Context: Unless there is vision and an acceptance of the importance of air power along the LAC, there is danger.


  • In 1962, due to an uninformed political leadership, dominant Army brass, and diffident the Indian Air Force (IAF) could not participate in the war.
  • IAF fighter pilots posted at air bases that could impact operations in Ladakh and the Tawang Sector (Pathankot and Tezpur)  were battle ready. 
  • The government had decided that tactical air support with bombers on ground attack must be ruled out for fear of Chinese retaliation against Indian cities, especially Calcutta.

Defensive and offensive strategy: 

  • Following the establishment of a camp at Wangdung grazing grounds in the Sumdorong Chu Valley (northwest of Tawang and in the same area where Indian forces were overwhelmed in 1962).
  • India put together a logistically viable envelopment strategy . An important element of this strategy was the use of helicopters and transport aircraft to facilitate and sustain this deployment.

The IAF’s advantage in current situation

  • On June 15, 2020, there was a violent clash at Patrolling Point 14 in Galwan. 
  • For any tangible gains or tactical advantage to be gained on the ground the Indian Army needs a numerical superiority of at least 5:1. 
  • Therefore, if there is any asymmetric advantage to be gained, it is air power that will prove to be decisive in depleting the PLA’s combat potential before it is applied along the LAC.
  • IAF’s fighter fleet of 4th Generation Aircraft (Su-30 MKIs, Mirage-2000s and MiG-29s) are superior in almost every respect to the PLAAF’s J-10s, J-11s and SU-30 MKKs. The IAF has more operational bases than the PLAAF close to the LAC.
  • Aerial mobility department where the IAF transport fleet of C-17s, Il-76s, An-32s and C-130s are as proficient in diverse roles as the best air forces in the world.
  • IAF’s Apaches would add significant firepower in Ladakh.

Two Areas of concern:

  • The first is a strong ground-based air defence network strung up by the PLAAF in Tibet comprising the S-300, S-400 and HQ-9 systems that the IAF will have to contest during its offensive operations. 
  • The second is the advantage that the PLAAF has in long-range air delivered cruise missiles (500-3,000 km) from the H-6 bomber. 

Way forward:

  • China possesses a large complement of the Yaogan series of low earth orbit surveillance satellites that offer it an almost persistent stare capability over areas of interest. 
    • To counter this India must leverage its existing space-based surveillance assets and airborne surveillance platforms to support wide-spectrum operations and provide better situational awareness.

Air power represents the sharp end of contemporary military power. 


Image Source: the hindu