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The Strategic Postures of China and India: A Visual Guide

casual

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Fueled by aggressive rhetoric from both capitals, Indian and Chinese ground forces engaged in a standoff between June and August 2017. The Doklam crisis, as it became known, stimulated introspection among officials and experts in both states about the future of their relationship. Politically, both strategic communities largely concluded that the peaceful resolution of border disputes is now less likely, forecasting more rivalry than cooperation. Militarily, Indian discussions on the strength of its military position against China in their disputed ground frontier areas have converged on the view that China holds the conventional and nuclear edge over India in this domain.

Based on our analysis of data on the location and capabilities of Indian and Chinese strategic forces and related military units, we conclude that this assessment of the balance of forces may be mistaken and a poor guide for Indian security and procurement policies. We recommend that instead of investing in new nuclear weapons platforms that our analysis suggests are not likely to be required to deter China, New Delhi should improve the survivability of its existing forces and fill the gap in global arms control leadership with an initiative on restraint and transparency.

China and India’s deliberately opaque strategic postures make objective assessments difficult. To overcome that problem, this brief introduces a new data compilation, consisting of a variety of published intelligence documents, private documents sourced from regional states, and interviews with experts based in China, India, and the United States. This data is combined with open-source force estimates to provide the most comprehensive public assessment of the location and capabilities of Chinese and Indian strategic forces. The appendix provides a link to an interactive map of Chinese and Indian nuclear and conventional air and ground forces, including descriptions of some simplifications and estimates necessary to display the forces on a map. Our analysis focuses on strategic military strike concentrations as they are postured against one other, excluding border patrol forces, as of January 2018. This makes it possible to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s forces.

What does this data tell us? We assess that India has key under-appreciated conventional advantages that reduce its vulnerability to Chinese threats and attacks. India appears to have cause for greater confidence in its military position against China than is typically acknowledged in Indian debates, providing the country an opportunity for leadership in international efforts toward nuclear transparency and restraint.

Indian strategists have not focused on this opportunity, in part because they draw pessimistic conclusions regarding China. For example, one Indian expert has observed that “India’s ground force posture and strength is not really comparable to that of China in their border regions. China has better military infrastructure, capabilities, and logistics.” A former commander of the Indian Army Northern and Central commands, which are tasked with defense against China, wrote during the Doklam standoff that he expected the episode to end in a barrage of Chinese missile strikes to expel Indian forces from the area and settle the dispute on Chinese terms.

Even India’s comparative optimists, a minority, do not sound hopeful. A retired Indian Army brigadier close to internal discussions on China policy has observed that “even as conventional asymmetry prevails, it is being largely undermined by Indian strides in infrastructural build up, force modernisation and new raisings.”

The next sections assess the nuclear forces India and China have arrayed against each other, followed by conventional forces relevant to a potential conflict.

China’s Nuclear Strike Forces and Ranges
Chinese nuclear forces comprise land- and sea-based ballistic missiles and aircraft that may emerge as nuclear bombers. The land- and sea-based elements are operated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force, which executes nuclear strike orders issued by the Central Military Commission under Xi Jinping’s chairmanship.

Sea-based missiles do not have a fixed location. However, China’s land-based missile bases can be geo-located. Including only the nuclear forces and locations most relevant to targeting India, the map below shows that the bases are concentrated in the far north, with three DF-21 bases in the country’s south.

In all, an estimated 104 Chinese missiles could strike all or parts of India. These include about a dozen DF-31A and six to twelve DF-31 missiles capable of reaching all Indian mainland targets. Another dozen DF-21s hold New Delhi at risk. The remaining missiles can target sections of India’s northeast and east coast. Moreover, as China deploys more road-mobile missiles over time, it will become easier to move further missiles from China’s interior to new survivable positions within range of India.

Figure 1: Map of China’s Nuclear Strike Range

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India’s Nuclear Strike Forces and Ranges
Indian nuclear weapons stand ready for delivery by bombers and land-based missiles.9 As in China, nuclear warheads are held at separate locations from delivery vehicles in peacetime, although there are reports of pre-mating of some Indian missiles to warheads through canisterization. A nuclear strike order would be issued by the Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) and executed through the NCA Executive Council and military Strategic Forces Command.

India’s professed goal has always been to field a credible second-strike capability. This assured retaliation doctrine depends on the creation of sufficient doubt in the adversary’s calculus that a disarming first strike would succeed.

India seeks to ensure the survivability of its forces through adequate force dispersal, distributing its forces across several bases and along several vectors (air, land, and sea), while seeking to ensure the secrecy of their locations. This existing approach probably does create doubt in Chinese strategic planning that it could militarily entirely erase India’s ability to reach Chinese targets.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of India’s missile forces are located closer to Pakistan than China. We estimate that around ten Agni-III launchers can reach the entire Chinese mainland. Another eight Agni-II launchers could reach central Chinese targets. An estimated two squadrons of Jaguar IS and one squadron of Mirage 2000H fighters, totaling around 51 aircraft, are assessed to be tasked with nuclear missions. These aircraft could most likely reach Tibetan airspace equipped with nuclear gravity bombs. However, it is near certain that they would be identified and tracked by air defenses before proceeding deeper into China from Tibet. The potential early surprise achievable in Tibet-centric missions would no longer be possible for missions elsewhere in China, as Chinese air defenses would be alerted in the additional time necessary for Indian aircraft to transit Tibet.

Figure 2: Map of India’s Nuclear Strike Range

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The Sino-Indian Conventional Balance
We now turn to the effect of conventional forces on this overall strategic balance. Our analysis suggests that India’s defense position is more secure than is sometimes argued.


Indian conventional forces

The Indian Army (IA) divides its ground and air strike forces facing China into Northern, Central and Eastern Commands. The Air Force is organized into Western, Central and Eastern Air Commands. The total available Army strike forces near China’s border areas are assessed to be around 225,000 personnel. This incorporates the roughly 3,000 personnel attached to a T-72 tank brigade stationed in Ladakh and the estimated 1,000 personnel attached to a Brahmos cruise missile regiment in Arunachal Pradesh. For the Army, this total near China’s border areas is divided into about 34,000 troops in the Northern Command; 15,500 troops in the Central Command; and 175,500 troops in the Eastern Command.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has an estimated 270 fighters and 68 ground attack aircraft across its three China-facing commands. It is also expanding its network of Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs), which constitute small air bases in forward locations to provide staging grounds and logistics hubs for aircraft strike missions. In the Western Air Command, the IAF possesses around 75 fighters and 34 ground attack aircraft, besides 5 ALGs close to Chinese Tibetan areas. The Central Air Command features around 94 fighters, 34 ground attack aircraft, and one ALG. The Eastern Air Command hosts around 101 fighters and 9 ALGs. Crucially, the IA and IAF forces described above are all permanently close to China’s border, shortening their mobilization time and limiting the prospects of a successful Chinese cross-border advance.


Chinese conventional forces

We estimate a total of 200,00-230,000 Chinese ground forces under the Western Theater Command, and Tibet and Xinjiang Military Districts. However, this apparent numerical near-equivalence with that of Indian regional ground forces is misleading. Even in a war with India, a significant proportion of these forces will be unavailable, reserved either for Russian taskings or for countering insurrection in Xinjiang and Tibet. The majority of forces are located further from the Indian border, posing a striking contrast with the majority of forward-deployed Indian forces with a single China defense mission.

The new joint Western Theater Command is estimated to hold around 90,000-120,000 troops, principally divided into the 76th and 77th Group Armies. These Group Armies are headquartered toward the interior of Western China, in Chongqing and Baoji respectively. Because of ongoing unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang, the Western Theater Command’s ground operational authority does not extend to these regions. Instead, a special PLA Army-directed Military District (MD) has been created for each of these regions. In Tibet, the region closest to Indian border areas, the PLA presence is judged to number just 40,000 troops. More numerous forces are located in the Xinjiang region north of Tibet, totaling around 70,000. This means that China is regularly operating with a permanent Indian conventional force advantage along its border areas. In the event of a major standoff or conflict with India, it would have to rely upon mobilization primarily from Xinjiang and secondarily from the Western Theater Command forces deeper in China’s interior. By contrast, Indian forces are already largely in position.

The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) also suffers from a numerical disparity to the IAF in the border region. Unlike the tripartite organizational division of Chinese ground forces facing India, the Western Theater Command has assumed control of all regional strike aircraft. In total, this amounts to around 157 fighters and a varied drone armory. This includes an estimated 20 GJ-1/WD-1K precision strike UAVs, 12 WD-1 ground attack and reconnaissance UAVs, 12 WD-1 precision strike UAVs, and 8 EA-03 reconnaissance and electronic warfare UAVs. A proportion of these are reserved for Russia-centric missions. By comparison, as noted earlier, the Indian Eastern Air Command can field around 101 fighters against China alone. China also uses eight airbases and airfields relevant to India strike missions, although a majority are civilian airports that can be commandeered in wartime.

Other comparative weaknesses permeate the PLAAF’s posture against India. On a strict comparison of available 4th generation fighters, authoritative assessments hold that China’s J-10 fighter is technically comparable to India’s Mirage-2000, and that the Indian Su-30MKI is superior to all theater Chinese fighters, including the additional J-11 and Su-27 models. China hosts a total of around 101 4th-generation fighters in the theater, of which a proportion must be retained for Russian defense, while India has around 122 of its comparable models, solely directed at China.

The high altitude of Chinese air bases in Tibet and Xinjiang, plus the generally difficult geographic and weather conditions of the region, means that Chinese fighters are limited to carrying around half their design payload and fuel. In-flight refueling would be required for PLAAF forces to maximize their strike capacity. China had only inducted 15 such tanker aircraft nationally as of 2017, meaning only a handful of its forces will benefit from this solution. Against these underpowered fighters, IAF forces will launch from bases and airfields unaffected by these geographic conditions, with maximum payload and fuel capabilities.

The most significant PLAAF forward air bases and airfields near Indian border areas—which will be pivotal in combat operations—are located at Hotan, Lhasa/Gonggar, Ngari-Gunsa, and Xigaze. Each hosts regular PLAAF detachments, and these are the nearest facilities to Indian targets in Kashmir, northern India, and northeast India. They are vulnerable to a dedicated Indian offensive. Ngari-Gunsa and Xigaze reportedly have no hardened shelters or blast pens for their aircraft, which sit in the open. Lhasa/Gonggar has recently developed hardened shelters able to protect up to 36 aircraft, while Hotan reportedly hosts “two aircraft shelters” of unknown capacity. An Indian early initiative to destroy or incapacitate these four bases—and achieve air superiority over them—would compel China to rely more upon aircraft from its rear-area bases, exacerbating its limited fuel and payload problems. Moreover, China lacks the redundancy and related force survivability compared to India in their comparative numbers of regional air bases. In sum, India has a stronger regional air position, with “a large number of airfields in the east and west, so even if some airfields are down, operations can continue from other locations.”

PLAAF training and experience shortcomings that are not shared by the IAF amplify China’s air disadvantage. Recent PLAAF exercises with unscripted scenarios have found that pilots are excessively reliant upon ground control for tactical direction. In unanticipated combat scenarios, this dependence on explicit control tower guidance becomes extreme, while “ground commands” are simultaneously often unable “to keep up with the complex and changeable air situation.” This suggests that PLAAF combat proficiency may be significantly weaker than often estimated.

A comprehensive study found that scenarios with combat conditions where “some of the key first-line airfields were destroyed” would be especially concerning for Chinese strategists. Progressive base hardening in the eastern US-facing PLAAF facilities has reduced this risk in that area. A lack of similar measures in the India-facing west suggests that Indian destruction or temporary incapacitation of some of the four above air bases would further exacerbate these PLAAF operational inflexibilities and weaknesses. By contrast, recent conflicts with Pakistan give the current IAF a level of institutional experience in actual networked combat.

Recognizing this dilemma, instead of a regional aircraft offensive, Chinese strategic planners envision early long-range missile strikes against Indian air bases in the event of conflict. However, India benefits from the greater number and redundancy of regional air bases, and the daunting number of Chinese missiles that would be required to truly incapacitate relevant IAF forces. A former IAF official, referring to the high number of disparate targets per air base, the requirement for at least two missiles per target, and the ability of base officials to repave the blast crater with quick-drying concrete within six hours, has articulated the operational problem:

“To keep one airfield shut for 24 hours, the PLAAF will require 220 ballistic missiles. This will not make any difference to IAF operations in the east or in the west since the IAF has a large number of other operational airfields to operate from. If the PLAAF attacks just three airfields, it will require 660 ballistic missiles per day for attacking the runway and taxi track alone. China’s stock of 1,000-1,200 MRBMs/SRBMs will be over in less than two days when attacking just three airfields, with no other major target systems like C2 centres or air defence units being addressed.”
This analysis was authored before India began its process of integrating runway replacement fiberglass mats into its base defense systems, meaning it was likely calculated upon a previous “labour-intensive,” civilian-heavy method of runway repaving, as described by a former Indian Air Marshal. However, India is presently inducting these fiberglass mats and associated paving equipment, which will further reduce its runway reconstitution timeframe. It is therefore unlikely that the numerous PLAAF disadvantages detailed above can be overcome by China’s superior missile forces. This is critical beyond the air competition itself: “In any India-China conflict, the PLA cannot launch an attack without the support of the PLAAF.”

To address its force shortfalls in the event of war, China could surge air and ground forces from its interior toward the border. However, what our analysis suggests is that the IAF’s superiority would mean that critical logistical routes—such as air bases and military road and rail links—could be cut by bombing or standoff missile strikes, limiting the extent to which China’s position could be reinforced. Such a Chinese surge would also attract attention from the United States, which would alert India and enable it to counter-mobilize its own additional forces from its interior.

Ammunition shortfalls have been a limiting factor for Indian conventional force operations in the past, especially for the Indian Army. India’s official audit agency assessed in 2016 that India lacked sufficient reserves in around 85 out of 170 critical ammunition categories for a scenario of an intense 10-day war. Since then, New Delhi has bolstered its stockpiles, and continues to reduce this operational constraint.

China could permanently station forces similar to or larger than India’s nearer to the border. An Indian counter-buildup would surely follow. In total, India is in a stronger conventional position vis-à-vis China than much of the analysis on this topic concludes.

Strategic Postures

https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?hl=en&mid=14hB-wqVTUd1SZcqJMUSA05r42_m7brY0&ll=20.107063740067122,93.50777316400013&z=5

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stop talking and start attacking. like these analysts are saying, you have the advantage so what are you afraid of?
 

Han Patriot

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If Pakistan tries to take benefit of the situation there will be global consequences. If both China and Pak are engaged there is bound to be movement from Russian or US side. Its impossible that they will gang up without the 2 big guns joining in. You are underestimating the consequences of such a scenario.
Ehhh no more 2 front war boast? Lol. Russia will not join in, they will sell weapons. US will cheer on numb numb Indians to fight a war into destruction. China will weaken but India will be destroyed. Lol. Choose wisely.

Well, yes, a direct involvement may not be there. But there will be posturing from both US and Russia and Japan and maybe Taiwan. Similarly to what happen in 1971. The mere presence of their forces aimed at China will be enough to make them fall in line. The reason I say this, an authoritarian country attacking a democratic country with 3 billion people involved is an end to the current world order. So it can not be an isolated incident from the global forces. The power dynamics involved will be too much.
I sense you fear a war with China. What happened with the previous bravado?

These indian authors really need to stop.
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Why would they write this?
Lol the moment they think 1980s mirage 2000 is comparable to J10, I stopped my argument.
 

Shinigami

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stop talking and start attacking. like these analysts are saying, you have the advantage so what are you afraid of?
since when has india ever started a conflict? We are a reactive country, not a proactive one.

Lol the moment they think 1980s mirage 2000 is comparable to J10, I stopped my argument.
I agree. mirage 2000 is a french aircraft, battle tested with an excellent combat record, while j10 is a chinese copy of IAI Lavi.

Still waiting for a technical rebuttal of this.
Other comparative weaknesses permeate the PLAAF’s posture against India. On a strict comparison of available 4th generation fighters, authoritative assessments hold that China’s J-10 fighter is technically comparable to India’s Mirage-2000, and that the Indian Su-30MKI is superior to all theater Chinese fighters, including the additional J-11 and Su-27 models. China hosts a total of around 101 4th-generation fighters in the theater, of which a proportion must be retained for Russian defense, while India has around 122 of its comparable models, solely directed at China.
 

eldamar

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since when has india ever started a conflict? We are a reactive country, not a proactive one.


I agree. mirage 2000 is a french aircraft, battle tested with an excellent combat record, while j10 is a chinese copy of IAI Lavi.

Still waiting for a technical rebuttal of this.
I already told u just now.

the 36-year old Tejas, Flying coffins, Mirage 2ks, su30mki s will smash the J-20As, J-10Cs, J-11Ds and J-16s
 

Han Patriot

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since when has india ever started a conflict? We are a reactive country, not a proactive one.


I agree. mirage 2000 is a french aircraft, battle tested with an excellent combat record, while j10 is a chinese copy of IAI Lavi.

Still waiting for a technical rebuttal of this.
The spitfires were battle tested too 60 years ago. Comparing an 80s plane to a new state of the art plane is just plain stupid. You can call it LAVI Mig144 copy or even Rafale copy. Against a J10 with AESA and BVRAAM..... Lol
 

casual

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The spitfires were battle tested too 60 years ago. Comparing an 80s plane to a new state of the art plane is just plain stupid. You can call it LAVI Mig144 copy or even Rafale copy. Against a J10 with AESA and BVRAAM..... Lol
arguing with indians is pointless. perhaps they are stupid enough to start shooting and only then will they see the truth.
 

Shinigami

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The spitfires were battle tested too 60 years ago. Comparing an 80s plane to a new state of the art plane is just plain stupid. You can call it LAVI Mig144 copy or even Rafale copy. Against a J10 with AESA and BVRAAM..... Lol

spitfires are propeller driven planes from WW2. Mirage 2000 and J 10 are from the same generation of multirole aircraft. Even if J 10 came later, it makes no difference. because french planes with outdated avionics and missiles are always going to be superior to the latest chinese planes with new chinese electronics and weapon systems.
More over, it was designed with the help of PLAAF, which has 0 combat experiance.

A part from the article is relevant here:
PLAAF training and experience shortcomings that are not shared by the IAF amplify China’s air disadvantage. Recent PLAAF exercises with unscripted scenarios have found that pilots are excessively reliant upon ground control for tactical direction. In unanticipated combat scenarios, this dependence on explicit control tower guidance becomes extreme, while “ground commands” are simultaneously often unable “to keep up with the complex and changeable air situation.” This suggests that PLAAF combat proficiency may be significantly weaker than often estimated.

A comprehensive study found that scenarios with combat conditions where “some of the key first-line airfields were destroyed” would be especially concerning for Chinese strategists. Progressive base hardening in the eastern US-facing PLAAF facilities has reduced this risk in that area. A lack of similar measures in the India-facing west suggests that Indian destruction or temporary incapacitation of some of the four above air bases would further exacerbate these PLAAF operational inflexibilities and weaknesses. By contrast, recent conflicts with Pakistan give the current IAF a level of institutional experience in actual networked combat.

That being said, is the PLAAF a pushover? No. Because quantity has its own quality.

Also, what I said was j10 is a chinese copy of IAI Lavi. The copy of Mig 1.44 would be j20
 

Han Patriot

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spitfires are propeller driven planes from WW2. Mirage 2000 and J 10 are from the same generation of multirole aircraft. Even if J 10 came later, it makes no difference. because french planes with outdated avionics and missiles are always going to be superior to the latest chinese planes with new chinese electronics and weapon systems.
More over, it was designed with the help of PLAAF, which has 0 combat experiance.

A part from the article is relevant here:


That being said, is the PLAAF a pushover? No. Because quantity has its own quality.

Also, what I said was j10 is a chinese copy of IAI Lavi. The copy of Mig 1.44 would be j20
Fine not spitfires, mig21s then? Lol. You can assume whatever you want. Laughing as always but in the end, it's always us beating you. From economics to. Technology to governance to military. You guys talk talk and talk create multiple excuses. You should buy more mirage 2k in that case.mig144 is j20, lol, then LCA is mirage clone? Lol. Heard dassault was LCA design consultant
 

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