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Rise of PLAAF : Implications for India

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Rise of the PLAAF: Implications for India » Indian Defence Review


Rise of the PLAAF: Implications for India

By Gp Capt AK Sachdev
Issue Vol. 28.4 Oct-Dec 2013 | Date : 11 May , 2014

Chinese Su-27


The ‘inscrutable’ sobriquet for the Chinese is not so much because of their unsmiling faces but on account of their unpredictable actions. Military action against India may not come in the form of a full-fledged war. Small pin pricks in ‘disputed territories’ may keep increasing in magnitude and frequency until even the submissive and cautious Indian government is constrained to react. Should that happen and a larger military confrontation become inevitable, the PLAAF would be a major instrument of damage to our forces, assets and national pride. Some writings on the 1962 conflict include views that the IAF could have done considerable damage to the Chinese as the PLAAF had outdated aircraft and equipment then. The same is not true about the PLAAF today. The continuing delays in updating capabilities of the IAF relentlessly bring us closer to the possibility of a humiliating experience at the hands of the PLAAF.

The PLAAF was kick-started with Soviet help and its initial acquisitions were all from the Soviet Union…

India’s tremulous caution in dealing with China, and the latter’s inexorable and escalating use of its military machinery to apparently test India’s resolve, have combined in recent months to form a binary tinderbox. The territorial dispute between Indian and China (recent Chinese actions suggest that ‘territorial’ dispute may be a better description than ‘border’ dispute) continues to simmer since 1962, the Dalai Lama’s presence in India irks China incessantly and the politico-economic rivalry of the two emergent powers, provides a high level of animosity that does not look likely to fade. This is especially so as China does not appear to be in a hurry to resolve issues that afflict the India-China relationship.

Indeed, the strategic design is blatantly one of encircling India through a variety of machinations. India, in response, has not displayed a matching spirit of machismo and has permitted itself to be pushed around. However, if the push became a shove, a retaliatory conflict situation may become inevitable on account of domestic politics. If the tenor and texture of India-China relations continue its present trend of evolution, a military confrontation between the two is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. In that context, China’s armed forces that are composed of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) and the militia, play a significant role in China’s overall strategies of security and development according to ‘The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces’, China’s Defence White Paper 2013. The PLA is the world’s largest military force with a strength of approximately 2,250,000 personnel.



Su-30MKK China


It consists of five main services – the PLA Army, the PLA Navy (PLAN), the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), the Second Artillery Corps (strategic missile force) and the PLA Reserve Force. This paper is confined to the rise of the PLAAF and its implications for India.


Modernisation

The PLAAF was officially formed on November 11, 1949, but the first three decades are insignificant to this discourse. When Deng Xiaoping introduced the Four Modernisations strategy in 1978, defence modernisation was – for the first time ever – formally identified as a priority sector in China’s reconstruction albeit listed fourth in precedence amongst the four ‘modernisations’. The associated importance accorded to defence R&D got conjoined with national economic progress in one plane and growth in science and technology in the other.
The PLAAF is on a focussed course to have an essentially fourth generation air force with the J-10/J-11 in air superiority roles…
It was during Jiang Zemin’s time that the modernisation really received impetus. By 2003, China’s defence sector became profitable and by the beginning of the current year, having overtaken the UK, China was the fifth largest arms exporter of the world. This piece of information is significant in conjunction with the Chinese iterations on strategic aspirations to transform the PLAAF into a modernised force with a strategic role and reach, capable of, inter alia, classic offensive missions associated with projection of air power. Towards the consummation of this objective, China is inexorably marching towards development and deployment of aircraft, equipment and technologies which are surprisingly close to the leading edge of technological advances in the world, with the gap narrowing steadily.
China’s Defence White Paper 2013 entitled ‘The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces’, disseminated in April this year declared that the PLAAF is China’s mainstay for air operations, responsible for its territorial air security and for maintaining a stable air defence posture nationwide. According to the paper, the PLAAF has a total strength of 398,000 personnel and is organised into seven Military Area Commands (MACs) located at Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. Recent development of several airfields in Tibet and adjoining Lanzhou and Chengdu MACs are of special concern to India. In addition, it commands one airborne corps representing strategic airlift. To meet strategic requirements of conducting both offensive and defensive operations, the PLAAF is strengthening the development of a combat force structure that focuses on reconnaissance and early warning, air strike, air and missile defence and strategic projection. It is developing such advanced weaponry and equipment as new generation fighters and new types of ground-to-air missiles and radar systems, improving its early warning, command and communications networks and raising its strategic early warning, strategic deterrence and long distance air strike capabilities. Some of the salient modernisation programmes of the PLAAF that impinge on India’s near future security concerns are discussed below.




Chinese J-11 Multirole Fighter Aircraft


The letter designators used for PLAAF aircraft are J for fighter, Q for ground attack, H for bomber, JH for fighter-bomber, Y for transport, JZ for reconnaissance aircraft and Z for helicopters. The PLAAF was kick-started with Soviet help and its initial acquisitions were all from the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a change in the technological level of the PLAAF as Chinese R&D effort benefitted from the immigration of erstwhile scientists and experienced workers. Even so, until the end of the last century, the PLAAF still remained straddled with old and operationally vintage aircraft. Although it had more than 3,500 combat aircraft at the beginning of 2000, most were J-6/J-7 types (equivalents of MiG 19/ 21 respectively). Thereafter, it acquired the Su-27 SK/UBK, Su-30 MKK and Su-30 MKK2 aircraft from Russia which were a quantum jump over the earlier holdings. From 2002 onwards, China produced the J-10 and the J-11 which could be classified as fourth generation aircraft.

The PLA is the world’s largest military force with a strength of approximately 2,250,000 personnel…

The PLAAF is on a focussed course to have an essentially fourth generation air force with the J-10/J-11 in air superiority roles complementing the Su-27/Su-30 fleets, JF-17 in interceptor role and the J-20/J-31 as fifth generation stealth multi-role types. The J-20 first flew in January 2011 and bears a resemblance to the F-22 Raptor. In October 2012, China flight tested the second next generation fighter prototype, the J-31 which is the size of the F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter produced by Lockheed Martin of the US and appears to incorporate design characteristics similar to the J-20. Regarded as fifth generation aircraft, the J-20 and the J-31 are expected to join the PLAAF between 2017 and the end of this decade. Whether these aircraft actually emerge with fifth generation characteristics is for time to reveal as the power plant and leading edge stealth technology appear to be out of reach for the Chinese as yet. The power plant problem may be solved through the stratagem of buying more Su-35 from Russia. Deliveries of 24 Su-35 and an unknown number of spare engines are expected to begin in 2015, while the J-20 is slated to be operational in 2017. Some experts feel that the J-20 would finally be powered by the 117S engine that powers the Su-35. This engine is a derivative of the Russian AL-31 which is fitted on one of the J-20 prototypes. If that be the case, the J-20 would be a formidable aircraft.
In 2005, China ordered 70 IL-76 transport aircraft and 30 IL-78 aerial tanker aircraft. In addition, China continues to upgrade its H-6 bomber fleet (originally adapted from the late 1950s Soviet Tu-16 design) with a new variant that possesses greater range and is armed with a long-range cruise missile. China has converted some of its old H-6 bombers as aerial tankers for several of its indigenous aircraft, increasing their combat range. China is also developing an AWACS capability on the IL-76 airframe while the Y-8 is being modified for Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) roles. China’s aviation industry is developing a large transport aircraft likely referred to as the Y-20, to supplement China’s small fleet of strategic airlift assets, which currently consists of a limited number of Russian-made IL-76 aircraft. These heavy lift transports are needed to support airborne Command and Control (C2), logistics, para-drop, aerial refuelling and reconnaissance operations as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

Ongoing development of long range Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), including the BZK-005, and Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) will provide the capability to conduct long range reconnaissance and strike operations. In the area of air defence, the PLAAF is focussing on long range systems designed against aircraft and cruise missiles. Currently, it holds the Russian S-400 Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system (400km range) and is indigenously working on the domestic HQ-9 SAM (200km plus range). Thus, the PLAAF would be a large force containing technologically advanced aircraft and equipment and with a formidable offensive and defensive capability.


Top: Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, Bottom Left: IL-76, Bottom Right: IL-78 Airborne
Areas of Concern
China’s use of its military in the ‘disputed territories’ to continually flag its territorial agenda is a distressing thorn in India’s side. Although the civilian establishment tends to play it down perhaps to avoid the action it would be forced to take if the whole extent of the intrusions and transgressions into Indian territory became public, the military establishment faces affront incessantly.
The gradual militarisation of Tibet and the building of infrastructure there is another area of concern for India…
The brazenness and frequency of Chinese aggressive encroachments is on the increase. It is this author’s prediction that the PLAAF flights over Indian territory using manned and unmanned craft, as an analogous extension to misdemeanours on the ground, are a distinct and near proximity. The concern is that such over flights are unlikely to be countered by India on the basis of decisive rules of engagement due to lack of a political will.
The gradual militarisation of Tibet and the building of infrastructure there is another area of concern for India. The rail head at Lhasa, connecting it to Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, over a distance of 1,956 km, has stated economic motivations. However, its strategic import cannot be ignored. There are 14 airfields in Tibet which can support operations in the Himalayan region. Their significance to any PLAAF operations against India is self-evident. Air-to-air refuelling capabilities of the PLAAF render operational ranges menacing for India.

Top: BZK-005, Bottom: S-400 Triumf SAM
Meanwhile, China’s manufacturing industry in the military and commercial aviation domain has made significant advances. It would be imprudent to treat this capability with scorn just because it is based on reverse engineering or industrial espionage. Notwithstanding such criticism, Chinese indigenous capability to develop and produce improved versions of older aircraft and new designs of modern fourth and fifth generation fighters and attack helicopters, is a cause of concern. This is especially so as Indian growth in this area remains stunted. The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and National Aeronautics Limited (NAL) are yet to produce an aircraft design of note. The only passenger aircraft design (Saras) is on a “time out” after the crash of its second prototype while the Tejas, the only modern fighter design by HAL, is delayed by over two decades. All indicators are that when it finally does enter service with an IAF reluctant to accept it, it will be a type best described as “too little, too late”.
The Dhruv is yet to draw appreciative remarks from any of its users. HAL’s contribution to Indian manufacturing industry can be best described as “licensed production”. China, on the other hand, has invested in high-precision and technologically advanced machine tools, avionics and other components that can also be used in the production of civil and military aircraft. Infrastructure and experience for the production of large-body commercial and military aircraft are believed to be limited but growing steadily. China is developing fourth and fifth generation aircraft that incorporate stealth and low observable technologies including carbon composites. Perhaps the only area it lags in is the production of reliable high performance aircraft engines. Given its track record and its single minded pursuit of self sufficiency, it is only a matter of time when that capability is also attained by China.
As long as HAL continues to exist in its present avatar, India is unlikely to approach the leading edge of aircraft design and technology…
Implications for India
Although a quantitative comparison is not the best way to evaluate contending air forces, one cannot ignore the numbers altogether. According to a 2012 Pentagon report, the PLAAF has 1,570 fighters, 550 bombers, 300 transport aircraft plus another 1,450 older aircraft in its inventory. Of the fighters, more than 400 are in the fourth generation class and by 2020, this number is expected to go up to 1,000 which would be around half of the combat aircraft holding. The PLAAF has always had more aircraft than the Indian Air Force (IAF). However, in the early years of the PLAAF, the quality of aircraft on its inventory was poor and ineffectual. In recent years, the quantitative edge has continued to be in favour of China while the qualitative advancements made by it have rendered it that much more potent. As India has produced no aircraft of its own, it has been dependent on Russian and Western sources. The purchase of these aircraft has not given any technological education as a benefit and licensed production has been the norm.
Even the ongoing negotiations for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) Rafale, despite the new defence procurement policy, may not achieve a high score on the relevant technology transfer. As long as HAL continues to exist in its present avatar, India is unlikely to approach the leading edge of aircraft design and technology. The establishment does not seem capable of comprehending the obvious fact that an Indian state-managed Public Sector Unit (PSU) is not capable of achieving what the Chinese aviation manufacturing industry has achieved. Privatisation of aviation manufacturing could have been a solution but an unlikely one due to the strong lobby HAL enjoys at the centre which has allowed it to exist despite patent inefficiencies and incompetence. The Indian military aviation industry has suffered long on this count and future confrontations with PLAAF are guaranteed to bring to the fore our failure as a fairly advanced nation to produce an inexpensive, indigenous and potent aircraft.
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Chinese S-300 (HongQi 9 [HQ-9
The IAF’s vision for what it wants to be is clear but its execution is clouded by India’s apparently flawed national policies. The MMRCA is a long suffering story the IAF would like to forget. The travesty therein is that while the IAF is responsible for the air defence of the country and offensive roles against belligerent neighbours, what aircraft and equipment it gets for doing its job is tempered by a bureaucracy that is more concerned with the process of procurement than the speed and efficacy with which the right hardware is made available to the IAF. The consequence of delays in the procurement of the MMRCA and the entry of the Tejas into service will be that the IAF would become woefully inadequate to meet with the task of engaging the PLAAF in an honourable contest. Should aerial confrontation accrue between India and China in the near future, it is almost certain that the IAF would suffer the same fate of ignominy that our ground forces did in 1962.
Future confrontations with PLAAF will bring to the fore our failure to produce an inexpensive, indigenous and potent aircraft…
Conclusion
The ‘inscrutable’ sobriquet for the Chinese is not so much because of their unsmiling faces but on account of their unpredictable actions. Military action against India may not come in the form of a full-fledged war. Small pin pricks in ‘disputed territories’ may keep increasing in magnitude and frequency until even the submissive and cautious Indian government is constrained to react. Should that happen and a larger military confrontation become inevitable, the PLAAF would be a major instrument of damage to our forces, assets and national pride.
Some writings on the 1962 conflict include views that the IAF could have done considerable damage to the Chinese as the PLAAF had outdated aircraft and equipment then. The same is not true about the PLAAF today. The continuing delays in updating capabilities of the IAF relentlessly bring us closer to the possibility of a humiliating experience at the hands of the PLAAF.


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Guys & Girls ...don't just thank ....but discuss and provide your esteemed opinions ...
 
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Chinese-Dragon

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More than the PLAAF, the concern for India should be the fact that China has the largest inventory in the world of non-nuclear ballistic missiles. Added to our inventory of cruise missiles and rocket artillery (all with more than enough range to target Delhi which is only 300 km from the border)... it means a first strike using these thousands of missiles could overwhelm India's airfields to NE India, rendering their ground troops without air cover.

The next issue would be the border infrastructure, which currently is massively in China's favor. Allowing us to bring far greater concentrations of troops and equipment to any point along the LAC than India can.

India's advantage is that China is mostly focused on the Pacific. India could do what we did these past few decades, essentially keeping their heads down and avoiding grabbing attention. Then use the time to build up their economy to double-digit growth, as well as inducting greater numbers of domestic weapons platforms. And building up their military production capacity, so they can produce very large numbers of indigenous platforms if necessary.
 

Indo-guy

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More than the PLAAF, the concern for India should be the fact that China has the largest inventory in the world of non-nuclear ballistic missiles. Added to our inventory of cruise missiles and rocket artillery (all with more than enough range to target Delhi which is only 300 km from the border)... it means a first strike using these thousands of missiles could overwhelm India's airfields to NE India, rendering their ground troops without air cover.

The next issue would be the border infrastructure, which currently is massively in China's favor. Allowing us to bring far greater concentrations of troops and equipment to any point along the LAC than India can.

India's advantage is that China is mostly focused on the Pacific. India could do what we did these past few decades, essentially keeping their heads down and avoiding grabbing attention. Then use the time to build up their economy to double-digit growth, as well as inducting greater numbers of domestic weapons platforms. And building up their military production capacity, so they can produce very large numbers of indigenous platforms if necessary.
do you have any numbers , stats to cite ?
 

cirr

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The PLAAF also has over 130 air-defence battalions(not to be confused with PLA Army's air-defence units):









 

Areesh

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Everything I wrote is easily verifiable with a simple internet search. Is there any part in particular that you believe needs to be corrected?
What about PLAN? They are a massive threat in their own for India and the way they are modernizing. The acquisition of AC's would make PLAN a massive power than ever before.
 
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sancho

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we need to open our eyes ...
I don't think that is the issue, MoD/IAF knows quiet well about the threat and their policies in the recent years to beef up the north eastern borders are a clear statement too. The problem is only, that we can't match their numbers, nor their pace of production or modernisation, so looking at them and comparing won't help us. Our defence is depentent on the addition of quality and capability, be it in offensive pre-emptive strikes, air defence or a credible nuclear 2nd strike option (SSBNs!!!). That's where the MKI upgrade, Brahmos/Nirbhay, Rafale, FGFA and AURA will play the main roles in IAF, but where IN for the first time will play a crucial role too.
 

Indo-guy

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Everything I wrote is easily verifiable with a simple internet search. Is there any part in particular that you believe needs to be corrected?
No I didn't question the veracity ...Not until I have researched myself and if I feel it's contrary

I just wanted to know if you have any direct links .
 

SajeevJino

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The PLAAF also has over 130 air-defence battalions(not to be confused with PLA Army's air-defence units):
till your country have Air defence Caps ..and the US knows very well aware about that

Recent example was the B 52 over your AIDZ

What about PLAN? They are a massive threat in their own for India and the way they are modernizing. The acquisition of AC's would make PLAN a massive power than ever before.
By the way you should Know about our latest ASW paltforms and Upcoming Destroyers and New generations subs ..

although the carrier varyag is just a Training Platform ..no one is going to see their action
 
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Chinese-Dragon

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No I didn't question the veracity ...Not until I have researched myself and if I feel it's contrary

I just wanted to know if you have any direct links .
Which part? As for China having better border infrastructure than India, well here is from your own military:

Army warns PM: China can deploy 500,000 troops on LAC - Indian Express

While the Indian government is tight-lipped about the presentation, the military brass told the PM that Chinese PLA has acquired the capability to deploy 34 troop divisions (one division has 23,000 troops) along the LAC in case of a high threat scenario by pulling out troops from Chengdu and Lanzhou military regions. When compared to the Indian strength of nine holding divisions along the northern borders, the PLA with a defence budget estimated at $150 billion holds overwhelming advantage.
As for China having the world's largest inventory of non-nuclear ballistic missiles, here:

China Goes Ballistic | The National Interest

Possessing the world’s second-largest economy and a growing defense budget has enabled China to deploy more formidable military capabilities, such as the world’s first antiship ballistic missile (ASBM) and largest substrategic missile force.
Our huge numbers of non-nuclear (substrategic) ballistic missiles were originally meant for Taiwan, but can be used in any conflict zone.
 

Horus

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More than the PLAAF, the concern for India should be the fact that China has the largest inventory in the world of non-nuclear ballistic missiles. Added to our inventory of cruise missiles and rocket artillery (all with more than enough range to target Delhi which is only 300 km from the border)... it means a first strike using these thousands of missiles could overwhelm India's airfields to NE India, rendering their ground troops without air cover.

The next issue would be the border infrastructure, which currently is massively in China's favor. Allowing us to bring far greater concentrations of troops and equipment to any point along the LAC than India can.

India's advantage is that China is mostly focused on the Pacific. India could do what we did these past few decades, essentially keeping their heads down and avoiding grabbing attention. Then use the time to build up their economy to double-digit growth, as well as inducting greater numbers of domestic weapons platforms. And building up their military production capacity, so they can produce very large numbers of indigenous platforms if necessary.
Which may well come with PAF sabre rattling IAF, bleeding their asset allocation capability towards China. ;)
 

AUSTERLITZ

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More than the PLAAF, the concern for India should be the fact that China has the largest inventory in the world of non-nuclear ballistic missiles. Added to our inventory of cruise missiles and rocket artillery (all with more than enough range to target Delhi which is only 300 km from the border)... it means a first strike using these thousands of missiles could overwhelm India's airfields to NE India, rendering their ground troops without air cover.

The next issue would be the border infrastructure, which currently is massively in China's favor. Allowing us to bring far greater concentrations of troops and equipment to any point along the LAC than India can.
Nearly the entire ballistic missile arsenal is facing taiwan,the missiles that are largest in number (in hundreds) are short-mid range ones.Mass Redeployment of these assets to indian sector would be noted early.And without surprise victory in mountain warfare is difficult as defender has defensive advantage.Targeting delhi is option mostly in fanboy books,because once the missile is in the air, indian air defence won't know if its nuke armed or not.And fearing a mass first strike may launch retaliatory nuke strike which would be of no good to any side.

On air cover our airforce has an advantage over plaaf on this sector due to altitude limits.But again plaaf can counter with missiles.but again missile redeployment will be noted.About infrastructure dev we are much behind-true.But china has logistics problem as well.once it enters indian territory its supply lines will run through mountains and a very roads/highways which being static targets are vulnerable to PGM strikes and brahmos.And without supplies even largest army is ineffective.Also large scale chinese military buildup would be noted from satellites,because tibvet is elevated flat treeless area..its difficult to conceal concentration.
On the weakness side i consider the current hapless state of our artillery as biggest weakness,mountain battles are decided by arty and infantry..not tanks.And we have a problem here.

So u see both sides have restrictions..and probably recognize them.which is why despite friction there has been no full scale conflict.
 

cirr

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till your country have Air defence Caps ..and the US knows very well aware about that

Recent example was the B 52 over your AIDZ
Thanks for recognizing our ADIZ。

ADIZ is made of national and international airspace。You are free to fly in the international airspace,we simply keep a watch on you。And should the situation demand,we simply scramble a pair of jets to give the foreign plane an “escort”。

The B-52 in question flew along the every edge of China's ADIZ which happens also to be Japan's ADIZ(Overlapping)。Japan,in all its stupidity,forgot to mention the fact that the B-52 was also over its ADIZ,thereby tacitly recognizing China's ADIZ。
 

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