While the Indian Air Force remains equipped with powerful Rafale and Su-30MKI fighter jets, China displayed its own military prowess when it conducted large-scale drills comprising around two dozens fighter jets near eastern Ladakh.
News agency ANI reported quoting senior defense officials that 21-22 Chinese jets including the J-11s and a few J-16 fighters took part in the drills opposite the Indian territory in eastern Ladakh.
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It is believed the PLA aircraft took off from bases such as Hotan, Gar Gunsa, Kashgar in Xinjiang and Tibet regions of China. Some of these airbases have been renovated recently to enable operations by all types of fighters.
Some reports indicated that the real numbers of the fighters present at the different airbases are difficult to ascertain. The Chinese aircraft remained well within their territory during the aerial drills, Indian officials told ANI.
The Indian and Chinese militaries have been engaged in a border standoff for almost a year now. In February, they had agreed to disengage from the Pangong Tso area in eastern Ladakh and their discussions to ease tensions at other friction points are still on.
However, the Chinese side continues to deploy advanced weaponry near the Line of Actual Control, the de facto Himalayan border that divides the two countries.
India Keeping A Close Eye
The Indian Air Force reportedly was on high alert and kept a close eye on the latest aerial exercise of the Chinese fighter jets. Further, satellites and additional forms of surveillance were used by the Indian security agencies to keep a close tab on Chinese activities.
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China has also arranged its air defense system in the area. In April, The EurAsian Times reported on how the Chinese PLA Army & Air Force have for the first time set up a combined air defense system somewhere close to the Indian border.
The Chinese military mouthpiece, The PLA Daily had then said, “The integration of air defense across services and arms is a solid step to deepen joint operations.”
The move is in sync with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s idea of having combined military training for the PLA troops.
To counter the rising Chinese aggression, India has also positioned its air defense missiles in the region. It is believed that the Akash missile system has been deployed by the Air Force, which is capable of targeting high-speed combat aircraft and drones.
IAF Deploys Rafales
Regular sorties are reportedly conducted by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in Ladakh. “After the summer deployments of the Chinese troops and Air Force this year, the Indian Air Force has also been regularly deploying detachments of its fighters including the MiG-29s in Ladakh’, an official told ANI.
It is believed that the IAF has also positioned its Sukhoi-30 MKI, Mirage 2000 and Jaguar fighter aircraft in the area to counter the Chinese threat.
The strength and capability of the IAF have been further increased with the addition of the Rafale fighters into its ranks. The IAF has been using the French-made fighters equipped with the most advanced beyond visual range Meteor air-to-air missiles with a range of 150 km, regularly in the areas of Ladakh.
IAF is set to operationalize its second Rafale squadron at the strategically located Hasimara Air Force Station in the eastern state of West Bengal, close to the China border.
The Ambala airbase in the north Indian state of Punjab houses Rafale’s first squadron, nicknamed “Golden Arrows”.
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IAF Vs PLAAF?
Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retired) earlier told The EurAsian Times if the Chinese PLA Air Force (PLAAF) had deployed 100 combat aircraft in Ladakh during last year’s border standoff, India has the capability of fielding as many as 250 aircraft in the area.
“They cannot deploy more than this (100) because they have just three airfields in that area. The closest is Gar Gunza civil airport with a small air force enclave. It is at over 10,000 feet altitude, and can accommodate only a few military aircraft.”
Hotan is their main PLAAF base, around 350 kilometers from the area of action, and that can take on 50-60 aircraft. The third is Kashgar, around 600 km from the place of action.
“Yes many Chinese fighter aircraft, mostly J-11 (Su-27 variant), and J-10 have been seen,” Chopra had said.
The newer J-20 fifth-generation stealth has also operated in the region but is not locally deployed. Also, H-6K bombers with 6 cruise missiles each have been sighted at Hotan.
“In comparison to China, the IAF has nearly 10 airfields within 350 km of the area of action and IAF has the capability to field around 250 aircraft,” the veteran fighter pilot maintained.