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Ground Based Air Defence: Instrument of National Power
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Maj Gen Anil Kumar Mehra | Date:15 Jun , 2021 1 Comment
Maj Gen Anil Kumar Mehra

Maj Gen Anil Kumar Mehra


“When we die, put us in one grave” – a note written by a 10 year old Palestinian girl, which she slipped under her mother’s pillow[2].

For eleven days in May 2021,while the Islamic world was celebrating Ramadan, the whole world, battling Corona Virus, witnessed a bizarre spectacle. Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, self-acclaimed protector of Palestinians, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired rocket barrages from Gaza into Israel. Israeli ground based air defense, largely neutralized this threat. This short conflict,when both sides agreed to a cease fire on 21 May 2021, had resulted in over 250 dead and nearly 2000 injured on both sides. While the Israeli losses were, comparatively, nominal, the devastation caused by Israeli Air Force (IAF) in Gaza will need massive financial resources for restoration and misery imposed on the hapless Palestinians living in Gaza will take a long time to recover. If history is any indication, there will be more to come.

Hostilities. The crisis   started on 06 May 2021 when Palestinian protests erupted in East Jerusalem over expected eviction of six Palestinian families in Sheikh Jerrah, as well as restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in East Jerusalem near Damascus Gate. The protests quickly escalated into violent confrontations between Jewish and Palestinian protesters. On 7 May, Israeli police stormed the compound of the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, located on the Temple Mountthe holiest site in Judaism. There were clashes between the police and stone-throwing Palestinians.[3]The violence coincided with Qadr Night,(Laylat al-Qadr -variously rendered in English as the Night of Decree,Night of Power, Night of Value, Night of Destiny or Night of Measures),observed by Muslims, and Jerusalem Day (9–10 May), an Israeli national holiday[4].

 On 10 May, Hamas gave Israel an ultimatum to withdraw security forces from the Temple Mount complex and Sheikh Jarrah. On the same day, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad began firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip. 


“While death, damage and suffering have been caused to both sides in the escalating hostilities between Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli military, this remains a hugely asymmetric struggle”.[5]

There have been mortar and rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza since 2001 but these attacks from 10 May to 21 May 2021 were different. Firstly, this time the Palestinian militants, instead of firing a few stray rockets,“fired barrages of over 4,000 rockets into Israel throughout the fighting and launching the projectiles from civilian areas at Israeli cities. Dozens of projectiles flew as far north as Tel Aviv, the country’s bustling commercial and cultural capital”.[6] In addition, they also deployed Shehab “the explosive laden”suicide drones, intended to hit targets after evading the air defence system[7]. Secondly, this attack indicated a new found capability for Palestinian militant groups. According to Fabian Hinz, an independent open-source intelligence analyst who specializes in Middle East missiles, “a non-state actor that manages to strike targets in Tel Aviv using means that they produce themselves.  In terms of a technological military shift, that’s quite something”[8]. The Palestinian action, this time did cause considerable damage.

While the Palestinian attacks were in progress, The IAF launched an accurate and a very brutal riposte, which has left a trail of destruction, deprivation and human tragedy.  An important aspect of this IAF action was that it was an uncontested and completely one-sided action.


Engagement of an aerial object, which can be an aircraft or a guided missile or a rocket or a drone, possibly moving at supersonic speed, manoeuvring in more than one dimension, by a ground based air defence system, which is primarily static, is a unique combat. A flying object has to be detected in the vast air space, its’ identity established and suitable system nominated to engage it, if established as hostile, for possible destruction. All this in a matter of seconds; in real time. While the aerial objects are getting faster, smaller and more invisible, the air defence systems the world over are spending vast sums of money to maximize this response time. HoweverIn the recent conflict in Gaza, the IAF, confident of uncontested, safe passage,is reported to have given advance notice of up to a few minutes about impending attacks on specific buildings. Gaza air space was completely free. The Palestinian antagonists, who possess “hundreds of air defence missiles”[9](SAM-7)[10]as well as, possibly, based on some dated information, large number of DShKheavy machine guns, which can be used in anti-aircraft role, simply did not deploy anti-aircraft weapons. A few properly sited weapons, even on roof tops, could have brought down or damaged attacking aircraft or helicopters, as a symbol of capability or at least intention. There is simply no mention of any anti-aircraft weapon being deployed in Gaza. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad, with their rocket barrages, were simply making a limited political statement; possibly at the behest of a third party.Absence of ground based air defences allows complete freedom to the attacking air force to operate uncontested in the hostile air space, to deliver devastating ground attacks.This is one part of the present narrative.


The modern air threat against vital national assets, population centres, military infrastructure and elements in the tactical battle areas is very intense and destructive. Capable of all-weather attacks, supported by advanced electronic warfare techniques, to counter the enemy ECM, the threat can saturate a given part of air space with accurate, coordinated and devastating attacks.This type of threat can be engaged in aerial combat or destroyed by reliable, high performance air defence systems controlled by advanced, automated command and control systems[11].This narrative will be limited to ground based air defence systems. Two types of flying objects can deliver this threat in any modern battle situation. These can be piloted flying platforms i.e. Fighter aircraft and armed helicopters, equipped with a very large inventory of modern air-to-air and/ or air-to-ground weapons and very complex electronic warfare and optical equipment. These technologically advanced,piloted platforms can be detected by suitable ground based air defences and destroyed. Notably, it is possible to deter these platforms from delivering their weapon loads,by enveloping them in visible, high explosive clouds, which influence the flying ability of the pilots. The other type of flying objects, are missiles, ballistic or cruise, of various sizes, precision guided munitions (PGMs), rocketsor large calibre artillery shells, fired on predictable trajectories and  drones, which are remotely piloted. These aerial objects can inundate the given stretch of air space, produce enormous damage and it is not possible to deter these objects. They simply have to be destroyed or physically forced off course to prevent / minimize damage. Modern ground based air defence systems, only, can engage and destroy the full spectrum of air threat and are most suited for the destruction of flying objects like missiles, rockets, PGMs, large calibre artillery shells or drones, which are remotely piloted.  Ground based air defence weapons, deployed in appropriate configurations, in adequate numbers, contest every ingress into the national air space, and influence attacker’s decision to undertake offensive.They also allow other combat elements like combat aircraft to employ their full potential against the adversary.This is the second part of the narrative.


All measures undertaken to counter the threat from air constitute air defence. To conduct this battle there is a requirement of three constituents i.e. surveillance, respondents and system of communications and controls.

Universal surveillance of the National Air Space. It is important that every aerial object approaching the national air space is detected, as far away as possible, its’ identity established and allowed safe passage, if friendly, or necessary action initiated, if hostile, for  engagement and destruction. This surveillance, primarily based on radar chains of various types, located in multiple layers, must cover, in our case,the entire national air space along the land borders and the EEZ and beyond, along both the seaboards, from ground level up to high in the space; gap free. This coverage, looking deep into the enemy territory, should ensure a reasonable reaction time for follow-on actions.

Respondents. There are two categories of respondents who can participate in conduct of air defence battle; combat aircraft of all types and ground based air defences. This narrative is about the latter type.Ground based air defence systems, when adequately forewarned, can engage the full spectrum of modern aerial threat. These can be surface-to-air missiles, in various configurations,air defence guns and lately high Energy weapons.

System of Communications and Controls. This is a very complex, technologically advanced and a very important link between the surveillance and the respondents. With adequate security and redundancies, communication links provide appropriate intra surveillance networks, surveillance to respondent networks and intra-respondent networks. Communications enable surveillance to alert an entire region where a high speed threat is headed, narrow down the alert, activate the most appropriate weapon system to engage and allow passage of operational instructions to destroy the threat; all in real time, counted in seconds.


 This is the act of preserving a nation’s assets by preventing the ingress of hostile aerial objects into the national air space by engaging to destroy the threat with surface-to-air weapons only.For the purpose of this narrative, ground based air defence will include all surface-to-air weapons including the naval anti-aircraft systems.In any future battles, the largest proportion of threat objects will be missiles, rockets, PGMs, large calibre artillery shells and remotely piloted drones.  All these objects need to be physically destroyed or pushed off course and  can only be engaged and destroyed by ground based air defence weapons, of various types, countering different threats, spread over the entire nation, in well considered layouts.The air defence combat between an aerial object and the ground based air defence weapon has already been described elsewhere.  All the important national assets get dedicated protection or are incidentally protected. In the tactical battle area, these weapons are also required to move with and ensure protection of strike forces, undertaking offensive into the enemy territory. Nations need ground based air defences,of high quality, in adequate numbers, to counter this threat. In the recent past, it was enough, if national air space up to a few thousand feet altitude was kept sanitised. With the advancement in missile technology, the ground based air defences are now required to engage and stop the threat up to the stratosphere.Ground based air defences are generally a mix of guns and missiles. Air defence guns, while providing air defence protection to the identified assets, also cover the initial dead zone of surface-to-air missiles. Nations need these guns, also known as Close-in Weapon systems, in large numbers. Besides very advanced missiles, there are guns which can engage the full spectrum of threat including artillery shells.All nations, threatened by aircraft,missiles, rockets and drones need to have appropriate ground based air defence systems to protect their way of life. This is the third part of the narrative. This narrative needs to digress to create a context for further analysis.


The state of Israel,situated on the south eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea, shares borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, and Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the east and west, respectively, and Egypt to the southwest. Israel is the superpower of the middle-east[12].  Israel has fought wars with all its’ neighbours. In 1967 Israel beat the combined Arab forces in six days. It is a measure of this country’s military capability that a similar contest (now) would be over in a matter of hours[13]. However, despite the well-recognised military strength, Israel is vulnerable to constant and continuously rising threats. There are nations, which would like Israel to cease to exist. In most cases the threat is mere rhetoric, addressing a specific constituency, but there are tangible threats, which need to be analysed.  For the purpose of this narrative, it would suffice to identify the intent and capability of Iran, a very powerful country, and Hezbollah, a very large non-state violent organisation.  Both these Islamic entities have a stated objective of destroying Israel.


“The Zionist regime is a deadly cancerous growth and a detriment to the region. It will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed”

–Ayatollah Ali Khameini

Iran is a well-established regional power with a modern army, equipped with modern weapons, and anavy with “layered maritime capabilities” ranging from large combat vessels to small boats, submarines, mines, unmanned aerial vehicles, air defence systems, and coastal missiles[14]. Because of their respective geographic locations, of Iran and Israel, these two elements of Iranian military power can cause only a minimal or indirect threat to Israel. The use of the air force or threat from the air is the only viable option for Iran to threaten Israel.  However, it is in the field of air power that Iran is lagging behind. Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) is made up of outdated fighters like F-14A Tomcats, F-4 Phantom IIsand F-5 Tiger IIs, all acquired pre- 1979[15]. To make up for this inadequacy Iran has developed two alternate strategies. The first component of this strategy is to develop and acquirea massive inventory of ballistic missiles. In this ongoing process “Iran has embraced ballistic missiles as a long-range strike capability to dissuade its adversaries in the region—particularly the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia—from attacking Iran. Iran has the largest missile force in the Middle East, with a substantial inventory of close-range ballistic missiles (CRBMs), short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) that can strike targets throughout the region as far as 2,000 kilometres from Iran’s borders. Iran is also developing land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs), which present a unique threat profile from ballistic missiles because they can fly at low altitude and attack a target from multiple directions[16].The second component of this strategy is development and acquisition of UAVs. Iran’s journey for acquiring UAVs started as a measure to make up for high attrition of manned combat aircraft during Iran-Iraq conflict. Presently Iran has a very large fleet of indigenous UAVs, capable of conventional roles of ISR, with smaller unarmed UAVs, as well as offensive tasks with armed UAVs or kamikaze drones. “UAVs are Iran’s most rapidly advancing air capability. Iran uses these versatile platforms for a variety of missions, including ISR and air-to-ground strikes. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force (IRGCASF) is the primary operator of Iran’s growing fleet of UAVs, although most Iranian military services employ them. Iran regularly conducts ISR flights along its border and littoral, including the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. The IRGCASF has also deployed various armed and unarmed UAVs to Syria and Iraq for ISR and strike missions to support counter-ISIS operations and the Syrian regime. In 2018, Iran, for the first time, employed UAVs to conduct long-range, cross-border strike operations, using armed UAVs in concert with ballistic missiles as part of a retaliatory attack against ISIS in eastern Syria. Iran has also provided UAV platforms and technology to Hezbollah and the Huthis to challenge its regional rivals”[17]. Going by the Ayatollah’s assertion, Israel should be prepared to counter this twin threat.


Iran can bomb Israel “violently” and “swiftly”. Israel is weaker than a spider’s web and Hezbollah can send Israel “back to stone age” – Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah[18][19] 

Hezbollah,   “Party of Allah” or “Party of God”, (also transliterated Hizbullah or Hizballah, among others) is a Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group, led by its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah since 1992. Hezbollah’s paramilitary wing is the “Jihad Council”, and its political wing is the Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc party in the Lebanese Parliament[20]

Widely accepted as an Iranian proxy and a member of Iranian “Axis of Resistance”[21] Hezbollah, now with a possible global foot print, is generously, supported, funded and equipped by Iran. Possessing an arsenal, which is better than even the Lebanese Army, Israeli intelligence estimates that Hezbollah has amassed a stockpile of 150,000 rockets, including missiles capable of striking every major Israeli city[22]. These weapons are for the ostensible purpose of destruction of Israel.


An analysis of the stated intent of Iran and Hezbollah, endorsed by many others, to wipe Israel off the face of earth, may indicate a bewildered nation, at a standstill, looking for global intervention to ensure safety and security of her people. On the contrary, Israel is an economic and industrial power house, ready at all times to face the multifarious threats, on her own terms. Israel has developed or acquired instruments of national power, which enable her to ensure safety of her national assets and a reasonably secure first world way of life to her people. Amongst other elements of national power, Israel has a very well developed ground based air defence, which can effectively counter any aerial threat.


A nation’s power is the aggregate of all its’ resources and assets and the manner in which these are used to achieve the national objectives. These assets, also referred to as instruments of power, include attributes like geography, resources, and population as well as economic, political, military, psychological and informational[23] capabilities.While most of these instruments are coercive in nature, the present narrative will analyse only the military as an instrument of power.

That military as a coercive instrument of power is a given. The very existence of military, as a threat in being, may prevent wars. The commonly recognised elements of military power are very demonstrative in nature. It is possible to indicate, to an adversary,through demonstration, the sample of violence that can visit to impose a nation’s will. Imageries of salvos of rockets or medium guns firing to reduce a target to rubble or tanks and infantry assaulting an objective or some fighter aircraft reducing a target to dust with their weapon loads besides being a powerful influence on national imagination, have a degree of glamour and evoke patriotic fervour amongst the population. High level of public awareness about these weapon systems helps acquisitions without detailed explanations. Nations find it expedient to spend huge amounts of money on these well-established symbols of military power. Modern air defence weapons, technologically advanced and capable of preventing aerial threat from causing substantial damage are not very demonstrable, sometimes they are unwieldy and are relatively a new addition in the military inventory.  It is the process of acquiring something novel, not well known and demonstrable, that is very slow and complicated.Due to lack of awareness, ground based weapon systems, in some countries, fall in that category. In India, for a very long time in the past and in some influential quarters even now, a mention of ground based air defence brings out with nostalgia the memory of ack-ack guns most of which are now displayed as decorative trophies.The world has moved on. This narrative is about rectifying this unawareness.

Ground based air defence Systems besides not being demonstrative are reactive and non-coercive in nature. It is difficult to envision the significance of an air defence system until it actually counters multiple rocket barrages.Some nations, appreciative of the modern aerial threat, have placed ground based defences at par or higher in the order of priority for acquisition. This family of, hitherto not very well known, ground based air defence weapons is a very important addition to military instruments of national power. Very wide awareness about Iron Dome of Israel has heralded this entry into the public imagination and possibly a global discourse on requirement of sophisticated ground based air defence systems for protection of national assets.


To counter the massive, and possibly a very violent threat, to her existence, Israel has established a very responsive and versatile, technologically advanced, multi-layered air defence system, which can engage and destroy nearly all aerial objects, which threaten her major population centres and strategic assets. The Iron Dome is just one part of this ‘roof of steel’, which protects Israel. This steel roof is an illustrative symbol of Israel’s national power.

In 1960s Israel had 40mm radar controlled guns[24] and later added some missile systems, used against the Syrian Air Force[25]. The present configuration of Israeli ground based air defences includes:-

  • Iron Dome. It is a short-range air defence, C-RAM, system designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets, artillery shells and precision-guided munitions fired at distances of 4 to 70 km[26].
  • David’s Sling Missile. It is an advanced medium- to – long range atmospheric missile defence interceptor; being jointly developed by Rafaeland Raytheon, to intercept planes, dronestactical ballistic missiles, medium- to- long range rocketsand cruise missiles at  40 – 300 km range. The system  “uses hit-to-kill technology, to manoeuvre and strike an incoming threat, rather than detonate in proximity to it”[27].It is  the second tier of Israel’s theatre missile defence system and to replace the MIM-23 Hawk and MIM-104 Patriot in the Israeli arsenal.
  • Arrow Missile. An Israeli developed – US funded Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) system, meant to stop ballistic missiles in the stratosphere. Israel has batteries of Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 missiles.The Arrow is believedto be one of the most advanced missile defence programs currently in existence[28].
  • MIM-104 Patriot “Yahalom”, a high to medium air defence (HIMAD) medium tactical air defence platform capable of downing aircraft and ballistic missiles[29].
  • Iron Beam. It is a directed-energy weapon system, designed to destroy short-range rockets, artillery, mortar bombs and unmanned aerial vehicles; it has a range of up to 7 km (4.3 mi), to cover the immediate vicinity of the Iron Dome. Iron Beam would serve as the last tier of a layered air defence system to neutralize the threats that managed to penetrate the Iron Dome andother successive layers[30].. However, Iron Beam can be used stand-alone[31].
  • Barak 8. This system also known as LR-SAM or as MR-SAM, is an Indo-Israeli surface-to-air missile (SAM), designed to defend against any type of airborne threat including aircraft, helicopters, anti-ship missilesUAVs as well as ballistic missiles,cruise missiles and combat jets. Both maritime and land-based variants of the system exist. Deployed by Israel on Sa’ar 5-class Corvettes.[32]

This multi-layered ground air defence system makes Israel’s air space nearly impregnable. This defence system, as an instrument of national power, allows the country to defy the combined strength of its adversaries and permits other military elements to maximise and deploy their combat power to great advantage.



India, a very large country, is not same as Israel but there are similarities. Indian security situation may be different from Israel and yet in some ways they are similar.

With the largest land mass in the Indian subcontinent, Israel can fit into one corner of our coastline.It is not possible to wish us away and yet there are constant threats, which need to be analysed.


On the west, India has Pakistan. A nation in turmoil. There is history of ruling dispensations engaging India militarily; resulting from domestic compulsions. Besides Pak-Turkish relations, which have a military significance, a very important aspect about Pakistan is her near complete dependence on China.Very widely circulated images of Pakistani police officers cowering in a locked vehicle, in front of a huge crowd, while a Chinese national is threatening them, in a Pakistani city tell a larger story of submission and subjugation. Pakistan, heavily dependent on China, will do Chinese bidding simply to exist as a nation. This symbiotic anti-India relationship has a military significance. Another aspect about Pakistan is the autonomy enjoyed by her armed forces, whose actions and responses may not follow any predictable norms while dealing with other nations (read India). Indo-Pak relations can be described as deep animosity borne out of distrust. This nation on the verge of economic collapse and globally recognised as a haven for terrorists has a body of very serious and influential   anti-Indian opinion. Pakistan today has a large standing army, a fairly modern air force, equipped with F16s, JF-17s and some Mirages, a modern navy, with a substantial submarine element, and a disproportionally large ballistic missile force. Pakistan has artillery, rockets and drones in adequate numbers but their reach is limited to areas along the border.   A nuclear nation, Pakistani missiles can hit any part of India.Pakistan air force and her missile arsenal are a serious threat to India.


China, to the north and east, is a big threat to India. PLA,The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the regular armed forces of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the armed wing of the PRC’s founding and ruling political party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)[33].In sheer numbers, with its army, navy, air forceand its missiles, PLA is a force to reckon with. Quantitatively,with abundanceof elements of military inventory, far too well estimated, assessed and analysed to be recounted, including missiles, aircraft, ships and submarines,drones, rockets and artillery,qualitatively this inventory, based on some original designs, and many others based on the popular perception of things ‘Chinese’ various described as imitated, plagiarised, pirated or smuggled blueprints[34],is a globally acknowledged military force.

Dragon Ball. The widely dispersed, and spreading, global footprint of China is well known but this narrative will focuson India’s immediate neighbourhood. The Chinese influence in Pakistan has been mentioned earlier. This relationship, besides influencing Pakistan military decisions, gives her an express access to Gwadar and Karachi ports.  China through inducement, persuasion,intimidation or outright threats is creating an anti-India block in India’s immediate neighbourhood. Centuries old Indo-Nepalese relationship is strained because of very visible Chinese intervention. Bangladesh has been ‘advised’about her relations with India vis-à-vis the ‘Quad’. China is also trying to access Indian Ocean through Myanmar.Another, possibly immediate action impacting India’s security situation is Sri Lanka handing over the control of Hambantota port to China.With this transfer China has control on a piece of territory“just a few hundred miles off the shores of a rival, India, and a strategic foothold along a critical commercial and military waterway”[35]. Now there is a Chinese territory facing peninsular India. All this against a Chinese propagated hypothesis that India is a hegemon(sic)[36].

Magnitude of the Chinese threat can be assessed from a past admission of the Indian Ministry of Defence stated that ‘every Indian city is within reach of Chinese missiles and this capability is being further augmented to include Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles’[37]. Today, after over a decade of this assessment, India faces a far enhanced threat from China. While the conventional threat of artillery and rockets and the new element of drones may be limited to the border areas, the aerial component of the Chinese threat to every part of India, including our offshore assets, will consist of a very wide spectrum of Ballistic Missiles and Fighter Aircraft, in very large numbers.

To counter the twin Chinese and Pakistani threat, India needs, amongst a large number of military assets, a variety of technologically advanced, ground based air defences to provide a multi-layered air defence protection to the nation.


Ground based air defence of India, as an instrument of national power, can at best be described as Work in Progress; in fact this description can be paraphrased to say ‘some work with indifferent progress. At this stage, it is important to admit that this narrative is not about what India does not have to protect itself from a very potent, possibly multi-prong aerial threat. This narrative would, instead, attempt to describe the broadly the resources, in terms of ground based air defences, that we must acquire, at the earliest, to counter the threat.

It is important to note that extensive, multi-layered, gap free radar coverage and dedicated communication networks will be required to detect the threat, provide the required warning and exercise operational control over the weapon systems.

The aerial threat to India and the requirement of air defence systems can be analysed in three distinct, but not mutually exclusive, sections.

Threat to Strategic Infrastructure/ Critical Assets/ Symbols of Nationhood/ Major Population Centres located anywhere in the country including the Littoral and Off-Shore Assets. Ballistic and Cruise missiles and in some cases Fighter aircraft / drones, when in range,can threaten these assets, irrespective of their location. India has a demonstrated capability of a two-tiered Ballistic Missile defence System(BMD).  It is a double-tiered system consisting of two land and sea-based interceptor missiles, namely the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile for high altitude interception(exo-atmospheric altitudes, of 50–180 kilometres), and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Missile for lower altitude interception(endo-atmospheric at altitudes of 15-40 kilometres). The two-tiered shield should be able to intercept any incoming missile launched from 5,000 kilometres away.The system also includes an overlapping network of early warning and tracking radars, as well as command and control posts[38]. The system has demonstrated a possible engagement of a Cruise missile as well. It should be our endeavour to cover the entire national air space with the BMD protection. In addition,nationwide, selected critical assets, which can be threatened e.g.  Atomic Reactors, Refineries etc, need dedicated multi-layered air defence protection consisting of missile systems for area coverage and gun systems for close-in protection. These dedicated protective elements, as the second and third tiers, spread over the entire nation, will provideprotection against aircraft and drone threats.

Threat to Peripheral Areas in the West, North and East. Aerial threat in the form of aircraft, drones, rockets and artillery can address critical assets located in  the northern part of country.   All the critical  assets located in a  swathe of our land,bordering Pakistan and China,  nearly 100 km deep, laid out in  an arcto include Gujrat, Rajasthan, Punjab, J & K,Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand,Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, as well as  the fertile Gangetic plain and  the North Eastern states  will need dedicated,multi- layered ground based air defence protection.This allocation of resources will also take into account the ground based air defence resources described above.

Threat to the Combat Elements. In the event of hostilities, combat elements in the tactical battle areas, including naval and aviation assets, formations holding defences and strike formations in their launch pads, will be subjected to very intense aerial threat with a much higher volume of close support missions and interdiction  by  enemy air, armed helicopters, drones, rockets, artillery shells, mortars. These combat assets will need multi-layered ground based air defence protection. In addition to medium range and short-range missile cover, there will be a requirement of close defence, C-RAM weapons. Some of these weapons will have to be self-propelled, to keep pace with the progress of operations in the enemy territory. 

It needs to be appreciated that when a very large number of contiguous assets are being protected, common systems protecting these assets are eliminated thus reducing the requirement of resources. In spite of such reductions and very deliberate technical assessments, the requirement of these technologically advanced systems of varying capabilities, necessitating very elaborate maintenance and logistic support, would be enormous to include hundreds of various types of radars, hundreds of missile systems, thousands of guns along with a modern command and control system.


The ground based air defence in India, at present, cannot be termed as an instrument of national power. At best, it is a patchwork of different capabilities,some obsolete, others obsolescent and most in the process of acquisition. Institutional neglect of this important, albeit non- demonstrative, constituent of national power is best illustrated by our holding of 40 mm L/70 guns. These guns started arriving in 1964 and later manufactured in the country. These workhorses, the mainstay of army air defence, periodically modified, upgraded and maintained have protected our strategic infrastructure for over five decades. We need to pause and examine if these guns, for some of us they are the Regimental Colours, can effectively counter the modern air threat. It is time to look for a weapon system, which can destroy the threat. Similarly, our inventory of surface-to-air missiles needs new and modern additions.

It needs to be stated emphatically that properly equipped and configured ground based air defence prevents wars and minimises losses in the event of hostilities. We, as a nation, simply need to start focussing on a system of defence, which elsewhere in the world is an important instrument of national power. There is an urgent requirement to initiate a well-informed and widely participative national discourse to rectify this anomaly. We need a shift in military hierarchy’s focus to accord an appropriate precedence in developing or acquiring new air defence systems, informed political intervention for prioritisation in allocation of national resources, massive financial outlays, very large scale and well considered private sector participation to meet a very potent, extant, and developing threat. It should have started yesterday but tomorrow will not be too early. It is time to make a beginning.


[1]Starting in 2000, with a primitive rocket ‘the Qassam1’,   (500 gm   warhead with a throw range of 4 km), Hamas and other Palestinian groups now have a large and varied inventory of rockets, which includesFajr3/5, Ayyash250 and M302. Some of them can reach nearly all parts of Israel.

[2]Wion Documentary aired on 28 May 2021.

[3]Wikipedia, SHORBORI PURKAYASTHA, Updated: 21 May 2021, 12:03 AM IST, The quint, Luke Hurst  •  Updated: 20/05/2021 Euronews


[5]By Jonathan Marcus,Foreign affairs analyst, BBC 12 May 2021.

[6]The Economic Times (E Paper) Quoting Reuters May 21, 2021.

[7]Dion Nissenbaum, Sune Engel Rasmussen and Benoit Faucon, May 20, 2021,With Iranian Help, Hamas Builds ‘Made in Gaza’ Rockets and Drones to Target Israel The Wall Street Journal.

[8]Claire Parker and Adam Taylor, “What weapons do Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have and how powerful are they?”
Washington Post, May 13, 2021.

[9] The Times of Israel, quoting an anonymous military commander, 11 Feb 2021

[10] Adnan Abu Amer, Apr 03, 2019, HAMAS weapons are the focus of Israel and region’s targets, MEMO.

[11]Youtube – Rheinmetall Air defence_ OerlikonSkynex air defence System- Documentary.

[12] Fareed Zakaria on CNN # GPS

[13]Fareed Zakaria Op cit.

[14]  Christian Saunders, DIA’s senior analyst for Iran, quoted in an article by John A. Tripak, “DIA: Iran Gaining More Military Power”,Air Force Magazine, Nov 20 2019.

[15]Paul Iddon, “Iran’s Air Force not likely to acquire new fighters any time soon” Forbes, Apr 30,2021

[16]  Ballistic Missiles, Iran Military Power, DIA 2019

[17]Iran Military Power, DIA 2019.

[18]Speaking in an interview to Al-Manar TV on 12 Jul 2019. Where he very graphically described how Hezbollah has the capability to send Israel to stone.

[19]Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is reported to have warned Hezbollah that Lebanon would go back to “the Stone Age” and maybe even to “the age of cavemen” if it turned into an Iranian factory of precision-guided weapons.- Attila Somfalvi, Alexandra Lukash |Published:  02.04.18.


[21]Axis of Resistance  refers to a political alliance[1] between Iran, the Syrian Assad government and the Lebanese militant group HezbollahPro-Syrian government militias, Iraqi Shia militias that are part of the Iraqi Government-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces and the Yemeni Houthi movement (officially: “Ansar Allah”) are also considered part of the alliance. –  Wikipedia

[22] Hezbollah: history and Overview. Jewish Virtual Library

[23]The instruments of National Power – The Lighting Press.




[27]Seth J. Frantzman, “Israel activated its David’s Sling missile system for the first time. Will more sales start booming?” Defense News July 31,2018.



[30]Ayush Jain“Like Iron Dome, Israel’s ‘Iron Beam’ Is Another Super-Efficient Air Defense System”  The Eurasian Times, May 21, 2021




[34]As reported in ANI News/Business Insider/ USNI News/ Heritage Foundation amongst others.

[35]By Maria Abi-HabibJune 25, 2018 How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port, The New York Times.

[36]KUMAR, NEHA. “Engaging China’s Nuclear and Missile Threat.” India Quarterly, vol. 65, no. 1, 2009, pp. 37–53. JSTOR, Accessed 9 June 2021.

[37]  ibid

[38]Wikipedia and,Report: India’s Homemade Anti-Ballistic Missile Shield Ready by Franz-Stefan Gady – The Diplomat January 08, 2020

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One thought on “Ground Based Air Defence: Instrument of National Power

  1. In today’s warfare , conventional ballistic missiles incl air and sea and launched versions and Tac nuclear weapons enabled missiles like Pak’s Nasr are the major threats .
    Armed and unarmed drones , acs incl civil acs, incendiary balloons too remain in the canvas of the threat .

    Intelligence of the Enemy’s potential and operational doctrine for Air Strikes by any weapon systems as enumerated above, is the key to planning Air Defence.
    A sound Early Warming system based on the entire spectrum from Space to Ground based systems and their integration under one Command to designate weapons to destroy the incoming threat , well coordinated and with a reliable communication system , will optimise resources & increase response time .
    Such a command and control structure must have inherent strength to ward off cyber attacks on its system and jamming.

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