India-China tensions are all time high since 1970s, Standoff and Clashes erupted at LAC (Line of Actual Control, the border between India and China) in Ladakh and Galwan Valley. Tensions took a deadly turn when on the night of June 16 2020 a fierce clash took place between troops of both sides in Galwan Valley that resulted heavy casualties on Indian side killing 20 indian soldiers including officers. As result both sides have mobilised more troops and equipment in the area. Aerial forces of both sides started muscle flexing on their respective sides.
Dispute on the ground is still hot and fresh satellite images show no sign of de escalation any time soon. Chinese side is politically motivated where the Indian government seems to be lacking the political willpower required to deal the situation at LAC and take aggressive military actions if required, that is a huge setback for the Indian public that is now excreting their frustration on Chinese market share in India. Huge campaigns are underway in India to get people boycott Chinese products. The current LAC tensions between India and China are widely discussed on international media but this time there is no major foreign diplomatic aid to resolve the matter. The COVID-19 Situation around the globe has kept countries busy with their internal issues and moreover such attitude of belligerents on LAC and LOC has become routinely chore.
Deployment of AirPower from both sides is clearly meant for show of force and to deter the opposing side. Any aerial engagement can result a devastating conflict which both sides can’t afford. But both sides need to be prepared to deal any sort of aggressive action from the other. And for deterrence purpose both sides have deployed air power.
May 15th satellite images from Ngari Gunsa Airport showed deployment of J-11 and J-16 Flankers by Peoples Liberation Army Airforce near the disputed region, it is reported since 2017 Doklam standoff that PLAAF expanded the Ngar Gunsa Airport to house Fighter Aircrafts, in response The Indian Airforce deployed it’s Mirage-2000s to the Leh forward landing strip. After fierce clash of 16 June , movement of Indian Airforce’s newly received AH-64E’s was noticed on Indian side of LAC, moreover Mig-29UPGs and Su-30MKIs were spotted flying in the region. Indian Army Aviation Corp units are also deployed to undertake utility operations, one of the Indian Army Aviation Dhruv helicopter made an emergency landing in eastern Ladakh on Sunday 21st June. No Aerial activity caught public eye from the Chinese side.
News surfaced that People’s Liberation Army was undertaking exercises to tackle any escalation. PLA Exercises involved Infantry and mountain artillery units , undertaking fire and manoeuvring drills. No Aerial activity was reported but however it seems impossible that People’s Liberation Army Airforce was silent spectator their presence was well noticed by the Indian Airforce that called for their response that came in shape of Forward deployments of IAF assets and Increased Fighter patrols in the region.
However one picture of Su-30MKI showed it’s flying with empty belly carrying no armaments, Indian Airforce is not that Unprofessional Force that it would fly an empty Fighter Aircraft in conflict zone , it tends to show that Empty Belly Su-30MKIs were there to present maximum electronic signatures on PLAAF radars that would represent higher numbers and vigilance of Indian Airforce.
In case of unwanted escalation the fighter patrols from both sides might confront each other but how much capable platforms the both sides can field in the area. May 15 satellite images show J-11s deployed near conflict zone in response IAF deployed Mirage-2000s to Leh. Mirage 2000 incorporates a RDY pulse Doppler Radar, upgraded Indian Airforce Mirage-2000I have RDY II Radar with improved performance. In January 2012, the Indian government had signed a $1.23 billion contract with the French firm MBDA for the supply of 450 MICA missiles for the IAF mirage fleet. MBDA MICA has Range Up to 80km, earlier IAF Mirages carried Matra.530D semi active Radar homing Missiles. Mirage-2000 is IAF’s only western Multirole Aircraft. IAF also operates Jaguar ground attack aircrafts. But jaguars haven’t been deployed to the area.
After 16 June fierce clash both sides have deployed reinforcements to the area. Some Indian sources quoted PLAAF has deployed 40 J-10s to the Pakistan Airforce’s Base in Skardu but that is not true. No PLAAF assets are deployed on Pakistani side. Pakistan Airforce is fully committed in safeguarding it’s aerial frontiers hence Pakistani airforce is keeping vigilance in it’s Area of responsibility. Fresh Media reports have showed IAF’s Mig-29s and Su-30MKIs patrolling the Ladakh skies. Su-30MKI is Equipped with Bars PESA (Passive electronically scanned Array) Radar. Indian and Israeli avionics , and electronic warfare suite. IAF’s Mig-29 fleet is being upgraded to Mig-29UPG, Mig-29UPG incorporates Zhuk-ME AESA (Active electronically Scanned Array) Radar, Improved Avionics and electronic warfare capabilities. Non UPG Mig-29s of Indian Airforce are also capable enough. Both Su-30MKI and Mig-29s carry R-73 Infrared Homing Within Visual Range Air to Air Missile. R-27 Semi Active Radar homing beyond visual range air to air Missile. R-27 offers range upto 130km but being semi active radar homing Missile it requires continuous data inflow from mother ship’s radar until impact. R-77 Active Radar homing BVR Missile offers range upto 100km, being Active Homing Missile it’s a fire and forget Missile.
Shenyang J-11 is a license built copy of Su-27. J-11A incorporates Russian Avionics and Russian weapons. J-11B incorporates more composite materials in construction, and Carries many Chinese built systems and armaments. J-11D is latest evolution of J-11 , equipped with china’s home grown AESA Radar more composite materials reducing Flanker family’s notorious radar cross section, making it slightly stealthier. J-11D employs indigenous Chinese Electronic Warfare suite. With the advent of 21st century Chinese aviation industry reached new heights. Currently local Chinese firms are offering every high end technology required for a modern day 4, 4+ and 5th generation fighter jet. J-16 is further derivative of J-11. J-16 is a dual seater strike oriented member of Chinese flanker family. J-10s haven’t been spotted near the conflict zone yet but it’s also potent and deadly for IAF to counter. All Chinese planes employ a variety of Russian and indigenous Chinese Air to Air Missiles. J-11 and J-16 can employ R-73, R-27 and R-77 Missiles. J-10 , J-11 and J-16 employ PL-5 , PL-8 , PL-9 and PL-10 Infrared homing within visual range air to air Missiles.
In Beyond Visual Range Domain PLAAF planes employ PL-12 Active Radar homing Missile that offers range upto 120km. The main deterrent factor in favour of PLAAF is their employment of PL-15 Ramjet BVR Missile that offers range up to 300km+.
Above discussed fighter jets are spotted in the conflict zone, in case of requirements both sides can field more fighter jets and Units to the area. Ground forces on both sides have deployed air defence assets as well. PLAAF enjoys huge flexibility in operational commitments as it fields one of the world’s largest fleet. However Indian Airforce is stretched beyond limits as it is already struggling to fulfil it’s quick depleting number of fighter Squadrons and IAF has more operational commitments to deal on its western border with Pakistan. Arch Rival Pakistan Airforce also has one of the world’s largest airforce fielding huge numbers of 3rd and 4rth generation fighter aircrafts along with very huge fleet of aerial surveillance assets exclusively positioned against India. Pakistan Airforce’s posture calls for heavy operational commitments and number of assets deployed to address this theatre.
Direct Aerial confrontation is the least likely turn the current LAC standoff can take. But both sides are aggressively flexing their muscles.
Guest Post By Darya Khan