The Offensive Capability of the Indian Air Force

The Indian Air Force came into existence courtesy the British in 1933. At that time it came to be known as the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF). It served as an appendage to the Army and took part in operations against the Japanese Army in Burma during the Second World War.

After the British rule lapsed in 1947 the RIAF was divided into two Air forces, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and the Indian Air Force (IAF). The IAF had a checkered history and took part in vigorous operations during the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan and did have a cutting edge over the PAF.

But now in the twenty first century the IAF is faced with dilemma as how potent it can be in case of a conflict with China or Pakistan or a worse case scenario a battle on 2 fronts with both China and Pakistan.

The IAF has a force level of some 45 squadrons and about 750 first line fighter planes. These are more than adequate to take on Pakistan as all PAF bases are within range of the IAF. In addition the training and morale factor will weigh in the IAF’s favor.
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Pakistan in turn will find it difficult to attack the Indian hinterland because of the distances involved. At present Pakistan has no strategic bomber or deep penetration aircraft that can go deep into India, say to Hyderabad or Bangalore. At one stage the PAF had asked for the B-47 strategic bomber, but the deal never materialized.

However China is a different kettle of fish. The absence of a long range bomber could be a severe handicap for the IAF. A deal for the TU 22 (Backfire) supersonic bomber from Russia was heard off, but nothing materialized. Thus the IAF has no aircraft that can penetrate deep into China to bomb supply lines or roads and rail.

We are reminded of the Second World War where the absence of a strategic bomber proved a severe handicap for the Luftwaffe. It was like fighting a war with one arm rendered unusable. In turn the Chinese Air Force can hit any target in India with impunity from their bases in Tibet. In addition the Chinese air force has almost 4 times the first line strength of the IAF.