While the Indian Air Force (IAF) plan against the threat of Chinese Air Force remains classified, the basic strategy against People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was put to test very successfully during 2018 Gagan Shakti pan-India air exercises. The strategy is simple: Disperse, Absorb, Recoup and Retaliate.
Air warriors like Air Chief Marshal (Retd) Birender Singh Dhanoa know that the Chinese will launch a barrage of early long range missile strikes against Indian air bases to incapacitate them. However, according to a March 2020 Belfer Center Study of Harvard Kennedy School, this is easier said than done.
The study quotes a senior IAF officer saying that the Chinese need 220 ballistic missiles to keep one airfield shut for 24 hours.
“This will not make any difference to IAF operations in the east or the west since the Force has a large number of other airfields (from Leh to Pasighat) to operate from. If the PLA air force attacks just three air bases, it will require 660 ballistic missiles per day for attacking the runway and taxi track alone. China’s stock of 1,000-1,200 medium range ballistic missiles or short range ballistic missiles will be over in three days with no other major target system like command and communication centres or air defence units being addressed,” the study says.
While recognising the rocket threat from China, the IAF strategy has been fine tuned to an art form and put to practice through more than 6,000 sorties alone on the eastern front during Exercise Gagan Shakti. “The moment the red flag is up, we will disperse the aircraft from the designated fields to all along the border with China with sufficient ammunition in those bases to take care of the air operations,” said a serving Air Force commander.