Fast-growing Sino airpower 
Reviewed by Khushwant S. Gill

Dragon In The Air: Transformation of China's 
Aviation Industry and Airforce
by Vishal Nigam Knowledge World. 
Pages 236. Rs 820

China's growing power in the world is old news now and well-analysed and understood. So is its single-mindedness in pursuit of its long-term national and strategic goals. Vishal Nigam's book further pursues this theme with specific focus on the development of Chinaís aviation industry and its air force.

Though primarily a work directed towards defence specialists, the armed forces and military academia, this book sheds light on some intriguing geopolitical and military dynamics which will be of interest to the lay reader. The book first covers the birth and gradual transformation of China's airforce and then focuses on the parallel development of its aviation industry.

From a few pilots and vintage planes of the early 20th Century, the Chinese airforce slowly grew through the Sino-Japanese conflicts and WWII, Korea, border battles with the USSR, and the 1979 Vietnam conflictinto the formidable fighting force it currently is. This transformation happened not only on the "hard", or the equipment, front but also in the realm of "doctrine". Chinese leaders like Deng Xiaoping, and later Jiang Zemin, had the foresight to realise that the airforce was not merely an extensionof the army, but a crucial and independent strategic arm all on its own.This political will has resulted in China following a path of "sustained modernisation" of its aviation industry, rapid indigenisation of its airplanes, missiles and equipment and the establishment of a robust R&D programme. It is well on its way to developing a fifth-generation fighter aircraft, expanding it's aircraft carrier operations, long-range bomber fleets and bringing the aerospace "fourth dimension" into its larger strategic and geopolitical paradigm.

A parallel with India is very telling here. China, like India, has been importing defence equipment for many decades now; but its primary aim behind this strategy has been to make itself self-sufficient. It has reverse-engineered, copied, and adapted foreign equipment and has now started to acquire increasing self-sufficiency across the board. It's estimated that China will soon become oneof the primary arms exporters in the world. India, as usual, has failed to act with a long-term perspective and still imports about 70 per cent of its arms requirements.

The obvious question which pops up next is whether our democratic, coalition polity comes in the way of long-term strategic thought and planning. And if this is so, what is a democratic nation to do about this dilemma? There are no easy answers, but a can be made by enshrining crucial elements of long-term defence and industrial policy within a constitutional framework that is not subjected to the vagaries of frequently changing governments and leaders. Vishal Nigamís book indirectly leads one to such questioning and would be useful reading for members and opinion leaders of the political, executive and
judicial spectrum.





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