In-depth: A close look at Chinese airborne troops

China Military Online
Zhang Tao



Comprehensive transformation of the "flying infantry"

Airborne troops are the favorite of many militaries in the world because they are flexible in maneuvering, capable of abrupt operations and free from domain limitations.

The Chinese airborne troops developed quite slowly in the 30-plus years from the early 1950s to the end of 1980s due to the backward equipment of the PLA Air Force and the traditional idea that "army is the most important service". They were strongly influenced by traditional army in that period and were called the "flying infantry".

The fast deployment of the U.S. 82nd airborne division and the assaults operated by the 101st airborne assault division in the Gulf War in the 1990s taught the Chinese airborne troops an important lesson.

It was also in that period that the airborne troops of developed countries adopted a new generation of heavy-duty equipment, which solved problems such as continuous input of heavy equipment and ammo-loaded air drop.

This gave the Chinese military a strong stimulation. China'sCentral Military Commission listed airborne troops as a key unit and its development got on the "speed track".

Following the requirement of accelerating the transformation and development of the airborne troops and enhancing their combat capability, Chinese airborne troops got on the way of heavy mechanization.

China purchased several batches of IL-76 transport planes from Russia, the Y-8 fleet kept growing in scale, and a series of heavy equipment represented by the ZBD-3 airborne armored infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) were commissioned.

The Chinese airborne troops, like the Army, witnessed the upgrading process from "motorized" to "mechanized" and then to "information-based" and became a new service integrating transport aviation, infantry, artillery, missile unit, armored unit and other professional technical services.

According to some military experts, Chinese airborne troops are occupying an increasingly strategic position and role as they evolve from "single structure" to "multi-unit integration", from "specialized in specific aspects" to "all-domain combat", from "tactical cooperation" to "battle assault", and from "extensive operation" to "accurate strike".

The new strategic positioning of Chinese airborne troops is that they are a strategic service in the national armed force system, a force of emergency maneuvering responsible for all-domain combat, and a strategic fist directly controlled by the highest command.

According to Zhao Jinjun, such a positioning depends on the unique and irreplaceable features of airborne troops. They boast the highest maneuvering speed among all arms and services and can reach places that other armed forces cannot reach or cannot reach timely, so they are irreplaceable.

Lieutenant General Andrei Kholzakov, deputy commander of the Russian Airborne Forces, said in an interview that the airborne troops of different countries had different positioning based on their own national defense strategy, and their ability to quickly meet the tactical or strategic goal was usually relied on by top military officers because in modern warfare, victory or defeat was a matter of second.

In terms of the scale and equipment of airborne troops, the U.S., Russia and China rank the top three in the world, and the American and Russian airborne troops both participated in actual combats and are neck and neck in strength.

Compared with them, Chinese airborne troops are inferior in equipment and experience, but they have made remarkable progress in recent years by following the American and Russian training standards.

Since the 18th CPC national congress in 2012, Chinese airborne troops have moved faster in strategic transformation and achieved the breakthrough from light infantry to multi-unit integration, from "focused on rear combat" to "all-domain maneuvering", from traditional parachuting to integrated assault, and from motorized and semi-mechanized operation to mechanization and extensive IT application.

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