For the first time, the Indian Air Force has surpassed China to rank third in the Global Air Power Ranking 2022
The fact that China surpasses India in terms of overall military force does not mean that Beijing can easily defeat an opponent that possesses modern weapons and a nuclear capability that cannot be underestimated.
In a recent ranking published on The World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft website (WDMMA), the US and Russian air forces continue to be the most powerful air forces in the world. In particular, according to WDMMA, for the first time, the Indian Air Force has surpassed China to rank third in the Global Air Power Ranking 2022 after examining the air strength of various countries around the world.
WDMMA is a website that tracks 98 countries and territories, 124 air forces with a total of 47,840 aircraft. To evaluate the overall combat capabilities of various air forces around the world, WDMMA uses a scoring formula called TvR, which allows to assess the overall combat strength of the air forces of countries based on factors such as modernization, calculated help, assault, and guard abilities.
Interestingly, the Indian Air Force ranks higher than its regional rival, China and placed above the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), the Israeli Air Force, and the French Air and Space Force. According to the report, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has a total of 1,645 active aircraft in its inventory. Meanwhile, China’s is 2,040 units. In this method, a country’s tactical air force is broken down not merely by the number of planes it has but also by the quality and diversity of its stock.
While the Indian media welcomed the rankings, Chinese netizens questioned the capabilities of the Indian Air Force and WDMMA rankings. Chinese netizens stated that the Indian Air Force is placed sixth, and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force is listed seventh because the website lacks such information on the Chinese Air Force.
When it comes to the diversity of air power, India is proving its potential. The IAF has acquired some of the best aircraft in the world over the past few years. Thanks to Dassault’s Rafale jets, Boeing’s Apache and Chinook helicopters and a modern fleet of transport aircraft, it has become a reliably mighty force. India has also integrated its formidable missile arsenal with the IAF fleet.
The new acquisitions and upgrades of existing capabilities have given the IAF the visible ability to strike deep even in a contested airspace. With about 1,700 aircraft, around 900 of them fighters, the IAF is the world’s fourth largest air force. It has a mixed inventory sourced from the US, Russia and Europe. The IAF is now streamlining and upgrading its fleet of Jaguar, Mirage-2000, MiG-29 and Sukhoi-30 Mki fighters. Outdated Jaguars are also being updated with new technologies. lso, apart from upgrades planned for 59 existing MiG-29s, the IAF is also acquiring 21 more MiG-29s and has issued a tender for 114 fighter jets to be manufactured in India on a transfer-of-technology basis.
Experts say the IAF can match, or even better, the Chinese air force in a limited air war. The missile arsenal also gives the IAF a strong advantage. Integrated with fighter jets are a variety of missiles—from the deadly BrahMos and the Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile to the long-range, air-to-air Python 5 and MICA missiles. The Air Force also has SPICE 2000 air-to-ground missiles and HAMMER air-to-ground precision-guided weapon systems.
As for China, they have a large air force arsenal with more than 2,000 combat aircraft, including J-20, J-10, J-11 and Su-27 fighter jets. It also has a long-range strategic bomber fleet, around 20 AWACS aircraft, and a variety of combat drones. The Chinese air force may have a numerical advantage, but military observers say it suffers from a lack of combat experience. Moreover, most Chinese fighters are a result of reverse-engineering, making it less reliable than a western aircraft.
Since its bombing mission in the Korean war, the PLAAF has not carried out any offensive missions. China technically has a larger force. However, with the tensions in the South China Sea, as well as a maritime territorial dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, the Chinese cannot focus all of their force on India, at the risk of facing a conflict on three fronts.
India faces a somewhat similar division problem due to Pakistan’s relatively close military relationship with China, but that is arguably more of an extension of a single front. Most of Pakistan’s combat aircraft are also older designs like the Mirage III, Mirage 5, and J-7. This becomes the biggest factor in any Sino-Indian air war. China could theoretically crush the Indian Air Force by focusing all its fighting power on the task.
The problem China faces is that such a focus would prove a Phyrric victory, as its claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea could become highly vulnerable. But if China sends in only part of its force, it risks seeing the People’s Liberation Army Air Force be defeated in detail. India, on the other hand, faces no such problems. As such, it has a good chance to win an air war with China, simply because the Indians don’t face a potential second front.