Indian Air Force

India Vs China: Who Would Win A Hypothetical War? Aerial Warfare

Hello defence lovers! In the previous article, we discussed the land-based engagement which is evident for our hypothetical war between India and China. In this article, we are going to discuss Aerial warfare. We will compare the air force of both countries and try to figure out who will dominate the skies in the conflict.

India learned a lesson from the 1962 Sino-Indian war. At that time India operated superior western aircraft compared to China. India had a technological edge over China yet the Air force was not used as the Indian government thought it would further escalate the conflict. The decision was a blunder and the Indian ground troops paid the price. We hope that the Indian government learned a lesson from that and won’t repeat the same mistake again.

Strength Of Airforce

According to Global Fire Power Index, China has the world’s 3rd largest air force. It has over 3000 aircraft with 1200+ fighter jets. India on the other hand has the world’s third-largest air force with 2000+ aircraft and 550+ fighter jets. It is to be noted that around two-third of the Chinese air force (known as the PLAAF) are outdated 3rd generation fighters. These include the J7, the illegal Chinese copy of Soviet Mig 21. Compared to PLAAF, only one-fifth of the IAF inventory consists of fighter which are below 4th generation standards. The only such fighter is the Mig 21 bison. But this aircraft can also do wonders. IAF MiG 21 and Wing commander Abhinadan Varthaman, VC, are famous for shooting down a Pakistani F16.

Deployment And Bases

China has a vast landmass and plenty of dispute regions to cover. China has disputes with every neighbor. Thus it requires a lot more aircraft than India. All the resources that the PLAAF has are distributed all over Mainland China. India is not the only problem that China has to deal with. PLAAF’s most advanced fighter – Su 35 is deployed near Taiwan. Most of its assets are concentrated along the South China Sea region.

Compared to China, India has a much smaller landmass to protect. Thus IAF fighters are more strategically deployed all over norther India such that they could counter both China and Pakistan at the same time. Some fighters are also deployed in eastern India to specifically deal with China. Few fighters are stationed in South India for a dedicated anti-shipping role.

India also has a terrain advantage. The IAF bases are located at lower altitudes compared to the PLAAF forward operating bases. Thus IAF fighters can operate at their full potential without compromising their payloads. This is not the case with China as due to thinner air, Chinese fighters have to compromise with the payload and hence cannot operate at their full potential.

Now let us discuss the vital air assets that both airforces have for the aerial warfare.


Dassault Rafale is the most advanced fighter in the entire subcontinent. No Chinese fighter can match its capabilities. Rafale has superior electronics and avionics, the most advanced BVR missiles, and a vast variety of weapon packages including long-range standoff missiles. It is a game-changer for the IAF. The only problem with the rafale is the numbers. Let’s consider that the Aerial Warfare takes place after the delivery is complete, still, IAF will have only 36 fighters. Another problem is that Indian pilots less experience on Rafale compared to any other aircraft. However, this problem will be solved in due course of time. Rafale will be a crucial part of aerial warfare during this conflict.


China claims its J 20 to be 5th generation fighters. The main distinguishing feature of 5th generation fighter is its stealth. J 20 is so stealthy that IAF Su 30 MKIs keep detecting them flying over Tibet. One should note that Su 30 MKI is not even equipped with an AESA radar, but its Bars PESA radar is still a very powerful one.

J 20 also has canards which should not be there. J 20 is actually based on Mikoyan project 1.44. Thus calling j 20 a fifth-generation fighter will be an insult to F 22 and F 35.

Su-30 MKI

Su 30 MKI will play a significant role in air superiority missions during the aerial engagement. It is highly maneuverable and is one of the best dogfighters in the world. IAF operates them in large numbers. It will be the workhorse of the IAF during the conflict.


Jaguar will be the most important fighter in the entire conflict. As we have discussed earlier the conflict will be based in the mountainous region, the role of the Jaguar becomes very crucial. Jaguars can fly very low and slow and can use terrain masking very well. These will be instrumental for close air support. Due rugged design, it will be able to somewhat tolerate the enemy air defence fire. The ground troops are very vulnerable in mountain warfare as there is no natural cover. Few cluster bombs can wipe out entire divisions of soldiers.

Other Assets

Various other assets will play an important role. The UAVs and UCAVs will be extensively used during the conflict. China has a definite edge over India in this field. The role of Bombers such as the new H20 will be negligible as shooting down these will be quite easy. Air defence systems will be one of the most important parts of Aerial warfare. Both India and China operate very capable systems. Significant losses will be because of these systems. Gunships will also be useful for Close Air Support.

India needs to worry about the Chinse Su 35 and Shenyang J16. These two are the most capable fighters of PLAAF. However, Su 35 is very limited in numbers just like Rafale.


Looking at the numbers we just cannot say PLAAF will defeat IAF easily. We can say the fight can just end up in a stalemate looking at the technology of both the air force. However, if we consider the quality factor, IAF pilots are one of the best in the world. Chinese Pilots stand nowhere near the Indian Pilots. Since its formation, PLAAF hasn’t seen real engagement except for the Korean War. On the other side, the Indian air force is one of the most experienced air forces in the world. Even Pakistan air force is better in terms of training when we compare it with China.

If all the resources are used with proper planning a decisive victory in the Aerial warfare is very much possible for the Indian Air force considering its technological and experience edge over the PLAAF.



Sheershoo Deb

I am a defense aspirant preparing to be an officer in the prestigious Indian armed forces. Earning the prestigious blue uniform is my dream.

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