As the two neighbours seek to gain the advantage on the roof of the world, China has on paper the upper hand when it comes to the fighter jets, according to military experts. China’s single-seat J-20 could gain air supremacy because of its stealth — it can evade radar detection and reach supersonic speeds. However, this is a dubious claim as radars and other surveillance systems in India have on multiple occasions caught signals from the Chengdu-made Chinese aircraft.
The single- and two-seater Rafale, which arrived in India this 29 July, have similar low-observable, active electronically scanned array (AESA) as the J-20s, which means they can track multiple targets in any weather. The multirole Rafales are also significantly smaller and lighter than the J-20s.
Commissioned in 2001, the Rafale can reach a speed of Mach 1.8, with a combat range of about 1,850 km (1,149 miles). That compares to the J-20, which went into service three years ago and can reach Mach 2, with a range of 2,000 km (1,242 miles). But the Rafale that India has got has more advanced features as demanded by the Indian Air Force (IAF).
In the Himalayas, where mountains rise over 8,000 metres (26,247 feet), flight ceiling — or the highest altitude a plane can fly at — is a big factor. For the Rafale, that ceiling is about 16,000 m (52,493 feet), while the J-20 can fly at more than 20,000 m (65,616 feet).
“The J-20 could be used with other specialised warplanes for different purposes, and that could better complete the mission,” Song said. But although it is seen as having the edge, the J-20 has an unresolved engine issue that affects its performance, and for now it relies on an inferior engine that reduces manoeuvrability and stealth at supersonic speeds.
India ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets in a $ 9.4 billion deal signed with France in 2016, and delivery is expected to be completed by 2021. The PLA Air Force has not revealed how many J-20 stealth fighters it has, but the number has been estimated to be at least 50.