Modern Chinese Warplanes

Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation, Aircraft and Units by Andreas Rupprecht, Harpia Publishing (http://www.harpia-publishing.com), 2018, 96 pp, softbound, ISBN 9780997309256,

Reviewed by Mark R Condeno

The former Soviet/Ukrainian aircraft carrier ‘Admiral Gorshkov’, refitted and renamed ‘Liaoning’, was commissioned into People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) service in 2012. This marked a milestone in Chinese Naval Aviation history as the PLAN is now within reach of becoming a blue-water navy. A second aircraft carrier, Shandong, will soon hit the water with four more on the drawing boards, thereby challenging the US Navy in the Pacific.

Also, in 2012, notable aviation authors Andreas Rupprecht and Tom Cooper published Modern Chinese Warplanes – the definitive tome on the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force. Following publication of this book several developments in Chinese aviation and naval programs happened rapidly, paired with the rising tensions in the South China Sea. These events, and regional security issues, led one of the authors to publish an update on the book, this time with a focus on the aircraft and units of Chinese Naval Aviation. Its 96 pages are full of information not readily available elsewhere.

In the introduction, the author highlights the extent of changes in the Chinese military structure. Because of the pace of the changes, he decided to focus and separate the naval air force for a more thorough assessment. Mr Rupprecht is to be commended for this feat as securing information on this subject is complex.

The book is divided into nine chapters commencing with an introductory history of the past and future of Chinese Naval Aviation. Here, some surprising vignettes caught this reviewer’s attention in that Chinese Naval Aviation began in 1927 to 1938. This discussion serves as the prequel on this historical section as the author has divided it into six periods from its activation to future predictions.

The subsequent segment examines national markings and aircraft serials and provides historians, scale modelers and intelligence officers a backgrounder on the Chinese secretive numbering system.  The third chapter is one of the book’s foundations, as the author delves into the aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, specifically those in the present order of battle. This part covers fighters, fighter- bombers and bombers, trainers, transport and liaison, special mission aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and unmanned combat aerial vehicles. Interestingly, the oldest fighter in service – the J-8 – is used in two interceptor variants. The author essentially covers the prospects of each type specifically on airborne early warning platforms, helicopters and UAVs, seven types of which are currently in service.

Emphasis is also given to naval aviation ordnance and stores, having a chapter dedicated to air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, guided bombs, electronic counter measures pods and specialized air- launched weapons from fuel air explosives to aerial mines. Included are weapons upgrades and future developments. One new feature in this volume is details of pilot training, which is sometimes neglected or briefly given coverage in similar publications, but a must-have especially given the secrecy of the Chinese aviation community. 

The succeeding part looks at current and future Chinese aircraft carrier plans and related aspects such as fleet and operational concerns once the new carriers are commissioned. Another of the book’s gems is the coverage of the Naval Aviation’s Order of Battle dating to March 2018 (the book was published June 2018) covering the PLAN headquarters, Eastern, Southern and Northern Commands. 

The final two chapters discuss present and future Chinese operations with reference to Japan, Taiwan, the Scarborough Shoals and Spratly Islands. With the current tempo of expansion and changes both the People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps and the Chinese para-naval forces, comprising the Chinese Coast Guard and China Marine Surveillance, would need separate books in the near future as these expanding maritime organisations will increasingly utilise aviation to support their operations.

Each chapter is lavishly supported with photographs, tables and maps which add to the book’s strengths. It is well presented with 89 colored photographs, 19 tables, one artwork,  six maps, a two-page bibliography and abbreviations guide. Harpia Publishing affixes another laurel in its list of accolades with the publication of this book in its Aviation History series.

One Reply to “Modern Chinese Warplanes”

  1. “Admiral Gorshkov” was a Kiev-class “aviation cruiser” and refitted as an aircraft carrier “Vikramaditya” for the Indian Navy in Russia. The Soviet/Ukrainian ex-aircraft carrier “Varyag” was refitted as “Liaoning” in China . Two different ships.

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