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China Versus India
by James Dunnigan
October 7, 2009

The commander of the Indian Air Force is openly complaining that China has three times as many warplanes as India (which has 1,700, have of them combat, the rest support). The head of the Indian Navy has been complaining about Chinese warships being more numerous, and more frequently  showing up in the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Army is less concerned. Three years ago, India adopted the Russian T-90 as its new main battle tank. There is now local production of about a thousand T-90s over the next decade. India already has imported 310 T-90s. Under this plan, by 2020, India will have 2,000 upgraded T-72s, over 1,500 T90s, and few hundred other tanks. This will be the most powerful armored force in Eurasia, unless China moves ahead with upgrades to its tank force. The border between China and India is high in the Himalayan mountains, which is not good tank country. India's tank force is mainly for use against Pakistan. But if the Chinese should ever cross the border, they had best be prepared to deal with lots of modern tanks.

China says it is not concerned with India's moving two more infantry divisions into northeast India, where the Himalayan mountains form a thousand kilometer long, unfenced border with China. There are boundary disputes between India and China along the Himalayas, but these are now being negotiated (although not settled yet). India is putting those two divisions into Arunachal Pradesh to deal with long term ethnic unrest. India also recently upgraded a primitive airfield (used mainly for helicopters), 25 kilometers from the Chinese border, to one that can handle larger transports. Again, while some Indian politicians proclaim that this is all about defending India from the Chinese menace, it's actually more about local tribal separatists.

Although India lost several border skirmishes to Chinese troops along that border in the 1960s, China was never considered a real threat. That's because there were no Chinese railroads leading to their side of the Himalayan frontier. With only a few roads leading into Tibet, from China proper, the Chinese could never launch a major offensive across the Himalayan border. That changed three years ago when China completed a railroad into Tibet.

So China is now a threat from all sides. India is particularly annoyed at China intruding into the waters surrounding India. It's not called the Indian Ocean for nothing, and the Indians consider these waters sacrosanct. Chinese naval power is not welcome. India has long blamed its defeat in the 1962 war with China over a lack of sufficient air power. This is still the case. Indian air force generals are using that memory, and the continued imbalance between the Indian and Chinese air forces, to make a case for buying lots more modern aircraft.


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