India can handle a simultaneous two-front war if push comes to shove despite depleted air combat power due to huge delays in induction of new fighters, said the IAF chief on Thursday.
In the backdrop of Pakistan keeping the western front on the boil and China not reducing force-levels on the eastern one after the troop disengagement from the Doklam stand-off.
Tackling Pakistan alone is not a problem at all, asserted Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa. Asked about Pakistan often brandishing its tactical nuclear weapons as an effective counter to India’s conventional military superiority and the “Cold Start” strategy, he said “IAF has the capability to locate, fix and strike targets across the border.”
The IAF chief also pointed to India’s stated nuclear doctrine that clearly holds that an adversary’s first strike — by a strategic or even a smaller tactical nuclear weapon — will invite massive retaliatory strikes designed to inflict unacceptable damage.
IAF also has “adequate capability” to handle China’s numerically-superior air force. “It is not what they have but what they can project against us…what they can bring to Tibet,” said Dhanoa, speaking in the run-up to the IAF Day on October 8.
In the event of a conflict, China can deploy over 20 fighter squadrons from its eight airbases in Tibet and other airfields to their north, but the weapon and fuel-carrying capacity of their jets will be quite limited due to the high-altitude and rarefied air there. Fully-loaded Indian Sukhoi-30MKIs, taking off from bases like Tezpur, Chabua and Hasimara, in turn, can strike high-value targets deep inside China.
The IAF chief said China had not reduced its military forces in the Chumbi Valley region, at the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, after the rival troops disengaged from the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at Doklam on August 28. “But I expect them to withdraw as their exercises end and winter approaches,” he said, adding that “a peaceful and mature” resolution would be in the interest of the two major countries.
The IAF, of course, continues to make do with just 33 fighter squadrons despite the collusive threat from China and Pakistan. “Yes, we need a strength of 42 squadrons to carry out full-spectrum operations in a two-front scenario. But it does not mean we are not capable of fighting a two-front (war) as we speak. We have a Plan B in place,” said Dhanoa.
“The possibility of a two-front war in the current geopolitical situation is low….But intentions (of enemies) can change overnight,” he said, adding that IAF will achieve its authorized strength of 42 fighter squadrons only by 2032.