Where the Indian Air Force stand against the Chinese Air Force?

Whether the Indian Air Force stands a chance against the Chinese Air Force depends upon the nature of battle situation between the two Asian Air Forces. Though the question can be best answered by a military aviation expert, there is always a chance to speculate depending upon available facts & knowledge. So, here’s a layman’s two cents …..

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is an aerial service branch of the People’s Liberation Army. It operates a large and varied fleet of around 2,100 combat aircraft, which includes fighters and bombers. The Chinese Air Force is huge when compared with the Indian Air Force (IAF) in terms of fleet and strategic inventory.

The Indian Air Force operates approximately 900 combat aircraft, according to some estimates. But the Indian Air Force is battle hardened and deploys more reliable platforms and strategic bases, combined with experienced troops.


Now, Quantity necessarily does not give an advantage in limited conflict battle. In such a scenario only the strategies adopted and the battle maturity of the forces plays a decisive role. In case of a High-Altitude war, India is better placed than China, as many of the IAF aircraft are capable of flying at high altitudes in all-weather conditions with support from nearby airbases.

However, China has been known to develop military airfields in Tibet since the last decade and has significantly enhanced the ground facilities for the operation of PLAAF’s combat aircraft.

Chinese deployment at Hotan Airbase, Xinjiang province. Courtesy the Digitalglobe .

The PLAAF aircrafts comprise mostly of the Sukhoi’s and other Russian copied versions of fighter aircraft with a mix of American and Chinese logistics and armaments, though both the machines and the airmen flying them are not combat proven.

The IAF’s induction of Rafale F3R fighters enables it to maintain air superiority over China’s J10, J11, and Su-27 fighter jets. Armed with Meteor very long-range and MICA beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missiles, and SCALP air to ground missiles with a range of 400 km, the Rafale fighters are expected to pose a significant threat to Chinese aerial assets. (Presently, though the number of Rafale’s is not significant enough). Frankly, it can take on the Chengdu J-20, which was recently scaled down to a 4.5 generation fighter.

Sukhoi Su-30MKI, (which is a better version than the SU-30 MKK & a bit similar to SU-35) serves the IAF as the primary air superiority fighter with the capability to perform air-to-ground strike missions. The IAF operates more than 270 Su-30MKIs and is fielding HAL Tejas fourth-generation multi-role light fighters to perform the roles of MiG-21 and the MiG-27. In addition, to the combat proven multirole platform the Mirage 2000.

Now there is a very small chance for Bomber aircrafts to enter a limited conflict battle though there is a good chance for rapid deployment of military personnel and assets to the battle grounds. The PLAAF’s comparatively smaller fleet of strategic airlift assets includes Y-20 large transport aircraft and Russian-made IL-76 aircraft, which seems less likely to benefit any rapid deployment.

On the other hand, India’s state-of-the-art strategic air lifters, including the C-17 and C-130J, ensure rapid transfer of equipment and supplies to airbases near the LAC, which is the need of the hour for ground forces on the battlefield.The Ilyushin Il-76, Antonov An-32, and Dornier Do 228 aircraft form part of the IAF’s transport aircraft inventory. India has advanced rotorcraft fleet making it a strong contender to China. The IAF’s CH-47F Chinook, Mil Mi-26, Mil Mi-8, Mil Mi-17, Mi-17 1V, and Mi-17V 5 are intended for heavy and medium-lift strategic and utility roles while HAL Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) and HAL Rudra attack helicopters are dedicated for combat missions. The recently inducted Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters enables the IAF to perform day/night, all-weather attack missions especially in rugged mountain regions of Indo-China borders.

The PLAAF holds one of the world’s largest inventories of advanced long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems compared to India’s not so long range SAM’s.But India has the fastest missile on earth that is BRAHMOS missile which is not detectable and destroyable once it is fired.


Now, this scenario though is far more scary and Quantity does give a significant advantage to the PLAAF. The Chinese may get the upper hand but they may face a good amount of destruction of their own Air force at the hands of the Indian Air Force and Anti aircraft systems as a full fledged air battle will likely mean a full fledged war. Here too China will be at great disadvantage as most of their airbases are situated deep inside Tibet and Xinjiang province while India has numerous airbases near border of China.

Though this full fledged battle is somewhat unlikely, since Chinese military threats are mostly the result of the Expansionist policies of Communist China (under the illusion of One China Policy) and the conflict stays upto a certain area. Moreover, complete aggression towards India, will put China at not just the risk of losing it’s businesses amongst other nations but also giving the world a chance to pay them back for their actions (Wuhan virus, Uighur exploitations, Military threat to Taiwan, Japan & Philippines amongst other nations).

Now all this being said and claimed the Strategy of the Forces matters a lot. This is where terms like “Battle Hardened” and “Combat Proven” matter, which entirely lies with the Indian Air Force. The Galwan incident and the earlier Doklam Standoff was just a taste of what the Indian’s can serve the Chinese. It can be totally surprising for them, though satisfying for a lot of people around the world.

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