By Du Maolin
Reporter: The famous test pilot Li Zhonghua of the Chinese PLA Air Force recently said on CCTV that many pilots have given their lives since the PLA Air Force was formed in November 1949. What do you think of this?
Fu Qianshao (An expert with the PLA Air Force): There is a standard to determine whether flight accidents are frequent. It's called flight incident rate/10k hours. This rate has been reduced from 0.2 or so to less than 0.1 in the Chinese PLA Air Force, which is very low even in comparison with those developed countries. Such a progress is attributed to the improvement of China's industrial capability and personnel competence.
It must be pointed out that accidents are unavoidable in warplane training, and an absolutely "safe" air force is most abnormal.
Given the warplane crash accidents happening in different countries in peacetime, the accident rate and crash rate always rise with the increase of training intensity, subject difficulty and confrontation intensity. If a country lowers the training standard and reduces flying frequency in order to achieve the "absolute safety", it will undermine real combat effect and lead to unimaginable consequences.
Chen Hong (A professor at the PLA Air Force Command Academy): In 2017, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces have had four major flight accidents, causing at least four deaths. This happened to the United States and Russia too. Incomplete statistics show that in the first 10 months of 2017, 12 planes have crashed in the U.S., and Russia also saw the crash of six main warplanes within 40 days from June this year.
Reporter: Real-combat training of both J-20 and carrier-based fighter jets will be more frequent. What measures should be taken to avoid training accidents as much as possible?
Fu Qianshao: As I said, it's hard to absolutely avoid training accidents, but the accident itself is a kind of warning and it urges the military to make further improvements in equipment and training reform.
To be more specific, we need to develop new trainer jets and improve training quality. Practice proves that trainer jets with exceptional performance can not only ensure flight training quality, but also play an important role in guaranteeing pilot safety.
Therefore, China has put forth a number of advanced new trainer jets in recent years, such as the FTC-2000 Mountain Eagle and JL-10. They have been commissioned the PLA Air Force on a large scale and are mainly used to foster Gen-3 and Gen-4 warplane pilots, which is helpful for improving training quality for Chinese pilots.
The great difficulty in training warplane pilots is the complexity of the Air Force's flying training system. Generally speaking, flight training consists of two parts - skill training and combat training, the former training the pilots' plane operation capability and the latter training their combat capability.
Different trainer jets are used in different training stages. For instance, for pilot selection and primary flight training in aviation colleges and flying academies, the CJ-6 primary trainer jet is the main model, while JL-8 is used for basic flight training at the middle level and in some advanced training. At present, advanced flight training of the PLA Air Force is mainly carried out by JJ-7, but the more advanced JL-9 and JL-10 will be used in the future.
Usually when a flying cadet graduates from the aviation academy, he becomes a qualified pilot, but he cannot fly the warplane yet. Only after he completes the training on trainer jets of the same model as the warplane at the aviation troop or training base will he become a real pilot who can fly fighter jets.
At the moment, the PLA Air Force is reforming its training system and training plane system in order to catch up with development and meet combat demand. An important aspect of the reform is adjusting the trainer jet system to be more scientific and rational, and another aspect is to upgrade the systems on some trainer jets, so they can simulate operation and use features of Gen-3 and Gen-4 fighters.
For instance, adding the satellite navigation system, HUD and multi-function display can familiarize the pilots with the cabin interface and operating habits of modern warplanes as early as possible, laying a solid foundation for avoiding training risks and intensifying tactical training.
Reporter: In November 2016, Yu Xu, the first female J-10 fighter jet pilot in China, died in a training flight, drawing extensive attention from society. Can you tell us about the development of female pilots in the PLA Air Force?
Chen Hong: There have been more than 500 female pilots in China since 1949, some of whom are retired. Fewer than 100 female pilots are serving in the PLA Air Force today.
China had its first batch of female warplane pilots in April 2009. Yu Xu was one of them, and she was also the first J-10 female pilot. They mainly flew the J-10 and JH-7.
General female pilots that we recruited in the past mainly flew military transport planes, or served air duty on the plane. But female warplane pilots today are different.
The PLA Air Force has begun to train female warplane pilots because they are more detail-oriented and thorough and have advantages in using precision equipment and identifying terrain.
Reporter: We noticed that the Chinese military has become more open and transparent in dealing with emergencies in the past two years. What does that mean?
Chen Hong: The Chinese military has indeed become more transparent in the past few years, which indicates China's growing strength in national defense.
As a matter of fact, increasing the military's openness and transparency is an important way of "deepening trust and dismissing doubts". It will help other countries in the world to have a correct perception of the Chinese military, and it also reflects China's sincerity in conducting foreign cooperation in military security and its wish to voluntarily increase military transparency.