January 5, 2012: STRATEGY PAGE
For the last decade, China has been reorganizing many of its ground combat divisions along Western lines. That is, the combat regiments and many smaller support units have been recombined as three or more combat brigades, each with more support units and the ability to operate independently. Now the Chinese Air Force is going the same way. They have a successful model to copy from in the U.S. Air Force.
During the 1990s, the U.S. Air Force reorganized its combat units into Air Expeditionary Units, AEFs). Each was a miniature air force, with combat and support aircraft and the troops to maintain them. Several are trained and ready to quickly move to an overseas hot spot on short notice. The AEFs have different mixes of aircraft, suitable to the mission the AEF is expected to accomplish. Some AEFs have no combat aircraft at all, and some of the combat AEFs also have UAVs.
The Chinese Air Force is still pretty old school, in that many air bases only house air regiments with one type of aircraft. But the Chinese have long realized that in wartime different types of aircraft would frequently operate together. So it makes sense to organize "air brigades" that will be based with brigades of different types of aircraft and train together more often.
The big change here is reorganizing and equipping bases to handle more than one type of aircraft. From there, the Chinese can eventually create mixed type brigades like the American AEFs.