In-depth: A close look at Chinese airborne troops

China Military Online
Zhang Tao



Age of heavy equipment

Heavy equipment is an important aspect that reflects the fire strike capability of the airborne troops.

In recent years, assault vehicles and combat vehicles of airborne troops are successively commissioned. In the "Peaceful Mission - 2005" China-Russia joint military exercise, Chinese airborne troops successfully dropped the new type of airborne IFV ZBD-3 by batches. This marked a major breakthrough in equipment mechanization and IT application of the airborne troops and brought them to the age of heavy equipment.

In August 2010, Chinese airborne troops dominated an exercise on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau as a main battle service for the first time, in which helicopters, airborne combat vehicles and assault vehicles were mobilized to demonstrate the capability of remote strike and all-round assault.

Later the ZBD-3 airborne combat vehicle, a crawler-type vehicle, developed in series. Its chassis has much room for improvement and may give rise to a range of vehicle types such as airborne mortar vehicle, airborne rocket gun vehicle and airborne anti-tank missile launcher.

Furthermore, the airborne troops haven't given up the "big artillery" tradition. Limited by air transport capacity and combat philosophy, Chinese airborne troops only had light artillery in the past, mainly mortar and recoilless gun, but now they are equipped with medium-caliber artillery, with the 122mm towed howitzer being the main battle gun, and are developing the large-caliber light artillery at a faster pace.

At the Airshow China held in Zhuhai in 2016, a number of advanced airborne heavy weapons such as the most advanced 8×8 wheeled 105mm assault gun and 155mm howitzer were presented. The commissioning of large-caliber light artillery will further enhance the combat capability of Chinese airborne troops.

The transport fleet in service of the airborne troops has evolved from medium and small transport aircraft represented by Y-7 and Y-5 to a rational layout of large, medium and small aircraft including IL-76, Y-8, Y-9 and Y-12.

On July 6, 2016, the Y-20 independently developed by China was officially commissioned by the Air Force's aviation unit, marking a substantial step forward in the Air Force's strategic delivery capability. It is learned that the airborne troops and the Y-20 transport unit are already training for the airdrop of heavy equipment.

China has seen notable progress on its heavy equipment airdrop capability in recent years, and Chinese airborne troops are able to drop anything that their foreign counterparts can, said Li Zhenbo, a senior engineer who used to be the director of the airborne troops research institute.

As to whether airborne troops will develop in the direction of heavy or light equipment, the Russian lieutenant general Kholzako didn't think that was a conflict. Airborne troops in different countries have different tasks, which determine how flexible the airborne troops can be in actual operation.

"In future warfare, it is the general trend to combine different services, and the mobilization of airborne troops will only be relatively independent," said Zhao Jinjun.

In view of its development in the past 20 years or so, the Chinese airborne troops, while referring to the "comprehensive mechanization" of Soviet/Russian counterparts and the "air-ground integration" of American counterparts, are fostering their own characteristics and becoming more able to meet China's strategic needs.


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