Moved from MMRCA thread... assuming this is an appropriate thread.
Viv S wrote:
The IAF needs to enforce local air superiority (if not air dominance) and that can't be done from rear areas.
Are we still thinking of "Air Dominance" or even "local air superiority" vis-a-vis the Chinese? Is that a realistic or likely objective? Is anything more than "contested airspace" a realistic outcome from the IAF?
IOW, is IAF : PLAAF :: PAF : IAF?
(i.e. IAF isto PLAAF, as the PAF is unto IAF). Anybody has anything to argue for or against this formula? Is this true in 2012? Will it be true in 2020? What about 2030?
Viv S wrote:
Instead of outcomes over the battlefield as a whole, its better to look at it in terms of sectors or zones of influence. While maintaining air dominance or air supremacy, of the sort exercised by the USAF, is obviously out of the question, the IAF can enforce air superiority over friendly troop positions extending to the FEBA, and total checking of enemy air activity in a region... say 75 km from its forward air bases.
Coming to the PAF-IAF, IAF-PLAAF analogy, I admit I've mused over the similarity often, but I'm not convinced by it.
Firstly, the disparity in forces isn't as lopsided - in terms of fourth generation fighters the IAF's inventory is roughly speaking 4:1 against the PAF and 1:2 against the PLAAF.
Secondly, there's the technological superiority that the IAF maintains vis-a-vis both forces - the PLAAF because it can't access western tech and the PAF because it can't afford it.
Thirdly, the IAF is clearly the better trained force and by a considerable margin. While there's been an improvement in Chinese standards over last two decades (before that they were truly abysmal), its still constrained by being a very insular force. That PAF too while placing a strong emphasis on pilot training, is hampered by budgetary concerns - flight hours logged are still a function of the amount of imported jet fuel the service can afford (making foreign exercises too an expensive proposition).
The IAF on the other hand, not only trains hard but also extensively exercises with numerous friendly air forces. Also, Indian military as a whole remains more open and thereby more amenable to change. That often results in allegations like the CAG jeopardizing national security, but on the whole is preferable to the state prevailing in our neighborhood where uncomfortable facts are swept under rug.
Finally and possibly most importantly, the geography has not been a good friend to the PAF. Most of its assets are concentrated in a thin belt running along the length of the country 50-250km from the border. The IAF-PLAAF front on the other hand, spans a massive area with challenging terrain, making it harder for the superior force to concentrate its resources for a decisive result (as opposed to a slugging war of attrition).
All in all, at least in a single front war I'd expect the IAF to be able to fight the PLAAF to a stalemate - prevent it from significantly influencing the ground war while clocking a superior attrition rate. I don't believe the PAF has the capacity to do the same vis-a-vis the IAF.
(BTW this line of discussion is mostly off-topic, so its best pursued on a different thread.)
I agree that your reading of the current situation corresponds pretty closely with my own view. But what of the mid-term future? Say 10-20 years hence. The IAF/PLAAF matchup today is what the IAF/PAF matchup was 20 years ago. Will the next two decades end with IAF/PLAAF matchup reminiscent of the PAF/IAF today?
I will also note that all the first three reasons you state were the exact same ones proffered by PAF in the years gone by as to why they could hold their own against the IAF. PAF had roughly half the number of the latest greatest 4th generation aircraft as the IAF (F-16s, M2000 and MiG-29s). PAF had access to the qualitatively better American gear as compared to the Indian Russian/Anglo-French kit. Third, the PAF with its extensive secondment to the middle-eastern air forces etc had a better trained air/ground crew. Now it can be argued to what extent all this was true or not, but that was the argument. The parallels in the arguments are striking.
That was the situation in say 1990. In the next two decades the IAF really took off and the IAF/PAF today is more of a mismatch. PAF has gone from looking for air superiority to trying to maintain a tight air defense to now largely trying to make any punitive strike by India expensive. "Defeat" the IAF is not a realistic objective for the PAF anymore.
The primary reason for this sea change is that the Indian economy took off, while Pakistan's ... well not really. Today the shoe seems to be on the other foot. PLAAF is gearing up to face down the USAF in the coming decades. Let's just say that as time passes the IAF would not unduly vex the PLAAF planners or give them sleepless nights.
More than economies, the critical difference that will keep mounting is that the PRC is now an innovator itself and has a fairly mature (compared to India) aviation industry. India is still at high seas industrially and wholly dependent on high technology imports. Nor does this seems likely to change much in the next 20 years.