The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

The Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army air force is feel­ing the heat from higher com­mand for fail­ing to pro­duce enough qual­i­fied pi­lots and for spend­ing too much on pi­lot train­ing.

Two weeks ago, a com­pre­hen­sive com­bat pi­lot train­ing pro­gram was an­nounced to meet the chal­lenges.

China is in over­drive to ex­pand its air power. The air force is un­der in­tense pres­sure to ad­dress some of its short­falls now that Gen. Xu Qil­iang, a sea­soned fighter pi­lot and one of the two vice chair­men of the all-pow­er­ful Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion, was pro­moted to be the first air force gen­eral to hold the post in the com­mu­nist coun­try’s his­tory.

China’s com­bat pi­lot re­cruit­ing and train­ing pro­gram tra­di­tion­ally is among the more elite mil­i­tary-run op­er­a­tions.

For sev­eral gen­er­a­tions, prospec­tive pi­lots have been re­cruited from high school un­der an es­o­teric process re­quir­ing ex­treme scru­tiny of a can­di­date’s loy­alty to the Com­mu­nist Party, a to­tally trou­ble-free fam­ily his­tory, and per­fect eye­sight and phys­i­cal fit­ness.

The process has been car­ried out with ab­so­lute se­ri­ous­ness: In China, be­com­ing a com­bat pi­lot is con­sid­ered the most glo­ri­ous achieve­ment for a prospec­tive re­cruit.

Rigid se­lec­tion and train­ing regimes greatly limit the prospec­tive pi­lot pool, and the re­sult has been a short­age of qual­i­fied pi­lots for the rapidly ex­pand­ing air force.

While their po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal cor­rect­ness is overem­pha­sized, many pi­lot trainees lack ba­sic knowl­edge of mod­ern sci­ence, or a broad un­der­stand­ing of avi­a­tion prin­ci­ples — a re­quire­ment for op­er­at­ing so­phis­ti­cated jet and weapons tech­nolo­gies.

In the mean­time, the cost of train­ing pi­lots keeps sky­rock­et­ing as train­ing cy­cles are ex­tended.

“Air force train­ing has be­come more di­ver­si­fied and com­plex,” said a state-run Xin­hua news agency report on the new train­ing ini­tia­tive.

All signs in­di­cate the plan to re­vamp the pi­lot train­ing pro­gram is far reach­ing.

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