Soaring tensions between India and China in Ladakh has seen both the sides deploying thousands of troops, heavy artillery and air force along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) standing prepared, if a war breaks out.
A top Indian Air Force (IAF) officer, talking to Hindustan Times, said that such a buildup by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “is indicative of the Russian influence not only on Chinese military equipment but also in war planning and execution.”
On the condition of anonymity, the officer revealed that the deployment of at least 50,000 troops in the forward position along with the heavy weaponry and surface to air missiles to protect its weapon systems is a Soviet war tactic.
“This is the old Soviet way of fighting a war, with troops based in-depth areas (in this case, Hotan airbase 320km from the Line of Actual Control) providing the air-defence cover,” the officer said.
Giving a peek at China’s war plan, the report stated that IAF’s “disperse, absorb, recoup and retaliate” has been tested enough times including the Gagan Shakti exercise to thwart Chinese plans.
In 2018, IAF conducted a 13 day all-encompassing coordinated and composite exercise named Gagan-shakti aimed at real-time coordination, deployment and employment of Air Power in a short & intense battle scenario.
Reportedly, during the exercise, IAF flew over 11,000 sorties, including 9000 by its combat aircraft, with over 1400 officers and 14000 men from training establishments.
According to Major General (retired) GD Bakshi, the exercise was in preparation of the worst-case scenario – a two-front war.
“To avoid the Chinese missile saturation attacks on known airfields, the IAF deliberately operated from scattered satellite airfields and ALGs. Inter-valley transfer of troops and resources was practised and all conceivable scenarios played out,” he wrote in an Indian Express column.
He added that mass casualty evacuation drills were also rehearsed to cater for the contingency of even a nuclear strike and a SU-30 MKIs loaded with BrahMos cruise missile simulated an attack over the Malacca straits targeting Chinese assets.
The anonymous officer cited above from the media report pointed out that PLA suffers from a disadvantage against IAF. PLA airbases such as Hotan, Lhasa or Kashgar are farther from the LAC leaving its surface-to-air missile sites vulnerable to the stand-off air-to-ground missiles of Indian fighters.
Hence, the IAF offensive is faster. “Once air-defence missile systems are knocked out, the amassed artillery, rockets and troop concentrations become exposed on the Tibetan desert, where there is no natural camouflage cover for these systems,” the officer said.
In 1999 Karil war between India and Pakistan, he explained that the Indian Army learnt that “when the aggressor is concentrated and exposed, it becomes vulnerable to air interdiction.”
In the current standoff, Indian Security forces have taken control over critical heights including the Black Top. The heights were previously unoccupied and according to the reports, Indian and PLA troops are within firing range of one another, separated by just a few hundred meters at one point.
The officer believes that Indian forces are prepared to confront the Chinese strike in a 10-day war, in the worst-case scenario. “Any India-China hostility is unlikely to continue at an intense level without global intervention beyond 10 days.”