***Long post warning***
The thing is that calling an air force a large air force based solely on the number of aircrafts will not be an ideal way to judge any air force IMHO. A lot of factors would go into ideally judging an air force. In no particular order the following would have to be kept in mind for judging the air force:
- Area to defend.
- Air defence Systems available
- Number and type of air defence fighters
- Number and type of Air superiority fighters
- Number and type of ground attack aircraft
- Serviceability of the inventory
: What kind of recon , surveillance , monitoring equipment is available. While this may seem a very small point a war in any sphere is not all about 2 aircrafts blasting each other out of the sky. Ask the likes of Lt -Awacs and a couple of USAF
boom operators and load masters on this forum and they would be able to tell you how important equipment like AWACS become in an actual war. Besides Awacs, satellites and ground based radars also make a very important contribution. These would be the first line of defence in identifying a threat, if you do not know someone is attacking you just what can you do with a million aircrafts in your inventory. In an actual attack these prove invaluable as guidance/additional defence systems for front line attack aircraft. For example , do you remember the case when a PAF orion was crossing into Indian airspace repeatedly , what happened, two MiG 21-Bis's were scrambled , these were controlled by ground radar to the infiltrating aircraft. While the mission pupose was served , ground radar is limited by its range. On the other hand an AWACS system can fly and make the radius of surveillance a lot bigger.
Area to Defend
: Like i said what good is it for a country the size of singapore to have 10000 aircrafts defending it ? While it would make the country very very secure and probably nobody would ever dream of attacking it , but would it make the air force the best ? Similarly try defending russia with about 500 su 30's . Just not worth it . While it may have the best fighter in the world any country would be able to make mince meat out of the air force in no time.
Air Defence Systems
: What type of ground based air defence systems are available ? SAM's while they may seem insignificant in times of peace are extremely effective in times of war. With these weapons systems capable of tracking 12 aircrafts and in altitudes varying from 500 ft to 60000 ft are far more capable of inflicting damge than a single pilot in a Su 30. Again the range and the quality of ground based radar also makes an important contribution. What good is a radar which has an effective range of only 50-60 kms.
Number and types of Air Defence/Air Superiority/Ground Attack aircraft
: Again in this the type of aircrafts are extremely important. Sheer number does nto matter , like everything else there is a fine line between quantity and quality.Having 10000 sopwith camels against 500 F18's is not an option. The reason I have split up the aircrafts into 3 is because of the roles each aircraft plays. This is where multirole aircrafts prove their worth. The advantage being that the same type of aircrafts can be put into multiple roles.
For example in the context of the Indian Air Force, a MiG 27 is a very effective bomber , but will it be able to defend itself effectively against a fighter aggressor ? Probably not . So for every bombing raid you would need to send escorts with the bombers , why not use the escorts else where ? Again, there needs to be a balance drawn out , having a fleet of 1000 Su 30 MKI's may not be worth it for the IAF .The bomb load of the MiG 27 is much higher. But the fact still remains , multi role aircraft would always be more effective in a war than a single role aircraft. To see which country has the best airforce we would need to see if the balance is correct.
Another important part of this point is the range of these aircrafts and what kind of range extenders does the air force have. What good is an excellent fighter or a bomber with range of only 200 Kms ?
. This probably is the only part where sheer numbers would count irrespective of the type of the aircraft. Their basic purpose is transporting anything , maybe the CO
's uniform or scotch or food or armament. But wihtout it , you cannot hold the territory you just captured.
Every airforce needs an excellent and dedicated set of mechs and their support infrastructure. Every war will ensure that there are equipment failures and it is upto the mechs to see how quickly any aircraft/air defence system can be put on back into action. Again similar to my earlier examples , having 100 out of 5000 aircrafts servicable and ready for action is hardly of any use to any country.
Well that was the long post of mine , In advance I did not mean to step on anybody's toes out here ,apologies if did manage it.