Tensions between the world’s two most populous countries have risen to their highest levels in more than four decades after 20 Indian soldiers were reportedly killed in hand-to-hand combat in the Himalayas.
Chinese state media said on Wednesday that as a measure of goodwill, the Chinese government would not release the number of People’s Liberation Army soldiers killed in the battle. Indian news agency ANI claimed 43 Chinese soldiers had been killed or seriously injured in the clash, which reportedly involved iron rods, clubs, and soldiers being pushed off cliffs, but no firearms.
Indian officials confirmed on Wednesday that at least 20 Indian soldiers had been killed in the dispute. Tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries have centred on the completion of a military road to an Indian airfield on the border 4270 metres above sea level.
Amid recent tension, satellite imagery shows PLAAF fighters and Airfields along the LAC are ready and await orders.
Hotan Airbase Satellite Imagery
Long-range radars have been installed at the Hotan AB to keep an eye deep inside India.
In the photo you can see Chinese latest jets are also queuing up.
Ngari Gunsa Airbase Satellite Imagery
The images suggests a significant and rapid Chinese military build-up in the past months along the contested border region amid what Indian media has widely reported since this weekend to be PLA forces digging into fortified positions.
Importantly, the strategic base is a mere 200km away from Pangong lake, where recent skirmishes between Chinese and Indian border patrols took place on May 5th-6th.
One of the satellite images is dated way back to April 6 and the second image came out a few days ago – May 21 to be precise. The first image shows how the territory originally looked. However, the second image clearly shows massive construction activity going on in the territory. The expansion has included something that looks more like a secondary tarmac to combat aircraft or taxi-track.
The third image shows a line-up of four fighter jets. They are either J-11 or J-16 fighters of the Chinese PLA Air Force. According to the caption on the third image, it looks like the deployment of the fighter jets at the Ngari Gunsa airbase was spotted way back in December 2019.
The location of the airbase is significant. That’s because it’s a dual-use military and civil airport, with 14,022 feet – one of the highest in the world. With that kind of height, the fighter jets can only be useful to carry limited war-loads and fuel.
Over the past weekend Indian media began reporting that thousands of PLA troops have now moved into Ladakh’s disputed Galwan river area, and at multiple locations in eastern Ladakh. The satellite images appear to confirm Chinese troop movements along and inside of the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
According to the Guardian, “Thousands of Chinese People’s Liberation (PLA) troops are reported to have moved into sensitive areas along the eastern Ladokh border, setting up tents and stationing vehicles and heavy machinery in what India considers to be its territory.”
PLAAF Fighter Fleet
Since the 1990s, the PLAAF has been modernising at a rapid pace and today has a strength of around 2,100 combat aircraft (including those of PLA Naval Aviation) against 759 (Military Balance 2017) of the IAF (includes 45 Mig-29s of Indian Navy). But numbers do not tell the full story. China may be having a large air force, but only a small fleet of these aircraft can be deployed against India due to the limited number of airfields in Tibet.
Tibet. Almost 30 per cent of the PLAAFs combat aircraft force is of old generation fighter/attack aircraft such as the J-7 (Mig-21) and J-8. These old aircraft will be replaced in the next few years with new fourth/fifth-generation aircraft. The PLAAF has a strength of around 600 fourth-generation fighter aircraft such as the J-10, SU-27, J-11/ SU-30 and this number is likely to increase in the coming years with the PLAAF soon becoming a majority fourth/fifth generation fighter fleet.
China has built a new stealth fighter called the J-20 which entered service in September 2017, and another stealth aircraft, the J-31 is under development. The J-20 is a single seat, twin-engine fifth-generation fighter. It is bigger and heavier than the American F-22 Raptor and the Russian PAK FA T-50/SU-57.
Not many details are available about the J-20’s performance, but from open source information and imagery, a brief assessment can be made of its capabilities. The chined nose and flat lower fuselage can reduce the J-20’s frontal Radar Cross Section (RCS). The J-20’s design also includes front canards which increases its RCS. Canard design is used to improve manoeuvrability, but the disadvantage is that its moving surface increases the radar reflecting surface. It is for this reason that no steal ..
The RCS of any aircraft is different from each side of the airframe. While the J-20 has frontal stealth features it will not be very stealthy from other sides of the airframe. Another problem the J-20 faces is of aero-engines. China’s aviation industry has not been able to develop high performance jet engines for their advanced fighters. The J-20s first flight was with Russian AL-31 engines and they are now powered by indigenous WS-10B as a stop gap measure till the under-development and more powerful WS-15 engine is ready. The WS-10B is not powerful enough to provide supercruise capability whereas the WS-15 can. China tried to procure Russia’s supercruise capable Saturn 117S engines for the J-20 but the Russians were hesitant to offer them knowing the Chinese tendency to reverse engineer. China therefore, decided to buy 24 SU-35 fighter aircraft from Russia to give them access to the SU-35s Saturn 117S engines.
China has received 14 SU-35s from Russia and the balance ten aircraft will be delivered by end-2018. The SU-35 is a single-seat, twin-engine air superiority Russian fighter aircraft. It is an advanced version of the SU-27SK and SU-30MKK models which China had previously procured from Russia.
The induction of SU-35 by China marks the first time that Russia has supplied China a more powerful fighter aircraft compared with what it has supplied to India. In the past, the opposite was the rule. For example, the Su-30MKK fighters Russia sold to China were no match for the Su-30MKIs supplied to India at about the same time. The Chinese planes had inferior radar and without the thrust vectoring engines that the Indian version had. This time, the situation has been reversed with the Su-35 having more powerful engines and more sophisticated radar, weapons and avionics compared to the SU-30 MKI. China’s aviation industry has not been able to develop high performance jet engines for their advanced fighters…
Till about 2017, the technological asymmetry between the IAF and the PLAAF was in India’s favour with the SU-30 MKI of the IAF being superior to China’s SU-30 MKK.
But the induction of SU-35 and J-20 has tilted the balance in favour of China. The balance will again tilt in favour of India with the induction of the Rafale in 2019. The Rafale with its advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Meteor BVR missiles and super cruise capability will be superior to both the SU-35 and J-20. While the J-20 has frontal stealth, it could be exposed from the sides. The Rafale can be employed to attack from beam quarters to get more RCS for radar pick up.
Once China succeeds in developing the WS-15 engines for the J-20 it will again give the PLAAF a technological advantage. India will have to fast track its own fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) project and deploy counter-stealth systems to face the challenge from the PLAAF.
With the tardiness with which HAL has produced aircraft for the IAF, one can be sure that the AMCA will not see the light of day in a finite timeframe. Therefore, some bold and quick decisions have to be taken. India has already floated a requirement for 114 single/twin engine fighter aircraft. Whoever wins this contract must also be involved in the AMCA project with a commitment to produce it in a defined timeframe.
Therefore, some bold and quick decisions have to be taken. India has already floated a requirement for 114 single/twin engine fighter aircraft. Whoever wins this contract must also be involved in the AMCA project with a commitment to produce it in a defined timeframe. Secondly, since India cannot be on a perpetual buying spree to meet its advanced arms requirements, indigenous design and development need to be promoted. Linking the single/twin engine contract to AMCA development in a joint ventu ..