(Near Parity Exists Between The Indian Land Forces And The PLA, When Operating in the Himalayas. Similarly, Indian Air Force Has An Edge Over The PLAAF When Operating in Tibet. In Addition, the PLAAN is also outmanoeuvred in the IOR due to allied operations in conjunction with Indian Navy. Moreover, With the US ‘B2 Spirit’ Bomber’s snap Entry in the Indo-Pacific War Zone Will Be a Game Changer to Offset Any Asymmetry with China. In Fact, B2 Spirit’s Early Application in the India-China Border war Can Degrade/Destroy PLAAF Airfields Supporting the PLA Land Operations as well as destroy PLA Rocket Forces and Missile Bases Unhindered without Interference by China)
Three US B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers(part of US Global Strike Command) have arrived at Diego Garcia naval facility in the Indian Ocean on 11th August 2020( This is in addition to the already deployed six USAF B-52Hs in early 2020).This snap deployment is to support Pacific Air Forces’ Bomber Task Force missions all across the Middle East or the South China sea or any other area of the conflict in Asia. This obviously includes the present India-China border war scenario. The employment of this long range-deep penetration-stealth Bomber is obviously a game changer and a strategic checkmate in any war zone to offset any asymmetry. These assets when integrated with Fighter Squadron F-22 Raptors and operationally synergised with Stealth Drones can destroy and devastate the war waging capacity of any enemy side. The 29-hour sortie from the U.S. Homeland and its deployment enables long-range strike options anytime and anywhere in support of INDOPACOM strategic objectives far away from the mainland.
Diego Garcia is equipped to accommodate B-2s and it features four climate-controlled clamshell hangars for the stealth bombers. Historically, the base has been used as a hub from which to mount long-range bomber missions into the Middle East and Central Asia. Yet its location means bomber crews must fly extremely long-endurance missions to reach these areas, well over 10 hours to reach Afghanistan or may be towards Ladakh/Tibet for example as shown on the map.
B-2 Spirit is a heavy strategic Bomber and has an endurance of 40 hours of flying. It has an ordinance of 40,000-70,000 pounds with precession-guided bombs, including nuclear warheads. Because of its stealth capabilities, it carries no defensive armaments. However, if necessary they can be escorted by F-22 Raptor Fighter aircrafts. The B-2 Spirit is a low observable, strategic, long-range, heavy bomber capable of penetrating sophisticated and dense air-defence shields. It is capable of all-altitude attack missions up to 50,000ft, with a range of more than 6,000 nm unrefuelled and over 10,000nm with one refuelling, giving it the ability to fly to any point in the world within hours. The B-2 bomber can also carry the AGM-129 advanced cruise missile, which is a strategic cruise missile with a range estimated at up to 1,500 miles. Up to 16 satellite-guided, JDAM (joint direct attack munitions) missiles can be carried. The aircraft is fitted with the joint standoff weapon (JSOW), joint air-to-surface standoff missiles (JASSM) and the wind-compensated munitions dispenser (WCMD) and can carry up to 80x 115kg small diameter bombs (SDB).It has also been fitted with a massive ordnance penetrator (MOP) weapon. The MOP is GPS-guided, contains 2,400kg (5,300lb) of explosive and is designed to penetrate hardened, deeply buried targets. A generic weapons interface system (GWIS) has been fitted as part of the block 30 upgrade. The GWIS is an integrated digital software package, which allows the B-2 to carry different mixes of stand-off weapons and direct attack munitions on a single sortie, enabling the aircraft to attack up to four different types of targets on a single mission and has the capability to attack moving targets, using precision-guided weapons such as the small diameter bomb II. The efficacy of the B2 Spirit is further enhanced through an integrated surveillance and intelligence grid created to feed the Bomber. Even the US, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites with an altitude of 2,000 km (1,200 mi) or less (approximately one-third of the radius of Earth), or with at least 11.25 periods per day (an orbital period of 128 minutes or less) and an eccentricity less than 0.25, can be interfaced with the B2 to enable a wider swathe of available targets. There is also the Drone RQ-170 Sentinel, which can be in supporting role. The B2 Spirit first entered combat operations over Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2009.The high-altitude drone was dubbed the “Beast of Kandahar,” and was even responsible for coordinating the entire Osama Bin Laden operations. It’s believed to operate at high altitudes in contested airspace, providing streaming video to commanders elsewhere in the region, offering over watch to troops on the ground, and potentially even serving as a communications relay for troops and command elements with its broad skill set and low-observability. The applicability of the combination of these three assets for Information domination and management can be an allied support to India and cause the battle to shift in India’s favour. In addition, because of S-400 Air Defence Missiles (36 launchers held by China but are without spares, and thus it cannot be operationalized). Russia in any case has suspended further supply to China.(Obviously this is with an eye to help India, who is Russia’s ‘Privileged and Special strategic ally’ and an age old friend).Therefore, there is nothing that can stop the B-2 Spirit in causing devastation of the strategic targets(which look like blobs) on ground. There will be about 24-32 strategic targets in the Western Theatre Command. These could be the centralised PLA Rocket Forces, artillery/rockets regiment deployed with front troops, armour concentration, Headquarters of Army Group and other Formations, Communication choke points and Airfields. It will take just two days for the stealth B2 spirit to have a turnaround of three hours from the Diego- base to Tibet and back. In a day there will be approximately nine missions per day each carrying a pay load amounting to some 630,000 pounds (or 285.763 tonnes is carried internally) of all ordinance/ bombs. Ceiling of B2 Spirit bomber is 50,000 feet, whereas even J-20 has only a ceiling of 20,000 feet and thus falls short to interfere in its operations. Now let us see the hypothetical employment of B2 Spirit in an India-China war scenario. On the first day all the airfields and important rocket forces will be destroyed, that will be about nine blobs. The remaining assets, about 24 blobs will be destroyed on the second day, as these assets will be just sitting ducks. In addition, the strikes of the B-52 bombers (also based at Diego Garcia) will also do follow up action after the first strike by the B2 spirits. Therefore, in a situation where war starts and if India suffers heavy losses then obviously the retaliation will be massive through allied support as already explained (The US-India strategic Partnership/India Enhanced Cooperation Act 2019, which gives the same status to India as to Japan/Australia. In addition, the pending US bill for treating India as a NATO ally would provide niche technology to India to offset any asymmetry). The above-mentioned analogy of the B2 Spirit’s capability needs to be hypothetically reviewed against the backdrop of a real war contingency in which PLA troops are deployed in battle Formations and thus their locations are marked after which they are all vulnerable to the B2 Spirit Stealth Bomber. Same is discussed in Part-2.
The existing India-China standoff can be triggered into a war at any time. Let us therefore analyse the predicted trajectory of the battle and especially the deployment of PLA strategic assets in such a scenario and how these assets will look when viewed from a higher platform of ‘near earth space’.(They will look more like blobs). As we are aware of the changed PLA warfare strategy based more on Informationalised based ‘Network Centric Warfare’. The first phase would be the troop’s deployments and a continuous Information domination campaign; the second phase would be the Fire for Effect by PLA PGMs on the already digitised locations of Indian strategic assets. (The current deployments on both the sides would be known with accurate Grid References due to such a long standoff).This phase would result in massive fire barrages of artillery, rockets, drones, missiles and the air power battle. The last phase would be the capture of ground by physical mopping up followed by termination of the battle. A quick look of the PLA combat potential vis-à-vis India needs to be revisited to derive the combat parity between the two nations, when operating in Tibet. Let us see the total availability of the PLA at the National Level. Out of 75 Manoeuvre Divisions equivalent(many now converted into motorised/mechanised Brigade/Division Formations as part of military reforms) an orbat of about 20 Divisions equivalent or about 200,0000-230,0000 combat elements would be/are available after catering for the Russian and the hot Taiwan and the East/ South China front. The new joint Western Theatre Command of China is estimated to hold around 100,000-120,000 combat troops (Motorised and mechanised Divisions and Brigades), principally divided into the13th, 21st and 47th Group Armies. Because of on-going unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang, a special PLA Army-directed Military District (MD) has been created for each of these regions. In Tibet, about 45,000-50,000 troops are estimated with all the supporting elements. This is in comparison to the Indian deployments of approximately 18-20 Mountain divisions along the LAC after mobilisation (as per varied press reports). Invariably all these deployments would have already been registered digitally. Thus as a ‘First Shot’ the PLA are in a position to carry out a joint fire strike campaign with long-range precision strike of rockets, missiles and PLAAF. The objective of PLA would be to destroy important Indian targets, paralyze the operational system of systems (integrated force grouping), weaken the will to resist and destroy war potential, and create conditions for phase 3 of operations. The Chinese leadership could conclude that conducting precision strikes against key Indian targets was preferable to conducting difficult offensive ground operations where the defender has an advantage. Even if China does a ‘Fire for Effect’ engagement with Drones/PGMs with more success than India’s counter bombardment, it does not really create any great tactical advantage to China, for exploitation and assault as he will still lack the combat superiority for attack(Normally in mountains the combat ratio is 1:3.However,in High Altitude Mountains it is preferable for the attacker to have 1: 6 superiority).Therefore, this adverse Chinese combat differential power matrix remains as a constraint for any offensive into India. On the other hand, India today has the capacity for an offensive to outmanoeuvre the PLA ingress both at tactical and operational levels as per existing deployments. However, China has the capacity and resource to mobilise an equal number of divisions/brigades from other military regions in rapid time due to vast infrastructure, unless a new threat precipitates in any of the other fronts. Therefore, China is constrained to maintain a ‘Standoff- Equilibrium’. Of course, India has the will and capacity to retake the ‘Galwan Heights’ or the ‘Finger 4 Spurline’,provided the allies apply pressure at the already identified pressure points(could be at the South China sea or towards Taiwan).
The Chinese PLAAF also suffers from a numerical disparity to the IAF in the border region. The Raffles are already deployed and can operate with the B2 Spirit in tandem after a little coordination. China also uses eight airbases and airfields relevant to India strike missions, although a majority are civilian airports that can be commandeered in wartime. Other comparative weaknesses permeate the PLAAF’s posture against India. The high altitude of Chinese air bases in Tibet and Xinjiang, plus the generally difficult geographic and weather conditions of the region, means that Chinese fighters are limited to carrying around half their design payload and fuel. In-flight refuelling would be required for PLAAF forces to maximize their strike capacity. The most significant PLAAF forward air bases and airfields near Indian border areas are located at Hotan, Lhasa/Gonggar, Ngari-Gunsa, and Xigaze, are all vulnerable to a dedicated Indian offensive through the B2 Spirit Stealth Bomber. As per reports in the media,the Ngari-Gunsa and Xigaze airfields reportedly have no hardened shelters or blast pens for their aircraft, which sit in the open. Lhasa/Gonggar has recently developed hardened shelters but are able to protect only up to 36 aircraft, while at Hotan some shelters have been built . An Indian early initiative to incapacitate these four/five bases—and achieve air superiority over them—would compel China to rely more upon aircraft from its rear-area bases, exacerbating its limited fuel and payload problems. The employment of B2 Spirit Stealth Bomber to destroy these air bases as discussed in the first wave of their attacks will automatically create a favourable air situation for India. Therefore, rightly, the B2 Spirit is called a game changer. After destruction of the forward PLAAF bases ,the B2 Spirit will move undetected and unload the most lethal and precession guided munitions on the PLA fire bases composed of PLA Rocket Forces new howitzer, including artillery brigades (that uses the “electromagnetic catapult” technology to hit targets beyond 200 kms). All these assets including long-range missiles would be the target of the B2 Spirit. Thus collectively within 2/3 days the PLA/PLAAF combat potential would be seriously degraded especially when there is no opposition to the operations of the B2 spirit.A similar fate will be met by the PLAAN in the IOR, where allied forces(QUAD) would be operating in a contingency of war. This means that the U.S. B2 Spirit Stealth Bomber, if used as part of our allied operations can be a ‘Game Changer’ to offset the asymmetry with China and thus enable global peace and harmony
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.