Indian Air Force

Indian vs Chinese Air Force: Is the Indian Air Force superior to the Chinese PLAF?

A full-scale or limited war between India and China, despite several rounds of intense negotiations, cannot be ruled out yet. Experts have consistently compared the Indian Army against the Chinese PLA troops.

With 1700+ combat aircraft, the Chinese air force (PLAAF) is ahead of India in numbers, but India has a strategic advantage in the current face off in Ladakh. Let us understand how.

The PLAAF is divided into 5 commands: 

Eastern Theatre Command
Southern Theatre Command
Western Theatre Command
Northern Theatre Command
Central Theatre Command

These 5 commands have many squadrons & the fighter & bomber squadrons are depicted in yellow dots in the map below:

If you observe, China is literally huge. Even though they have 3000+ aircraft, all these are scattered & mostly concentrated on the Eastern side. This is due to the permanent dominance that China wishes to establish in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea & the East China Sea.

Also it is surrounded by military enemies from all sides. South Korea & Japan are U.S Allies & hence there is always a threat in the East China Sea in the eastern region. Waters near Taiwan & South China Sea is already heavily disputed.

Adding to that, U.S Navy has dispatched 3 of its Nimitz Class aircraft carriers against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

Hence in all these regions, China cannot afford to lower it’s guard and hence cannot mobilize it’s air force towards India.

Coming to the aircraft.

China has 1700+ combat capable aircraft. That means Fighters & Bombers. Close to 700 of these are H-6, J-7 (copy of MiG-21) & J-8 which are extremely old aircraft. These are not even upgraded variant like IAF’s MiG-21 Bison. Hence the combat capabilities of these aircraft are questionable.

With the bulk of Chinese combat squadron composed of these old aircraft, the geography of Chinese airbases look like this:

So it is left with about 1000 aircraft half of which is Su-30 or it’s licensed variant like the J-11 & J-16. These are no match against IAF’s 270+ Su-30MKI which is globally known as the most advanced variant of the Su-30.

The rest of the aircraft are JH-7 fighter-bomber & the J-10 Multirole combat aircraft, which are pretty decent aircraft in their league.

Further China operates the Su-35 which is the most fearsome aircraft in their inventory but this is based in the extreme south near the South China Sea & with 24 of these, it’s not a cause of worry for India. J-20 stealth fighter is another advanced fighter with China but as per open sources, it is not fully operational & pilots don’t have combat training on the aircraft.

If you see the map with placing the international borders & LAC at place you’ll notice how far are the Chinese airbases from the Indo-China border. China might have undisclosed airbases in Tibet or might operate it’s fighters from Tibet to confront India from a closer distance but when the actual fight starts, due to the immense distance between Tibet & mainland China, the PLAAF might face logistical issue.

What we know is China is using the Ngari Gunsa airport located at 14,000 feet in Tibet for fighter operations. This airbase is located approximately 200 km from Pangyong lake.

Here, the advantage gained by its location close to the Line of Actual Control is balanced by the reality that fighter jets deployed at such an altitude can only carry limited war-loads and fuels.

At an event of an actual aerial combat started between India & China, China would mobilize some of it’s Su-30MKK, Su-27SK, J-11 & J-16 to forward bases in Tibet but in my knowledge sustaining high availability of fighter operations on a daily basis is going to be a logistical nightmare for the PLAAF because of the large distance between these airfields & the mainland China region.

Also PLAAF might operate from POK. Pakistan would be happy to share it’s airbases in the region with China. But again Logistics is going to be an issue with China in case it chooses to engage IAF in the air.

At any given point of time, China would be able to utilize only 40% of it’s air force to engage with India thanks to it’s vast territory & ongoing issue in east & South China Sea.

Source:-Subhadeep Paul Quora

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