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Combat Capabilities of Shipboard Air Troop Expanded
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The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has significantly improved its combat effectiveness by learning to land helicopters at night on moving warships after three decades of failed attempts, according to a senior PLA official.

The PLA has turned its once single functional shipboard air troop into an all-weather and multi-task combat force, said Luo Changshuang, political commissar of the troop.

The troop's combat effectiveness has expanded from shore-based to vessel-based, its scope for maneuver has stretched from offshore to the open sea and its missions have evolved from being only concerned with transportation to cooperation with other types of armed services, including marine rescue and anti-submarine operations, he said.

Luo revealed that the troop used to have only transport helicopters, but now the types and functions of the aircraft have increased. He refused to reveal specific models and the types of missions performed by those that are in service.

Launched in May 1975, the troop has developed into a major force striving to safeguard China's 3 million square kilometers of territorial waters, experts say. They believe the troop can also perform the duty of sending soldiers for a major landing operation.

The troop is only equipped with helicopters, carried by destroyers and frigates, as the country does not have an aircraft carrier. Luo declined to reveal the number of pilots and helicopters serving in the troop, and whether the country will develop a shipboard jet fighter and bomber fleet.

He said the helicopter troop had intensified training in recent years to maintain its combat effectiveness, including high-risk night landings on moving warships, which were first achieved in October 2006, and round-the-clock operations.

Around 180 take-offs and landings are completed within 24 hours and this training often lasts three days.

Statistics from the United States show that the accident ratio for shipboard aircraft pilots is five times that for astronauts and ten times that for jet bomber pilots. However, the Chinese shipboard aircraft troop has recorded safe flights for 24 consecutive years, said Luo.

The troop succeeded in rapidly salvaging data modules of China-launched carrier rockets on the Pacific. The helicopter units it dispatched completed transport assignments at China's Great Wall Station in Antarctica. Its shipboard helicopters have visited 40-odd countries and regions with Chinese navy's warship formations.

(Xinhua News Agency July 31, 2007)

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