‘China can’t get the better of India in conflict scenario’: Air force chief
The IAF chief said there was no question of underestimating the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) as it had made huge investments in “technology, systems and numbers”.
China can’t get the better of India in any conflict and the air force, with its capability and intent serving as a deterrent for the adversary, is ready to handle any contingency, Indian Air Force chief RKS Bhadauria said on Monday, even as he acknowledged the strengths of the Chinese air force and gave a broad overview of how the IAF would counter it.
Asked if the IAF was ready to take on China in the Ladakh theatre, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said, “Of course, we are. There is no question of not taking on the threat there. We are very well positioned there and China can’t get the better of us in any conflict scenario there.” He said India was fully prepared for a two-front war with China and Pakistan. The air force chief was responding to questions from reporters during his annual press conference ahead of the IAF Day on October 8.
The IAF chief said there was no question of underestimating the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) as it had made huge investments in “technology, systems and numbers”. He also spoke about the IAF’s assessment of the Chinese J-20 fifth-generation fighter aircraft, calling it “work in progress”.
“Their strength lies in the number of surface-to-air systems they have deployed in that area and air-launched long-distance weapons. All that we cater to in our matrix and ensure we are in a position to not only take on their strong points but also deploy our offensive action accordingly,” Bhadauria said, responding to a question from Hindustan Times.
“What we do is we integrate our systems and we train to handle such threats based on our assessment. It’s all a combination of training, systems and integration and then the area that we are going to get deployed in,” he said.
He added that the PLAAF’s J-20 was a fifth-generation fighter, with advanced sensors and latest technologies but its engine technology was still not fifth-generation.
The IAF chief --- short of giving operational details --- has explicitly stated that the IAF is well deployed to meet any threat, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
“That no adversary can be taken lightly was also acknowledged by him and that indicates a professional approach to a serious challenge that can come our way,” Bahadur added.
Asked if the IAF had come close to launching airstrikes against Chinese targets after the June 15 Galwan Valley skirmish in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, Bhadauria said, “No. But we were prepared for it.”
The IAF chief said how things unfold in the Ladakh sector would depend on the outcome of the ongoing talks that were currently progressing slowly.
“What we see is an increase in effort to dig in for the winter in terms of forces on ground, and the deployment of air assets. We hope that the talks will progress in the right direction,” he said.
Responding to a question on the DBO airstrip in eastern Ladakh, the IAF chief said it was a “big threat” to the Chinese as India had the capability to operate aircraft so close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
On China using air bases in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including Skardu, and the possibility of a two-front war, the IAF chief said, “Whether China will use Skardu is an open-ended question. But if China needs Pakistan’s help to confront us, I have nothing to say. If Skardu gets used by China and we are in conflict with China, then it’s a collusive threat. And we will deal with it accordingly,” Bhadauria said. He said the IAF was prepared for any kind of conventional conflict, including a two-front war. “We have full capability for a two-front war,” he said.
Earlier in his opening address, the IAF chief said the integration of Rafale fighter jets brought in a platform armed with advanced weapons, sensors and technologies that gave the IAF an operational and technological edge.
“Combined with upgraded operational capabilities of our current fighter fleet, it gives us the ability to shoot first and strike deep and hard, even in contested airspace,” the IAF chief said.
India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth ₹59,000 crore in September 2016, of which five jets have arrived. The IAF is operating its Rafale fighter jets in the Ladakh theatre where the military is on high alert.
“Our immediate offensive deployment of combat-ready units in response to the stand-off along the LAC in the north is indicative of our operational state. We are determined to handle any contingency --- undoubtedly our capability and intent would deter. Our airlift capability was also brought into focus as we supported the Indian Army in rapid mobilisation of troops and equipment to operational areas at a pace which our adversary didn’t expect,” Bhadauria said.