Book Review | China-The rising aerospace power: Implications for India

November 1, 2020 2:34 PM

While the USA would like to have a unipolar world, and bi-polar Asia, China wants to have a Bi-polar world and Uni-polar Asia. India would soon be the third most powerful world power and would prefer a multipolar world.

Overall it is a very comprehensive research work covering all aspects related to a very relevant subject.

Review by: Air Marshal Anil Khosla (Retd)

Amidst the India-China stand-off in Ladakh, there has been great discussion about the comparative strength of the two air forces. Special references have been to the overhyped Chinese aircraft such as the stealth J-20 fifth-generation aircraft. Air Marshal Anil Chopra, (Retd), a senior Mirage 2000 pilot and test pilot has analysed the Chinese aerospace power in a recently published book, “China-The Rising Aerospace Power: Implications for India”. The book was released by the Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria at a brief ceremony in Air HQ. The book has been published by Pentagon press LLP under a United Services Institution (USI) project. The author has carried out a very detailed and analytical study dealing with the subject in a comprehensive manner including crystal gazing into the future and making valuable recommendations.

Generally all writings about the modernisation of Chinese defence forces have PLAAF as a small subset. This near 300-page book deals specifically with PLAAF in the backdrop of modernisation of forces in general. It is well researched, exhaustive and has a great reference set. In the book comparative analysis has been carried out, identifying the gaps and the trends. The analysis includes historical progression, present status and extrapolated future trajectory.

Chinese strong man Deng Xiaoping who really transformed China had believed in collective leadership and had said that China must hide its achievements and bide its time, and only then announce itself to the world. Xi Jinping is not only a man in a hurry, but has taken over all the important posts of power controlling the party, military and the administrative machinery. He has literally become the “Chairman of all things”. In a hurry to make China the number one power, he illegally moved into the South China Sea and usurped nearly 3 million square kilometres of the economic zone. China has shown expansionist intent against Taiwan and Japan. The aggression against India has antagonized 1.3 billion people. China has moved against its own people in Xinjiang.

Very early after People’s Republic of China (PRC) was formed, China had decided to target to be a superpower. They also made up their mind that power flows from the barrel of the gun. In the 1950s itself, China had realised that one who controls the aerospace controls the planet. The book covers in great detail the primacy of aerospace power and how it evolved around the world and how China began investing in aerospace power. Initially, it was through license production of Russian systems including fighters and bombers. Later they reverse-engineered them. Today China’s Aircraft industry corporation (AVIC) is among the top in the world. Yet the book highlights that China has critical technology challenges in aircraft engines, AESA radars, electronic warfare and stealth technology. China’s booming economy has allowed it to invest heavily into defence R&D and therefore, these weak areas will be strengthened. China is also trying to acquire aircraft engine companies in Ukraine.

China has made significant inroads into space and has an ambitious manned space station and missions to far of planets. It is also looking at weaponising of space. In any case, space will be used actively for many forms of war enabling activities such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and cyber warfare. China’s space-based global navigation system Beidou is already operational.

People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is finally coming of age. It has started to become independent of the influence and doctrines of the Army. They are looking at new training techniques and greater independence of flight leaders. Yet PLAAF has had very low combat exposure as after Korea they have had just one limited war with Vietnam. Also, PLAAF has had international air exercises mainly with Pakistan and thus has no major exposure.

China has the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) combined with air-launched cruise missiles is considered a significant force. As per Chinese doctrine, they are likely to use surface to surface missiles (SSM), as they are convinced that these are difficult to defend against. In response, India is building a significant inventory of its own.

China has an ambitious aircraft carrier program with a target of six carriers by 2035. The ground reality is that today they still have only one operational carrier and a second one is under sea trials. There are key technologies such as EMALS related to aircraft launch that China does not possess. In comparison, the USA has 12 aircraft carriers. Since China has ambitions to dominate the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, India needs to accelerate its own aircraft carrier program and target a figure of at least three.

China and Pakistan have had close defence cooperation. Aerospace is the crown jewel of this relationship. The book has a full chapter covering the industrial relationship, including the joint fighter JF-17. It also looks at the joint air training exercises, interoperability, and how China and Pakistan could coordinate in case of a two-front war.

The book looks at the Indo-Pacific region as a whole and covers the air assets in the region of major powers like USA, Japan, Australia and Vietnam. It also discusses the geographical, political and diplomatic aspects of QUAD and other regional groupings.

The most important part of the book are the final two chapters covering the air balance and possible air war scenarios across the Himalayas. It covers the air assets and airfields between India and China. It also covers peculiarities of the air war in mountains. It brings out the various areas in which India has a clear advantage. Finally, the book looks at the aerospace and other options with India to contain or restrict China.

While the USA would like to have a unipolar world, and bi-polar Asia, China wants to have a Bi-polar world and Uni-polar Asia. India would soon be the third most powerful world power and would prefer a multipolar world.

Overall it is a very comprehensive research work covering all aspects related to a very relevant subject. The trajectory of Chinese aerospace power has been presented very logically and its implications for India have been brought out lucidly. The book is appropriately timed and is a must-read for china watchers, analysts, strategists, security mandarins, students and scholars of regional security and aerospace power.

(The reviewer is former Vice Chief of Air Staff, IAF. Views expressed are personal)

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