Indian Air Force Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria on Tuesday said that China has heavily deployed the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) to support its army in the Ladakh theatre along with a large number of radars and missiles, even as he listed out the possible Chinese objectives for its actions at the northern border.
The air chief said the likely reasons for China’s actions along India’s northern borders could include planned escalation and an attempt to establish border claim lines and start border talks on the new positions, military signalling, domination efforts with escalation control and deployment and training of their Western Theater forces in real war-like scenarios wherein the Galwan Valley incident was an overreach.
Speaking at an event organised by the Vivekananda International Foundation, Bhadauria said China’s aim could also possibly be fine-tuning its strategy to enhance its military technologies and recognize and fill gaps to get its forces to synergise the structures the Chinese military has created over the last two decades.
“In any case, all of the above (possible objectives) appear to have happened irrespective of what was the starting objective. It could also be a totally military-dominated misadventure that escalated given the rapid decrease in trust deficit in post-Covid scenario… and possibly due to the loss of face (for the Chinese), the action later continued to escalate,” Bhadauria said.
“The important issue is that we recognize what they (China) have really achieved and whatever four or five points I mentioned have been actioned in the real sense,” the IAF chief said.
Responding to a question, he said the frontier People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) was deployed fully to support the Chinese army and it also had a large presence in the “second tier.”
“Their deployment has been very strong. We have taken every action that we were required to take and cater to such situation and be sure that we will handle it,” Bhadauria said.
The IAF chief said that the air force’s robust actions in the Ladakh theatre had “stopped the Chinese in their tracks and they remained there.” He said India’s most important national security challenge was to understand China, its possible game plan and the deepening and evolving Sino-Pak relationship.
“We are aware that China’s main aspirations are clearly on the global front and regional domination is part of the route to global leadership. Any serious India-China conflict is not good for China at the global front. If Chinese aspirations are global, then it does not suit their grand plans and therefore it is important to understand what could be their possible objectives for their actions in the north (Ladakh sector),” he said.
He said the evolving uncertainties and instability at the global geopolitical front provided China with a chance to demonstrate its growing power and also revealed the inadequate contribution of major powers to global security.
He said budgetary constraint was an issue for the military.
“While we have our needs, we have factored in the current constraints and we are aware that it will take a while for the economy to get back and for us to have the kind of budget we had earlier… We can’t expect we will have some unlimited budget even with the security scenario in the north. The current budget will not be a constraint for us in the north,” he said.
He said Sukhoi-30 fighter jets equipped with the BrahMos missile had significantly increased the reach of the air force and no territory in the so-called ‘string of pearls’ area was out of the IAF’s reach. China’s ‘string of pearls’ refers to strategic attempts to surround India with facilities that can be upgraded to military bases.
On the Ayni airbase in Tajikistan that gives India a strategic footprint in central Asia, the IAF chief said, “It’s an area that gave us a huge capability in terms of being able to operate from there… it has resulted in not only a lot of goodwill but also has a lot of strategic importance and it is going well.”
On the possibility of joint air exercises between the air forces of India, the United States, Australia and Japan (their navies carry out the Malabar drill), the IAF chief said, “The Quad as an execution hasn’t happened so far for the air forces but as a plan of action, it is possible that it will come up soon. At the trilateral level, exercises have happened… between air forces of two Quad countries and observers from a third.”
China has been wary of the Quadrilateral security dialogue or Quad that was revived in late 2017 by India, the US, Australia and Japan, and these suspicions have increased since the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level last year.