Urban Air Bases

By Bryan • china, military, shanghai, urban planning • 27 May 2009

Every third or fourth day, military aircraft will rip back and forth over the skies of Fudan University, on manoeuvres, playing war games, training or perhaps just flying the flag to the students below. I can hear them right now and rationally, I am quite interested where they are basing from.  Airports and airfields are usually located well outside urban areas largely to mitigate the large amounts of noise pollution, but also to utilize cheap land (although in many cases the land may in fact be expensive reclaimed land). Given that there is considerable amounts of military air traffic over Fudan, I knew that the airbase could not be far away.

I suppose military airbases eaten by encroaching urban areas is an common issue for nations with limited space. Operation of high-performance aircraft may add considerable amounts discomfort to surrounding residents and land values. They also present somewhat of a security issue, (especially for countries like China) and possibly even a safety issue (even more true for a country like China). Contrast that to a country like Canada whose major high-performance airfields are quite far removed from large urban areas (Bagotville and Cold Lake).

CFB Bagotville – The middle of nowhere

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Shanghai is located within the Nanjing Military District which is considered  to be the most important military region within China, given that this is the region that would form the leadership role in any conflict with Taiwan.

There are several airbases in Shanghai, including:

  • Shanghai Dachang Air Base
  • Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport
  • Shanghai Longhua Airfield
  • Shanghai Pudong International Airport
  • Shanghai Jiangwan Airfield

Shanghai’s Urban Airports – Just a quick walk to catch your flight

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While Hongqiao and Pudong both have military capabilities (as does Nanjing International), their importance is too great to warrant their use as a permanent base or even as a staging area.  That leaves Jiangwan, Longhua and Dachang as active urban airbases in Shanghai.

Smack dab in the middle of Shanghai, Longhua Airport the 1930’s predecessor to Hongqiao International which opened in the 1950’s. Apparently there is not much left there and it remains largely as an emergency airfield and boneyard for historic aircraft.  It was a former Japanese airbase during the Second World War and the setting for J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun.  It is just southwest of the of the 2010 Expo site.

Longhua Airport – Christian Bale sang songs here

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Jiangwan airfield is quite interesting.  It is just northwest of my residence and is within view of my window.  Prior to construction of Pudong International, Jiangwan was the largest airfield in Shanghai and it is said at one point to have been a candidate for expansion as an alternative to constructing the new Pudong facility.  Commercial activity ended in 1996 and the area is presently being redeveloped into a new residential district capable of housing 80,000 people.  I haven’t been able to dig much up about this project except the following from a random Shanghai government press release from 2005.

To the north of the Wujiaochang area, the New Jiangwan Town, an area covering 9.45 square kilometres, will become a modern residential area and is designed to accommodate a population of about 80,000.
The new town’s future development will be based on the premise of ecological protection for the land, which boasts well-preserved resources.
The 10-hectare Jiangwan wetland in the area is home to nearly 40 species of birds, many rarely found in the city. It is said that more than 280 wild plant species and nearly 40 freshwater plants can be found in the wetland.
To help Jiangwan become a garden town, great efforts will be made to develop large areas of green space. Parks, forests and grasslands are expected to cover 67 hectares by 2010.

Redevelopment seems to be well on it’s way, characterized by the ever-present Chinese super-block pattern.  There project region also appears to be going for an exclusive design with the presence of a a ‘moat’ on three sides.  There is quite a problem in Shanghai (and other Mainland cities) with urban continuity…spaces don’t flow, intersect or dove-tail well with one another.

Jiangwan – We used to have airplanes.  Now all we have are these stupid streets.

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That leaves Dachang as the likely candidate for Shanghai’s active military urban airbase.  And it isn’t that far from Fudan, completely surrounded by the city.

Dachang Airbase – Where the streets have no name

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Dachang is home to units of the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air force.  To clear up that confusing name, the PLANA is is the naval aviation component of the the Chinese navy.  They are responsible for fleet support, anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare and air defence/patrol of China’s coastal regions.  Out of Dachang, the 16th PLANA regiment keeps people up at night using these badboys – the Xi’an JH-7 NATO codename “Flounder” or as it is known here, the “Flying Leopard” which is roughly equivalent to the retired USAF F-111.

Dachang Airbase – Don’t call us Flounders!

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Ok, enough photos of Chinese military bases…the other students in my office are beginning to get suspicious.

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