With the Indian Air Force jets (IAF) carrying out hourly sorties along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to keep an eye on Chinese movements, a senior Indian Air Force official claimed that China would not want to get into an aerial skirmish with India as it could expose its ‘hyped-up’ capabilities.
Chinese Surface To Air Missiles – Biggest Threat?
Following heightened tensions at the border and with the current deployment of French Rafales by the IAF in the Ladakh region, PLAGF (PLA Ground Force) has deployed their HQ-9 long-range air defence systems along the de-facto border between India and China.
It has been reported that the PLA’s air defense infrastructure is being constructed roughly 50 km from the known clash points of the 2017 Doklam and 2020 clash points, with satellite images also revealing that Beijing is reportedly constructing a surface-to-air missile site as well as other infrastructure on the banks of the Mansarovar Lake in the India-Nepal-China tri-junction area.
Air Chief Marshal B. S Dhanoa, had earlier issued a warning when talking about the tense border situation that the “Chinese Air Threat is mainly from their Surface to Air Missile Systems” (and not by its fighter jets)
China boasts of one of the world’s largest inventories of advanced long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems incorporated into SA-20 battalions which comprise of imported technology from Russia and indigenously-produced CSA-9 (HQ-9) which have been deployed along the LAC.
China also possesses the world’s most feared missile defense systems in the world – the Russian-made S-400. The S-400 missiles which many experts believe even pose a threat to the stealth F-35 jets due to their stealth-tracing capabilities and can intercept aerial targets from a range of 400 kilometers, ensuring a sturdy defensive wall against Indian fighters.
However, Dhanoa says that the firepower at the hands of the IAF through their newly acquired French Rafales and other aircraft can be used to penetrate the Chinese Air Defence Systems.
“If the IAF is successful in the destruction of enemy air defences and suppression of enemy air defences, then the Chinese fighters out in the open at Hotan airbase and at Gonggar airbase at Lhasa airport are fair targets. Some 70 Chinese aircraft are without protection at Hotan and some 26 aircraft may be parked inside a tunnel which the PLA were building at Lhasa airbase,” said Dhanoa
Rafales A Game Changer?
The Dassault Rafale jets, generally considered a 4.5-generation fighter, despite not being a stealth aircraft like the F-35, does carry moderate stealth capabilities to avoid radar detection.
The twin-engine fighter possesses higher manoeuvrability than an F-35 in a close-range dogfight and has the ability to fly at supersonic speeds with less fuel-usage, making it far more superior than China’s J10, J11, and Su-27 fighter jets.
Moreover, the Rafales hold an edge over most of the Chinese fighters due to a deadly weapon in their armory, known as the Meteor, which is a ramjet-powered, radar-guided, beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile with an estimated range of 120-160 km.
While the Rafales, which are used by the French Air Force and Navy, as well as Egypt and Qatar Air Force, have seen a lot of action with 100% success rate in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria while China’s most advanced stealth fighter jet – J-20, has no combat experience and thus remains unreliable.
Moreover, most Chinese fighters are a result of copying and reverse-engineering, and therefore the aircraft possess less powerful jet engines and are also less reliable than a western aircraft.
Dhanoa reiterates the fact that the Chinese aircrafts inferior to their western contemporaries.
“Why does the Chinese Air Force use Russian Su-30 and Su-35 fighters while facing the US threat in the South China Sea? The fact is that the Chinese fighters are no match for the American equipment. The majority of Chinese equipment is reverse engineering of Russian equipment and fighters have designs of either Su-27 or Su-30 platform. They are even powered by Russian AL 31 F (Su-30) and RD 33 (MiG-29) engines,” said Dhanoa
He also suggests that despite being a major importer of Chinese military technology, PLA’s iron brother Pakistan relies less on Chinese aircraft when it comes to an actual battle. “If Chinese equipment was so good, then why did the Pakistanis only use F-16 aircraft to attack the Nangi Tekri brigade in the Rajouri sector?”
Why does Pakistan use Swedish early air warning platforms up north and keep Chinese AWACS in the south? Why is Pakistan mounting European radar (Selex Gallelio) and Turkish targeting pod on Chinese JF-17? The answer is quite evident,” said Dhanoa
Strategic Location of Indian Air Force Base
According to defence experts in New Delhi, the IAF stands a better chance to that of the PLAAF, due to the former’s fighters possessing the ability to fly in all-weather conditions at high altitudes.
Moreover, India can count on steady and uninterrupted support from its airbases due to its strategic location, with its nearest airbase being in Ambala, which is 300 miles from the disputed area, whereas, Chinese airbases are almost double in distance – around 600 miles away in Tibet and Xinjiang.
India’s modern fleet of transport aircraft which include the likes of C-130J and C-17 can enable smooth, swift, and steady transfer of equipment and supplies to areas of operation, which could be a crucial factor in any battle.
India also boasts of an advanced rotorcraft fleet meant for carrying out heavy and medium-lift strategic and utility roles, which include CH-47F Chinook, Mil Mi-26, Mil Mi-17, Mi-17 1V, Mi-17V 5 and Mil Mi-8.
While HAL Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) and HAL Rudra attack helicopters are built specifically for carrying out combat missions, the newly inducted Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters can be used by the IAF to carry out all-weather missions against Chinese ground troops.
According to Retired Air Vice Marshall (AVM) Manmohan Bahadur, India has changed its strategy of ‘deterrence by denial’ to that of ‘deterrence by punishment’. Bahadur, while writing an opinion piece for an Indian publication, said:
“It means that India intends to prevail through offensive action and take the battle to the adversary now. And China must beware of the damage that would be caused to its forces if it decides to use hard power.”
As reported earlier by the EurAsian Times, the IAF jets have been performing regular sorties along the region in order to provide an eye in the sky to its forces as well to provide steady backup to its troops engaged at the frontline. The PLA surely sees it as a warning and has already been ramping up efforts to counter it, as far as media reports suggest.
Earlier, days before Chinese troops attempted fresh transgressions in the Pangong Tso region, it was reported that PLA’s Air Force had redeployed its J-20 fighter aircrafts close to the Indian border and had been carrying out extensive flying.
According to top government sources – “The J-20 fighter jets have been operating close to the Indian territory in the last few days and the move was taken by the Chinese Air Force just a few days before their Army attempted to do incursions into newer areas in Ladakh.”
Experts called it a move to intimidate India, but other experts said that China is itself intimidated to expose its untested jets against Indian latest fighters and missile defense systems.