China has staged two massive air force exercises in recent weeks, each involving scores of high-performance warplanes. The training events signal a potentially huge leap in the ability of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force to coordinate high-intensity air campaigns against a determined foe — until recently a major shortfall of the Chinese military. Meanwhile, Taiwan has been barred from participating in the U.S. Red Flag exercise, the world’s leading air-war simulation.
The looming training disparity should worry Taipei. China possesses thousands more combat aircraft than Taiwan, but historically the latter’s Republic of China Air Force has enjoyed a significant advantage in pilot skill, owing to better training based on U.S. methods. Any Chinese assault on Taiwan would likely involve huge air battles over the Taiwan Strait. In such a confrontation, the victor could very well be the one that trained harder. Increasingly, that’s China rather than Taiwan.