Satellites images had recently shown 2 Chinese J-20 stealth fighters parked in Hotan airfield in China's restive Xinjiang region. Not just that the Chinese military had reportedly deployed 36 aircraft including J-8 fighters, drones and MI-17 helicopters at forward bases along the LAC.
According to Howard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, China's Air Force has created bases in Hotan, Lhasa / Gongagar, Nagri-Gunassa and Jigze where China's fighter jets are stationed.
Chinese bases 200 km away from Pangong Tso in Ladakh
According to reports, China had started deploying fighters at Nagri-Gunassa airbase which is just 200 km away from Pangong Tso in Ladakh after the 73-day face-off in Doklam in 2017.
According to Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the airbases in Hotan, Lhasa/Gonggar, Ngari-Gunsa, and Xigaze each "hosts regular PLAAF detachments, and these are the nearest facilities to Indian targets in Kashmir, northern India, and northeast India."
However, according to the report the airbases have "no hardened shelters or blast pens for their aircraft" making them vulnerable to an attack by the Indian Air Force with just Hotan having the capacity to host “two aircraft shelters”.
"China lacks the redundancy and related force survivability compared to India in their comparative numbers of regional air bases," the report says.
'India has a stronger regional air position'
"India has a stronger regional air position, with a large number of airfields in the east and west, so even if some airfields are down, operations can continue from other locations,” the report noted.
The report also cited PLAAF training and experience shortcomings with the dependence on ground control for tactical direction. The report went on to add that "recent conflicts with Pakistan give the current IAF a level of institutional experience in actual networked combat."
'India is in a stronger conventional position'
The report concluded that "India is in a stronger conventional position vis-à-vis China" having bolstered its stockpiles since experiencing a shortfall of ammunition as it continues to reduce operational constraint.
China uses the Hotan airbase as the forward detachment for the J-10 and J-11 fighters. China’s J-10 fighter is technically comparable to India’s Mirage-2000, and that the Indian Su-30MKI is superior to all theatre Chinese fighters, including the additional J-11 and Su-27 models, the report says.
The high altitude of Chinese air bases in Tibet and Xinjiang, plus the generally difficult geographic and weather conditions of the region, means that Chinese fighters are limited to carrying around half their design payload and fuel, the report asserts.
India's tactical role over 'secrecy of their locations'
The role of India's missiles in this strategic game of neutralising China's airbases cannot be underestimated as the report says Indian aircraft could most likely reach Tibetan airspace equipped with nuclear gravity bombs with estimated two squadrons of Jaguar IS and one squadron of Mirage 2000H fighters, totalling around 51 aircraft, are assessed to be tasked with nuclear missions.
Also, India's tactical role over "secrecy of their locations" cannot be discounted giving Chinese military analysts cause for concern as to the true intention and nature of India's offensive and defensive capabilities.
Rafale has been cleared to operate weapons like the MICA air-to-air 'Beyond Visual Range' (BVR) interception, combat and self-defence missiles, the METEOR very long-range air-to-air missile, the HAMMER -- Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range -- modular, rocket-boosted air-to-ground precision-guided weapon series, laser-guided bombs with different warheads, and "specifics armaments" selected by some clients.
The Rafale is also fitted with 14 hardpoints, out of which five are capable of drop tanks and heavy ordnance.
The jet's total external load capacity is more than nine tonnes.
Rafale vs China
Rajnath Singh had earlier said the new French Rafale jets were "strong message" amid an escalating border row with China. The first five of a $9.4-billion order for 36 Rafale aircraft formally entered service following a ceremony in Ambala in northern India in September.
Amid tensions along the LAC, India has embarked on a $130-billion modernisation of its armed forces including ordering attack helicopters from the United States and a missile defence system from Russia.
India moves closer to West to counter China
Even before relations with China nosedived, India was moving strategically closer to the West, deepening security cooperation with the United States, Japan and Australia in the Asia-Pacific region.
It has also embarked on a $130-billion modernisation of its armed forces -- including ordering attack helicopters from the United States and a missile defence system from Russia.