The most drastic imbalance between India’s and China’s military lies at sea with India lagging behind considerably both in terms of technology and numbers. India needs to correct this and it is now beginning to with massive submarine-manufacturing programs and the leasing of two more Akula-2 class nuclear submarines from Russia. Apart from this, the way India is looking to counter the rising threat of Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean is through expanding its striking capability from air.
First, let us look at some numbers that depict the huge difference between the Indian Navy and the PLAN –
Submarines: China (68) India (15)
Frigates: China (51) India (14)
Corvettes: China (35) India (23)
Destroyers: China (35) India (11)
The latest possible move to counter China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean is that of India purchasing 4 Tupolev Tu-22M3 ‘Backfire’ twin-engine strategic bombers from Russia. To challenge China’s massive submarine fleet, Indian operates 8 P-8I Poseidon anti-submarine aircrafts also.
The purpose of this possible acquisition is believed to be India wanting to enhance its ability to strike PLAN warships on maritime strike missions with anti-ship missiles, maybe even its own BrahMos-A.
The jets have a mammoth combat range of 2,400 km and a blistering speed of 2,300 k/h. The bombers could be equipped with the BrahMos-A, or with Russian cruise missiles: the Raduga Kh-22 and the Raduga Kh-15.The Kh-22 has a range of 600 km and a 1,000-kg warhead. This weapon can also be armed with a nuclear warhead.The smaller Kh-15 with its 150-kg warhead can accelerate at a speed of 5 Mach making it the world’s fastest aircraft-launched missile.
When they do actually arrive in India, the ‘Backfires’ will be India’s first long-range strategic bombers. In terms of size, firepower and reach, it is better and bigger than everything in India’s air armoury. But the only logical use of these bombers will be against PLAN warships.
To induct these keeping Pakistan in mind won’t be logical as India’s existing air assets are vastly superior to Pakistan’s (in fact, India is even said to have an edge over China’s air force, at least for the next few years). Inducting just 4 such bombers with the view of striking Chinese mainland would be suicidal as China has a robust air defence system. The only possible and logical use would be for these bombers to keep a check on China’s Navy moving further into the Indian Ocean. But this definitely will add an absolutely new and lethal element to India’s striking capability.