Monday, February 11, 2013

The Bangalore Aeroshow 2013: Musings

Tiger Moth aircraft trainer (in the 30s & 40s)
My refections on the Bangalore Aeroshow 2013 are posted on the site of the Indian Defence Review.
The press reported that Air Vice Marshal Zheng Yuanlin was leading a five-member delegation at the Aeroshow, following a formal invitation extended by India a month earlier.
But, who is Zheng Yuanlin?
According to "The Chinese Air Force: Evolving Concepts, Roles, and Capabilities: Evolving Concepts, Roles, and Capabilities" published by the Department of Defence of the United States: "Major General Zheng Yuanlin (郑元林) is also a rising star in the PLAAF, as seen from his fast upward advancement in the last 3 years."
The US publication informs us further:
In 2008 he was commander of the 13th Division (the PLA’s strategic transportation division). The next year he became commander of the PLAAF’s Wuhan Base at deputy corps rank. The following year he was appointed deputy chief of staff of the PLAAF Guangzhou MR. He was in Guangzhou for barely a year before being brought back to Beijing to be an assistant chief of staff of the Air Force.
Zheng has excelled both as a transport pilot and transport commander.
He was selected as one of the best air force commanders in 2007, following his command of Il–76s deployed in the Sino-Russian Peace Mission 2007 exercise in Russia. During the catastrophic snow and ice storm in South China in January 2008, he was placed in charge of the PLA’s air relief missions. In a week, the 13th Division’s Il–76s conducted 75 emergency sorties and carried about 800 tons of goods to 19 airports in eight provinces. In the Wenchuan earthquake rescue operations, the 13th Division made a huge contribution.25 It was very difficult for large transports to take off and land in concentrated sorties, in tough weather conditions (e.g., visibility less than 100 meters), and on airports with only rudimentary facilities. Even so, operations were conducted with complete safety. Just days after he arrived in Beijing to take his current job, the Yushu earthquake struck; again the PLA entrusted him to command relief operations by both the 13th Division and the Chengkong Division.
Given that he is both in his early 50s and in the right place at the right time — on the verge of the forthcoming massive leadership reshuffle — it might be expected that his future is a bright one. But he faces a serious obstacle: in the entire PLAAF history of pilot cadre management, an airlift pilot has never risen very far in the leadership. As in other air forces, young and accomplished fighter pilots form the traditionally favored cadre. Within the PLAAF, the fighter divisions comprise over 55 percent of the total, attack aircraft divisions 30 percent, and bomber/transport divisions just 15 percent. Three transport divisions (the new division in the Chengdu AF Region, and the 13th and 34th Divisions) form a “minority” in the PLAAF structure. As a result, given the PLAAF’s past tradition, it will be interesting to see how far Zheng goes.
Major General Zheng was very discreet during the show,
Officials attending the inauguration

My article: The Bangalore Aeroshow 2013: Musings
The thought that kept coming to my mind while walking kilometers under the hot sun of the Yelahanka Air Force Station, near Bengaluru (where the 9th International Exhibition on Aerospace, Defence & Civil Aviation was held between February 6 and 10), was what happened 50 years ago on the Himalayan slopes.
India was taken by surprise and treacherously attacked by the People’s Liberation Army and badly thrashed in the NEFA sector as well as in Ladakh. Mao Zedong used the pretext that India would have crossed the McMahon line in the Tawang area to teach Nehru (and India) a lesson.
One of the features of this tragic event was that India did not use its Air Force during the one-month conflict.
Why? Some historians have said that it was because the ‘leaders’ in Delhi feared that Kolkata (Calcutta then) would be bombed; others wrote that the services of the IAF were not utilized in the combats because the ‘leaders’ thought that China, a friend, a brother, would never attack India. The argument did not hold, as even after the attack, the IAF was not used.
The truth is probably that the ‘generals’ in the Army Headquarters (as well as the IV Corps Commander in Tezpur) were so arrogant that they believed that the Indian Army did not need the ‘external aid’ of the Air Force to capture the Thagla ridge. Such foolishness!
We know what happened on October 20 and the following weeks.

Rafale from Dassault Aviation
While walking from stand to stand at the Aeroshow, I kept reflecting about those dark days and feeling that India has taken a great leap forward since then.
Today, in case of a conflict, the Air Force would certainly make a difference and though both A.K. Antony, the Indian Defence Minister and the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshall N.A.K. Browne denied that the Air Force modernization and build-up was directed at anybody in particular, it is clear who is India’s main potential enemy and in which direction, the defence preparedness needs to be focused.
One of the principal lessons of this Aeroshow is perhaps that India is now a major world power, forcing major foreign armament suppliers to line up to offer their latest gadgets which could make a difference in case of a conflict with China (or even Pakistan); and now, the Air Force would be used.

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