Gone India, Jan. 12, Reuter: India may be outnumbered and outgunned by the Chinese along its northeastern border with Tibet but is confident of the superiority of its combat aircraft.

“Our current aerial superiority ‘over the Chinese is the only bright patch in the defense scenario of the Himalayas”, said a senior intelligence official.

Planners at Eastern air command headquarters here say the Chinese army and its artillery forces are as well-equipped as India’s and have overwhelming numerical superiority, which could prove too much for the Indians to handle.

China was 14 army divisions against India’s 11 in the Eastern Himalayas, and 17 combat aircraft squadrons against India’s 13 in the sector, the officials said. With a better road network in Tibet, the Chinese could quickly deploy six more army divisions to strengthen their offensive potential in a border conflict,

But Indian air commanders say India’s MIG—27s, built under license from Soviet Union and the MIG295 it is now acquiring, area technological era ahead of China’s J7 fighters.

China has deployed the J7s modified versions of the Soviet built MIG21 in some forward bases of Tibet, to counter possible Indian cross border forays.

The U.S. Journal “Aviation Week”, recently reported a squadron of J7s was based at Gonggar, a Tibetian air base whose altitude of 3,561 meters makes it one of the highest in the world.

According to Eastern Air Command, the J—7s are “just as good as the MIG—2Is that we are phasing out.”

The MIG21, for long India’s main air defense along with the Soviet built SU7 fighter bomber, is being replaced by 165 MIG27s that Hindustan aeronautics limited was due to complete by the end of 1987, and by 48 MIG29s, which the Soviet Union has so far sold only to India.

More than 40 French built mirage2000s were also acquired in 1986878, the officials said.

Indian air commanders, however, believe that “our greatest edge on the Chinese is not just better equipment, but our operational experience and battle traditions”, one said.

They point out that the Indian air force fared well in two air wars with the better equipped Pakistanis in 1965 and 1971.

In the 1962 Indo Chinese war, which ended in a debacle for India, neither side used its air force, nor has the Chinese air force never fought a major air battle.

One highly decorated Indian combat fighter, now an air commodore, said: “Our military leaders made a mistake by keeping the kites in the hangars during the Sino Indian border conflict in 1962. We might as well have taught the Chinese pilots a lesson or two”.

Stopping short of an air war in 1962 provoked a long debate in Indian military circles.

“We can take on the Chinese air force, even if they enjoy a seven to four numerical superiority. Numbers alone do not count in an air war”, said Air Commodore K.S. Khalon, another battle veteran.

But he and most air force officials admitted that the story might be different on the ground.

Chinese air defense systems are also “not a very know commodity” for Indian fliers. Western experts believe the Chinese have made big advances in this area and that Indian bomber squadrons would have to reckon with them in the event of raiding forays on Tibet.

But the planners say India’s military strategy in the eastern Himalayas is essentially defensive.

They say the air force’s accent is ‘on improving interceptor and limited ground strike capabilities to ward off possible Chinese adventures into India’s remote and exposed border states of Arunchal Pradesh or Sikkim.

Article extracted from this publication >> January 15, 1988