k prasad wrote:So in a sense, Punitive Dragon is a largely last resort action that he has really no other choice?
I wonder if China might've won this air war if Zhigao hadn't been stupid in that initial operation. I'd hate to divert you with this hypothetical Vivek, but if Feng's original suggestions of strikes on the airfields had been followed, do you think India would've lost the air war?
It is very much a last resort action short of a missiles war. With General Jinping gone and Wencang and Chen dismissed from the CMC, the PLAAF having lost upwards of five Fighter-Divisions and a host of other independent units and special mission aircraft, and the loss of airbases at Shigatse, Lhasa, Kashgar, Hotien, Golmud and other forwrad strips in southern Tibet, there is not much that they can do...
On the question of stirkes on airfelds, the answer is two part. One is tactical and the other more strategic (and open for discussion and counter-point):
a) Tactical: Feng's idea for the strikes on airfields was based around the strategically defensive operational mindset that he had before the war. He knew that IAF capabilities would prevail in the long run once it got over the element of surprise and got on with the war. There was simply no way for the PLAAF to prevail in the long run. So the idea was to buy just enough time so that the PLA could achieve its ground operations and achieve political goals to force an end to the war under Beijing's terms. Hence the S-300 air-defense strategy. Feng is shown to portray the idea in the book that Flanker fleets + KJ-2000s + S-300s used in cohesion could eliminate the IAF advantages and force them to take damage in case they tried to fight their way through it. Zhigao, through his actions, lost the Flanker fleet element from the trio above and it had a dominos style effect for the PLAAF in Ladakh.
b) Strategic: The use of long-range cruise-missiles is something that Feng is a big proponent of in the backdrop of a defensive shield tirad I mentioned above. The problem is that there is a flaw with this plan that he discovers as the war goes on: the subsonic cruise-missiles are incapable of breaking through the IAF defenses unless their fighters are bogged down fighting the PLAAF fighters. So his overall defensive mindset needed to be combined with something like Zhigao's concept of strategic offensives. The middle ground did not exist and hence they lost out.
If the PLAAF/PLA in any future war goes ahead with massive ballistic-missile (conventional warheads) bombardment of IAF airbases, there is a good chance that the IAF will be forced to be on the defensive very early on. But then we can do the same to their airfield as well! So whether its a case of both sides knocking each other out of the war is something that can happen. That war, mind you, would have escalated very quickly to the use of nuclear weapons because of other reasons. But this is of course debatable and like I said, I can only give my own personal opinion.
But otherwise, the defeat of an air-force is more the defeat of its air-ground system than the loss of fighters alone. So losing or winning an air-war has more to do with either being able or not being able to put up an aerial presence over the battlefield. It does not matter that China still has over a thousand fighters at this phase of the war. They don't have airfields in Tibet anymore or a large enough tanker fleet to matter. So what can they do with these fighters then? Once again, this is all expanded on in the book.