Indian Fighter Jet Missing in Region Claimed by China

  • Contact lost on routine training mission in northeast India
  • Incident latest to tarnish rapidly-aging Soviet-era fleet

An Indian Air Force (IAF) Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft.

Photographer: Anupam Nath/AP Photos

An Indian fighter jet has gone missing near the India-China border after taking off from an air force base in northeastern India, according to an Indian Air Force official.

The Sukhoi SU-30 aircraft had taken off on a routine training mission when radar and radio contact was lost roughly 60 kilometers north of an air force base in Tezpur, the official said, declining to be named. Contact has yet to be established with the aircraft, this person said.

Roughly one-third of India’s 650-strong air force fleet is more than 40 years old and are set to be phased out over the next decade. The air force currently has only 25 active squadrons, compared to the 45 squadrons it estimates would be required to defend against a joint attack from Pakistan and China.

The Indian Air Force’s rapidly-aging Soviet-era fleet threatens to hamper New Delhi’s ability to counter potential threats from Beijing and Islamabad.

India and China have tense bilateral relations, despite a $70 billion trading relationship. Beijing has invested heavily in Pakistan, India’s nuclear-armed rival, including in the disputed Pakistan-controlled region of Kashmir, which is claimed by India. 

China and India also have a border dispute in northeast India, with China claiming all of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh where contact was lost with fighter jet.

Details released so far indicate "that something catastrophic happened," distinguished fellow at the New Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies, Manmohan Bahadur.

There’s no reason to suspect that the age of the plane played any part in the incident, he said. "This is a Sukhoi 30, so it is our latest."

India accuses China of occupying 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) in Jammu and Kashmir, while Beijing lays claim to 90,000 square kilometers of land in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

(An earlier version of this story was corrected to fix spelling of Tezpur in second paragraph.)

(Updates with analyst comment in seventh paragraph.)
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