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India has about 270 fighters and 68 ground-attack aircraft it could bring to bear in combat with China, according to a study published in March by the Belfer Center.New Delhi also maintains a string of small air bases near the Chinese border from which it can stage and supply those aircraft, the Belfer study, authored by Frank O’Donnell and Alexander Bollfrass, claimed.China, by contrast, has 157 fighters and a small fleet of ground-attack drones in the region, the Belfer study said. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) uses eight bases in the region, but most of those are civilian airfields at problematic elevations, the study suggests.”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 study claims.Aerial refueling could give the Chinese planes more payload and combat time, but the PLAAF doesn’t have enough aerial tankers to get the job done, the study suggests.A Chinese J-10 fighter jet performs at an air show in Zhuhai in 2018.A Chinese J-10 fighter jet performs at an air show in Zhuhai in 2018.The Belfor study also gives the Indian Air Force (IAF), with its Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi Su-30 jets, a qualitative edge in the region, where China fields J-10, J-11 and Su-27 fighters.The Indian Mirage 2000 and Su-30 jets are all-weather, multi-role aircraft — while of the Chinese jets, only the J-10 has those abilities.Meanwhile, India has built up its bases in the region with China in mind, according to an October 2019 report from the Center for a New American Security.”To weather a potential People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attack, India has placed greater emphasis on infrastructure hardening; base resiliency; redundant command, control, and communications systems; and improved air defense,” the report claims.The Belfer study points out that China, facing perceived threats from the United States on its eastern and southern flanks, has strengthened its bases there to the neglect of the Himalayas, leaving at least four PLA airbases vulnerable.”Indian destruction or temporary incapacitation of some of the four above air bases would further exacerbate these PLAAF operational inflexibilities and weaknesses,” it claims.The Belfer report gives the edge to India’s air force in one other area — experience.Pakistani soldiers stand next to what Pakistan said was the wreckage of a downed Indian fighter jet on February 27, 2019.Pakistani soldiers stand next to what Pakistan said was the wreckage of a downed Indian fighter jet on February 27, 2019.”Recent conflicts with Pakistan give the current IAF a level of institutional experience in actual networked combat,” it says.Lacking such experience, Chinese pilots may have difficulty thinking for themselves in a dynamic aerial battlefield, according to the Belfer report.”Recent PLAAF exercises with unscripted scenarios have found that pilots are excessively reliant upon ground control for tactical direction,” it says. “This suggests that PLAAF combat proficiency may be significantly weaker than often estimated.”

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