By Liu Qiang
The People's Liberation Army Air Force will celebrate its 70th anniversary on Monday. Steeled by the Korean War (1950-53) and later air defense operations, and supported by the growing national strength and, most importantly, generations of personnel's efforts, the PLA Air Force has become a powerful force safeguarding national and international security.
Symbolic of the country's military strength, the air force has taken part in wars, when needed, to ensure victory. And during peacetime, it mainly safeguards China's territorial airspace while also dealing with non-traditional security threats.
After planes were used in a war, countries quickly recognized the importance of having an air force. In the initial days, though, the air force operated relatively independently, although countries with more modern planes, thanks to their use of advanced technology, have always enjoyed an advantage in air battles.
Today, an air force no longer fights a war independently. Instead, its maneuverings and attacks are synchronized with other forces' actions through highly sophisticated command centers, which use artificial intelligence and GPS technology. Which means an air force has to collaborate with other services and shoulder more responsibilities including supporting ground operations and delivering troops and supplies.
During World War II, the Allies started getting the upper hand over Nazi Germany only when their superior planes, and strong air combat and ground-support capabilities laid the foundation for decisive ground-based offensives. The same goes for the Gulf War and the Kosovo War.
That all capable countries today accord priority to the development of the air force has made air armament a major field of independent research and development, and high in demand equipment in the global arms market.
Established one and half months after the founding of New China, the PLA Air Force has developed along with the country. It had only 17 planes — nine fighters, two bombers, three carriers, one communication plane and two primary trainers — when it was established, and air force personnel had to be recruited from the ground force because of a lack of professionals. Yet the PLA Air Force fought wars and, with the help of the Soviet Union, shot down 330 enemy planes. Unfortunately, its development suffered a setback in the 1960s.
However, with the launch of reform and opening-up in 1978, the air force took off again. Today, the air force is a modern strategic force, complete with airmen, surface-to-air missile troops, antiaircraft gun crew and all kinds of planes including fighters, bombers and airborne early warning and control system. It also boasts strong R&D capability with advanced air armament represented by the J-20 stealth fighter.
And the fact that some specialist agencies and defense experts list China as an air power second only to the United States means China's airspace now has a strong guardian.
Besides, the PLA Air Force has played an essential role in dispatching disaster relief personnel to rescue people and save State property during major natural disasters.
The air force has to continue to safeguard national security and promote world peace, because China as well the rest of the world face unprecedented challenges. For that, it has to more closely collaborate and integrate with the ground forces and improve both its defense and attack capabilities because despite being committed to building a community with a shared future for mankind, China also has to proactively defend its territory.
Indeed, the PLA Air Force will contribute more to global stability and security apart from safeguarding national security, which will make the West-hyped "China threat" theory invalid.
The author is executive director of the Institute of Strategy and Security, National University of Defense Technology. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.