­tions and that a new spo­radic raids could be mounted. The medium bombers, op­er­at­ing from such bases as Hsi-ning, Ka-erh-mu (Golmo), and Lhasa, would have the ca­pa­bil­ity to reach strate­gic tar­gets such as New Delhi by day or night. Ap­prox­i­mately four to six Tu-4s could be launched in an at­tack, but th­ese air­craft would not have lon­grange fighter pro­tec­tion and would be vul­ner­a­ble to jet in­ter­cep­tion if de­tected. If ei­ther of the two Tu-16s pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied should be op­er­a­tional, they could be em­ployed with con­sid­er­ably more ef­fect in a lim­ited strate­gic bomb­ing role.

It is rea­son­able to as­sume that the con­tin­u­ing ex­pan­sion of early warn­ing radar fa­cil­i­ties in China has by now placed some radar equip­ment in the north western fron­tier area, and if such is the case, that a lim­ited air de­fence radar ca­pa­bil­ity ex­ists in the gen­eral Ladakh re­gion. It would be pos­si­ble to op­er­ate a few fighters in the air de­fence role in Ti­bet although our ev­i­dence does not sug­gest that fighters are cur­rently de­ployed there. Such air­craft would en­counter dif­fi­cult op­er­at­ing con­di­tions, and terrain would limit radar ef­fec­tive­ness. In south­west­ern China air de­fences would at­tain a higher stan­dard but ef­fec­tive­ness would be very lim­ited at night or in poor weather.

Air­borne and Air Sup­ply Op­er­a­tions

In view of the lim­i­ta­tions of and other calls upon the trans­port force, ex­ten­sive air­borne op­er­a­tions are un­likely. The air sit­u­a­tion, how­ever, would not nec­es­sar­ily be un­favourable to the Chi­nese in all ar­eas where they might con­tem­plate lim­ited air­borne op­er­a­tions.

And so....?

Although the Com­mu­nist Chi­nese Air Forces are nu­mer­i­cally large, the air­craft are ob­so­les­cent, few have an all-weather ca­pa­bil­ity, they lack such ad­vance weapons as air-to-air mis­siles, and pi­lot com­bat pro­fi­ciency is only fair. More­over, China is un­likely to ob­tain more than a few mod­ern com­bat air­craft in the next few years, ei­ther from their own in­dus­try or from the Soviet Union.

China’s abil­ity to wage a tac­ti­cal air cam­paign against In­dia would be se­ri­ously hand­i­capped by dif­fi­cul­ties in the pro­vi­sion of lo­gis­tic sup­port. The scarcity of suit­able air­fields in Ti­bet and Sinkiang would con­sti­tute an added hin­drance. Although the Chi­nese could de­ploy and sup­port ap­prox­i­mately 290 tac­ti­cal air­craft for op­er­a­tions against In­dia with­out se­ri­ously weak­en­ing their de­fence posture to­ward Tai­wan, we es­ti­mate that they would ini­ti­ate tac­ti­cal air op­er­a­tions only if the lead­er­ship con­sid­ered it nec­es­sary for the achieve­ment of ba­sic ob­jec­tives. We be­lieve that China is un­likely to un­der­take air at­tacks deep into In­dia ex­cept in re­tal­i­a­tion or in the event of a change in their mil­i­tary ob­jec­tives.

The Chi­nese could mount only light, spo­radic raids against In­dia with pis­ton bombers (Tu-2s and Tu-4s) and such air­craft would be highly vul­ner­a­ble to jet in­ter­cep­tion if de­tected. How­ever, it is likely that Chi­nese Il-28s could be ef­fec­tive against Indian tar­gets in sus­tained op­er­a­tions in­volv­ing lim­ited num­bers of air­craft. If China’s two Tu-16s should prove to be op­er­a­tional, they could play a small but im­por­tant strate­gic bomb­ing role. More­over, we would hes­i­tate to ig­nore or min­imise the psy­cho­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of even to­ken Chi­nese raids on Indian cities and mil­i­tary tar­gets.

Although Chi­nese air de­fences in the Hi­malayan fron­tier area gen­er­ally are weak, we be­lieve the Chi­nese Air Force could pro­vide ad­e­quate de­fence for a few lo­cal­i­ties. The five air­fields in the Sinkiang-Tibetan area most likely to be used in op­er­a­tions against In­dia (Ho­tien, Soche, Lhasa, Nagchhu Dzong, and Yu Shu) would be vul­ner­a­ble to air at­tack. How­ever, we do not be­lieve that this alone would de­ter the Chi­nese from mount­ing op­er­a­tions from them.

We be­lieve that the Chi­nese are ca­pa­ble of un­der­tak­ing lim­ited air­borne op­er­a­tions, although this ap­pears un­likely in present cir­cum­stances. There is some ev­i­dence that lim­ited sup­ply drops have al­ready taken place.

[Ed: Indian Air Force trans­port air­craft were ma­jorly em­ployed for air­drop sup­plies in NEFA and fly in heavy equip­ment, in­clud­ing tanks in Ladakh dur­ing the 1962 op­er­a­tions]

MiG-15 Tupolev Tu-2 Ilyushin Il-28 Tupolev Tu-4 Tupolev Tu-16 Not to scale Prin­ci­pal Com­bat Air­craft Types in 1962

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