Chinese air force accidents are sapping morale and exposing critical capability gaps

Chinese media reported this week that at least a dozen military personnel were killed when a military aircraft crashed in Guizhou, exposing “the ‘fatal gap’ between the air force’s ambitions and its technology,” the media report noted.

While the type of plane that crashed was not described in the report, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force confirmed the crash and the fatalities.

“There were about a dozen men and women on board and none of them managed to escape when the plane went down,” a source, who requested anonymity, said.

“There are no ejection seats on those aircraft, so the pilots and crew members would have been relying on the parachute packs on board. But they wouldn’t have had enough time to jump because the aircraft fell so fast.”

The source went onto claim that morale among members of the PLAAF is plunging, as this incident follows the crash of a carrier-based J-15 fighter jet last month. It wasn’t clear whether that crash resulted in casualties.

A second military source said that PLAAF officials were concerned that increased operational tempo could lead to even more mishaps and, perhaps, fatalities.

“We must recognise that in China, there is a fatal gap between the air force’s combat-ready training and its imperfect aircraft development,” the second source said. “Both the Y-8 and J-15 have some problems, including the engines, aircraft design and modifications. But instead of carrying out more test flights, the pilots are pushed directly to fly the warplanes, even though they’re imperfect because there is this political mission to ‘build a combat-ready fighting force’.” [source]

(Analyst comment: The U.S. military, obviously, had a rough year in 2017 with several training and real-world operational mishaps involving aircraft and warships, but the Chinese apparently are having similar problems. Both are due to increased operational tempo. 

The one difference, however, appears to be that Chinese aircraft and other equipment is flawed whereas American mishaps are tied to a lack of proper maintenance and less training/qualification time. As the Chinese attempt to match the level of U.S. operational tempo, given this report, I would expect to see more training mishaps due to equipment failure.)

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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