By Li Yun and Sun Luming
From 2018 to 2019, a naval aviation division under the Southern Theater Command, as an air arm of the PLA's new sea-air info-operation force, was reviewed by President Xi three times in the South China Sea, Qingdao, and Beijing.
Senior Captain Chen Gang, acting commander of the division, has witnessed this newly formed naval air arm growing from scratch. “When we were first founded, there were too few platforms and too many difficulties. Sometimes we even had no pilot.”
It usually takes more than a year for a newly graduated pilot to be qualified to join battles. Still, this new combat force couldn’t wait that long, so it accelerated the cultivation of new-type combat personnel and shortened the cycle of combat capability formation, going all out to promote the development of China’s airborne anti-submarine undertaking.
With neither teaching materials nor experience, the division had no choice but to undertake its formation, reconfiguration, training, and operation all at once as part of the efforts to explore the systematic building of a new type of combat force. The division selected pilots from units using the same kind of aircraft, selected and retrained those who used to fly similar aircraft and searched for talent replenishments from units of the same discipline.
The division selected and retrained pilots from the bomber unit, of whom a group of special-class and first-class bomber pilots who had flown over 1,000 hours became the leading echelon of the new-type combat force. They received various forms of training, either flying under someone’s lead or independently, either during the day or at night, either at the training range or in the field, either basic training or tactical training and completed their recalibration in a few months, blazing a pilot development path of independent cultivation. At present, tens of bomber pilots have completed the transformation, and the number of combat-ready units has multiplied, largely shortening the cycle of combat force formation.
To replenish more pilots that used to fly other types of aircraft, the air division has broadened their talent sources following the principle of “fast transition for different plane types, comprehensive transition for multiple plane types, and merit-based transition for similar disciplines”. The division has also intensified study programs and regular exchanges, and organized both combat and logistics personnel to study at academic institutes, commands at various levels, monitoring and communication radar stations and vessel units to cultivate talents in a more targeted way.
In the meantime, the division encourages the soldiers and officers to study exercise, training, and combat tactics, and a batch of grassroots officers and cadets with operational experience has stood out. Sergeant Li Yuhang has participated in the compilation of the Training Manual for an Anti-submarine Patrol Plane and the Training Program for an Anti-Submarine Patrol Aircraft. Squadron commander Liu Shoushan, who has been transferred from another discipline, has made major achievements in studying new tactics for anti-submarine operations after studying at several positions.
These achievements have been made thanks to the unremitting efforts by the division during long years of war-readiness training. On the wall of the pilot simulation training room is the training program for 2020, which details how far the program has been completed, and most pilots have almost completed their annual flying hours, some even exceeding the target by now.
The aviation division has conducted coordinated training with the fighter and bomber units for thousands of flights, and the number is going up year by year. All-terrain coordination, full-time standby and around-clock operation is a normal state. “For us, it's not real combat training, but real combat,” said Senior Captain Chen Jiangyue, political commissar of the division.