Students of matters military will vouch for the shape of the battlefield in the 21st century. All battles will be preceded by an intense air battle to attempt to destroy the war-waging potential of a nation; which in our case may be two forces joining hands to come at us with the full threat spectrum. In such a scenario, a formidable ground based Air Defence to will be required to combat this threat. The proposed ground based Air Defence system is also be a threat that will prominently figure in the enemy’s calculus while considering the option of an aerial attack. The present condition of our ground based Air Defence does not allow us the luxury to wait much longer.
Air Defence encompasses all actions initiated to protect national assets against aerial threats…
Air Defence gunners are the only soldiers in the world who do not dive for cover when they see an attacking aerial threat. They stand back and fight so that others can be safe to continue the battle.
Air Defence encompasses all actions initiated to protect national assets against aerial threats. These actions can range from purely passive activities such as dispersion, camouflage or concealment of the important assets, to active measures which aim at destroying the threat, well before it can cause any damage or destruction or effectively deterring it from carrying out its mission. Assets meriting protection can be symbols of national pride such as the Parliament, strategic assets such as the nuclear installations, refineries, economic assets and war-like assets, which will enable us to initiate punitive action to destroy – war waging potential of the enemy. The last category will include, amongst others, air bases, major logistics/administrative/communication installations and battle assets such as the field force headquarters, concentration of mechanised forces, gun areas and troop concentrations.
It is important to know that, presently, our economic assets, far too many in number, also outweigh our national assets. Some of these privately owned economic assets need to be accorded the highest priority in allocation of ground-based air defence resources. This practice will increase the quantitative requirement of resources manifold.
Conduct of active Air Defence battle against the aerial threat involves two elements, the combat aircraft employed in Air Defence role, primarily held with the Indian Air Force and surface-based weapon systems held by all the services. This paper will focus only on the Ground Based constituents of the Air Defence architecture presently held or those which must be acquired by the army at the earliest. In addition, this paper will make a case for need for reallocation of responsibility for conduct of air defence operations and a fresh approach to selecting and procuring air defence assets.
The Air Defence battle primarily started as a means to counter threats posed by aircraft carrying weapons…
Historically, what started as a combat between a low performance, flying platform and a manual gun, the Air Defence combat today has a multitude of very high performance flying objects, which can threaten and cause widespread destruction, and a wide array of missile and gun systems, supported by a nationwide, state-of-the-art, automated surveillance and communication system to counter the threat.
Air Defence Engagement
An Air Defence engagement is a unique combat between two adversaries, one a very dynamic, highly manoeuverable flying object, which can fly at very low altitudes and very high speeds, avoid detection and engage targets from long distances and the other, a group of essentially static, surface-based weapon systems, which can detect, in real time, these flying objects and engage them to either destroy or deter them from carrying out their mission.
Modern ground-based air defence systems, which are a combination of various types of radars, missiles and guns can:
- Detect almost all the flying objects in a given airspace through a network of sensors and surveillance devices.
- Establish the hostile identity of the flying objects in real time and nominate the most suitable response element to engage them.
- Engage and destroy the threat through detonation of the warheads when in proximity of the target or “hit-to-kill” the threat for its’ complete destruction or forcing it off-course, away from the intended target.
These systems are capable of engaging:-
- All types of missiles, Rockets, Artillery shells and Mortars (RAM) and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).
- All types of threat aircraft including those with low radar signature as well as helicopters.
As a symbol of a nation’s power to impose its will on the enemy and win wars, the fighter aircraft can, in various roles, cause widespread destruction…
Changing Nature of the Air Threat
The earliest known aerial platform in warfare was a balloon. The use of balloons by the Union Army during the American Civil War compelled the Confederates to develop methods of combating them. These included the use of artillery, small arms and saboteurs. They were unsuccessful, but internal politics led the Union’s Balloon Corps to be disbanded mid-war. The Confederates experimented with balloons as well.
Balloon to Fighter Aircraft
Over time, the balloon, a rather unconventional aerial platform as a mode of conveyance/re-supply or dropping grenades transformed into a fighter aircraft. As a symbol of a nation’s power to impose its will on the enemy and win wars, this versatile system can, in various roles, cause widespread destruction and for the present, this instrument of war is the unsurpassed master of skies.
Ground-Based Air Defence Systems
The one-pound Krupp gun, the first ever weapon designed to engage a moving target, has transformed itself into a family of complex weapon systems including guns of various types and a family of versatile missile systems which, when deployed together in a complimentary manner and supported by a modern system of universal surveillance, for a given airspace and an automated command and control system for real time operational control, can sanitize any part of the airspace by destroying the hostile aerial platforms for use by friendly air elements.
The Changing Air Defence Battle
The Air Defence battle primarily started as a means to counter threats posed by aircraft carrying weapons. Over a period of time, this threat has transformed from a threat based on one type of weapon platform i.e. a manned fighter aircraft or helicopter to multiple platforms, which include the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), various types of missiles and projectiles as threats. These threat platforms/weapons have a well-coordinated plan to address pre-determined ground-based assets.
The emerging air threat is qualitatively superior, varied in composition and includes manifold rise in numbers…
Changing Air Threat
The emerging air threat is qualitatively superior, varied in composition and includes manifold rise in numbers. Such a threat will need a multi-level, well-calibrated and coordinated response, which must focus on destruction of the threat rather than mere deterrence. Countering the new threat will urgently need fresh and innovative doctrines, new concepts and primarily a new family of modern weapons, in sufficient numbers, organised into new air defence architecture, to be effective.
The spectrum of modern aerial threat, which will need to be countered by the ground-based air defence includes:
- High performance combat aircraft, which are difficult to detect; some of them invisible to even radars.
- Versatile helicopters including armed platforms. Wide variety of UAS, some of them carrying sophisticated electronic/opto-electronic devices or lethal air to ground weapons. A new era of war fighting – the remote controlled war, which needs a fresh approach of assured destruction of the threat.
- Cruise missiles.
- Ballistic missiles including ICBMs, Theatre/Tactical Ballistic Missiles.
- Rockets, Artillery shells and Mortar bombs (RAM)
- AB Electronic Warfare Jammers/Suppressors/Deceivers.
- Unconventional flying objects such as Para Gliders.
Imperatives for a Modern Ground-Based Air Defence
A modern air defence system, to be able to protect a nation’s assets, must include the following constituents:
• Surveillance: The system must be capable of keeping an all-time watch over the entire national airspace as well as the airspace of the neighboring countries and over the sea. The surveillance should detect and identify all aerial objects and cover a pre-determined height band, depending on the appreciated enemy aerial capability, to detect, well beyond our geographic boundaries, all aerial activity approaching our airspace.
• Control and Reporting (C&R): The process of reporting detected aerial activity, establishing its identity and nomination of the response weapon system must be fully automated for a real-time or near real-time response.
An important aspect of qualitative adequacy is the ability of the weapon systems to engage the threat away from own airspace…
• Weapon Systems: The missile and gun systems, qualitatively adequate and in sufficient quantities, to protect all nominated assets to meet an ever-changing threat. An important aspect of qualitative adequacy is the ability of the weapon systems to engage the threat away from own airspace.
Countering the Threat
The airspace over a 21st century battlefield will have a large number of users. The challenge for ground-based Air Defence will be to detect, engage and destroy the hostile objects before they can accomplish their assigned task while ensuring safe passage for friendly aerial activity. The detection of aerial objects must be followed by a positive identification of the object as hostile, in real time, to start the process of engagement. Mere detection of any aerial object is raw information, which may include the present position of the object and direction towards which it is headed, along with its speed. This information, for a given sector, zone and progressively for the entire national airspace has to be collected, collated and processed into actionable intelligence; in real or near real time.
Once the detected object is identified as hostile, an Air Defence HQ, at the appropriate level, will initiate action to instruct the units/formations towards which it is headed, as an early warning for the battle procedures to start. This warning is followed by change in the status of ground-based Air Defence weapons in a given sector/zone to take over or detect the target for engagement by a series of successive tiers of weapon systems, till it is destroyed or is prevented from accomplishing the assigned task by the most suitable system.
The foregoing narrative simplifies what is, in fact, a complex and expensive system of tiers of ultra-modern detection devices, linked through automated communications culminating into layers of various types of response systems, which can destroy the most modern aerial targets.
The Air Defence Architecture
To carry out their mission, of destroying (or deterring) the threat aerial objects, Air Defence resources are organised in a capability-based architecture, which defines the role and in some cases, the ownership of a weapon system.
The challenge for ground-based Air Defence will be to detect, engage and destroy the hostile objects before they can accomplish their assigned task…
The modern ground based Air Defence architecture may include the following:
- Long Range Air Defence Missiles with ranges greater than 100 km.
- Medium Range Air Defence missiles with ranges from 60 to 100 km
- Short Range Air Defence missiles with ranges from up to 60 km.
- Close Defence Protection by missiles with ranges up to 10 km.
- Air Defence guns with ranges up to 4.5 km.
This Air Defence architecture, besides the weapons, comprises an integrated system of radars and communications to exercise operational control as well as provide adequate warning for detecting and engaging targets. The vast, nationwide, integrated system may include:
• An extensive network of Early Warning radars of different configurations, located at suitable sites on the borders/shores as well as other geographic/tactical locations within the country, depending on the role and capability, for detecting the threat and warning the air defence system about the impending enemy action or passage of friendly aerial activity.
• A fully automated data management and communication system, which can collect, collate and evaluate information and disseminate intelligence to create theatre-wide situational awareness and battlefield transparency for prioritisation and nomination of the most appropriate system to counter the threat in near real time.
• An extensive network of fire control radars, which can accept assignment of a target, in real time and effectively direct the weapon systems to engage the target.
The Air Defence of India is a joint responsibility of all the three services in which the Indian Air Force (IAF) has a greater role to play…
Air Defence In India
The Air Defence of India is a joint responsibility of all the three services in which the Indian Air Force (IAF) has a greater role to play. All the three services have their own inventories of Air Defence equipment and concepts of deployment. Army Air Defence (AAD), an arm of the Indian Army, has a very large inventory of ground based Air Defence systems.
Deployment for Engaging the Threat
The AAD has a two-fold charter to provide Air Defence:
• To protect strategic and primarily static/semi-mobile assets in the hinterland or rear areas up to a given height. This task is presently performed by the L/70 gun system. The air bases may have more than one tier of different types of weapon systems for close protection.
• To protect battle assets in the Tactical Battle Area (TBA), including static/semi-mobile and mobile assets. This protection is meant for the assets of the formations holding defences or undertaking offensive operations into the enemy territory. These include various HQs, Communication Centres. Troop Concentrations, Mechanised Columns, Gun Areas and Logistics Installations. This protection is presently up to a given height and is organised as a multi-tier architecture of self-propelled guns and missiles which can keep pace with the progress of operations.
The air bases may have more than one tier of different types of weapon systems for close protection…
State of the Indian AAD
The existing AAD resources assigned the above mentioned tasks are quantitatively inadequate and qualitatively inappropriate, majority being obsolete. Also, for the present, some well-known and economically significant assets may even not figure in Air Defence task list. Despite a widely acknowledged acceptance of the need to modernise, there have been no significant additions to the AAD inventory in decades. L/70 gun, the mainstay of AAD for protection of assets in the rear areas is over 40 years old and may not be sufficient to counter modern threats. The status of AAD resources for protection of the TBA is no better. With the existing inventory of Self-Propelled guns/missiles, we can theoretically provide a two or three tier protection to the assets of strike formations. However, even this mobile Air Defence umbrella does not have adequate numbers to meet the requirements of dedicated protection to all the high priority battle assets and will find it difficult to counter a qualitatively superior threat.
While the foregoing narrative has primarily focused on assets of national importance, there is a need to widen the scope of analysis of other assets meriting protection. An objective appreciation of the requirement would indicate an urgent requirement to protect economic assets with a multi-tier Air Defence umbrella in a manner that they are safe and functional even in the event of a surprise, pre-emptive strike.
The rather abysmal state of AAD has resulted from our inability as a nation and military hierarchy to recognise the rapidly changing nature of the modern air threat, failure to keep pace with the rapid modernisation/acquisitions by our neighbours, advent of ever changing technologies, inadequate attention to modernisation, concerns about the capital outlays and promises not kept by the scientific community. Another very important reason for this state of affairs over decades is the ignorance about ‘matters AD’ by the higher leadership of the army and our inability to address this issue through awareness campaigns and loud noises!
The rather abysmal state of AAD has resulted from our inability as a nation and military hierarchy to recognise the rapidly changing nature of the modern air threat…
Modernisation of Army Air Defence
Modernisation of Army Air Defence is a long-awaited event, warranting a number of issues to be resolved. Some of the important issues, which will guide the process and need resolution are:
• Destruction of the Threat: The present role assigned to ground-based Air Defence is to deter the threat from destroying the assets on ground; with destruction of the threat object being an incidental advantage. This type of role assignment can drive acquisition of low kill probability weapon systems, which may not be designed for a high probability of kill or assured destruction. The ground-based Air Defence should be reassigned the role to destroy all aerial threat which may be manned/unmanned aircraft or other aerial objects such as rockets/artillery shells/missiles. The revised role will necessitate acquisition of suitable weapons to destroy the threat as well as result in deterring the manned threat on a long term basis.
• Demarcation of Responsibility: At present, Air Defence of India is a joint responsibility wherein the IAF is the senior partner. This arrangement, so far as the management of airspace and exercise of operational control are concerned, has worked well and needs to continue. However, there is a need to demarcate the responsibility for ownership of weapon systems in a manner that all onshore, surface-based Air Defence weapons as well as off-shore assets, except protection of the fleet and shore based naval assets should be held only by the Indian Army. This demarcation should cover all missile systems, irrespective of the range, as well as the gun systems to be held in the Indian Army’s inventory. This kind of clear demarcation would result in ease of acquisition, economies of scale, ease of training, common maintenance procedures and simplicity of logistics.
Another important facet of this policy will be the responsibility of engaging all aerial threats, against ground assets, resting exclusively with the Army Air Defence leaving a scope for only well-defined, need-based deployment of IAF resources in Air Defence role thus freeing the air effort for more important interdiction and counter air operations. There will, of course, be a requirement to acquire technologies and hardware as well as operational procedures to prevent fratricide. The system will need to provide maximum warning and operational freedom to the ground based systems.
Modernisation of Army Air Defence is a long-awaited event, warranting a number of issues to be resolved…
Evolving such a policy in the face of well entrenched perceptions/opinions in certain quarters, seeking status quo for a variety of operationally non-tenable reasons, such as fear of threat to friendly aerial activity, inability of the army hierarchy to press home the requirement as an operational imperative will result in a long-drawn battle to see a change in this responsibility. An important aspect that needs to be mentioned is that Army Air Defence is no longer a home of yesteryears, for officers at certain stage of their careers to relax and await superannuation in relative comfort of a perpetual peace station, in a Territorial Army unit or an L/60 Air Defence Regiment.
The Army Air Defence today is a professional arm, with extremely competent officers with balanced all arms exposure, who can combine the requirements of high technology with tactical and strategic prerequisites of a modern battlefield. The AAD also has a world class training facility, which can absorb modern technologies, evolve procedures for tactical handling of modern weapons and prepare Air Defence personnel of all ranks for any battle situation with complex weapons and even more complex systems and procedures. The issue of demarcation of responsibility for holding of the ground-based Air Defence and operationally acceptable autonomy will be one of the most important changes, which will be essential for a world class Air Defence capability for Army Air Defence in India.
• Identification of Ground-Based Assets for Protection: The existing set of our national assets, which are assigned Air Defence resources, are just a minor fraction of the present day assets, which merit protection. It needs to be appreciated that our adversaries have the ability to strike at our assets anywhere in the country, irrespective of their location. We need to identify our industrial complexes, which drive our economy, our major urban centres and the infrastructure which connect these centres and provide modern quality of life.
The Army Air Defence today is a professional arm, with extremely competent officers with balanced all arms exposure…
We also need to protect our symbols of national importance, our strategic assets as well as our battle instruments, which will allow us to wage war to destroy the enemy war-waging potential while protecting our assets. These assets will not necessarily be located along our borders in the North-West or North-East and may be concentrated in peninsular India. Each one of these assets will need to be identified, assessed for its significance, prioritised and protection assets assigned to ensure that the asset continues to function even when threatened. While the system of identification of assets to be protected will continue to be same as the one in vogue, we need to set the norms for ease of selection and expand the scope of agencies to recommend assets for protection.
All major ministries and industry associations should recommend their important assets for consideration by an in inter-service group of specialists for final selection and assessment of the requirement of various types of ground based Air Defence resources thus establishing the numbers of various types of weapon systems and other support equipment. Consideration of assets for inclusion in the ‘Protected List’ should be an ongoing process to continuously update the requirement of resources. It needs to be stated that the identification of assets to be protected will be a time consuming process but we need to make a beginning at the earliest.
It may interest the reader to know that each and every asset warranting protection need not be assigned Air Defence resources because of a process of taking out common Air Defence systems from amongst the geographically contiguous assets as well as identifying assets which will be under effective incidental protection. Once identified, the acquisition of Air Defence inventory will be a capital intensive project costing crores of rupees spread over at least a decade.
• Selection of Air Defence Weapons: Constituents of modern ground-based Air Defence architecture have been identified elsewhere in the foregoing text. While selecting the systems it should be ensured that the weapons are a gun–missile mix, including guns with very high rate of fire, capable of firing modern ammunition, and high slewing rates and hit-to-kill missiles, both capable of countering the following threat matrix:
While focusing on saving human lives, we need to consider the changing nature of war…
- Threat from heights of 100 metres to beyond 10 km altitude.
- Threat well beyond our land borders as well as beyond our outermost offshore assets along the Eastern and Western sea boards.
- C-RAM threat against our population centres which can be bombed by artillery/mortar fire.
- Any UAS and other long range missiles.
• Allocation of Resources
All high priority assets, which are essential for successful conduct of operations or can cause unacceptable secondary damage, such as Nuclear Power Plants, or high priority economic assets such as refineries and assets of national importance to be protected by more than one tier of static Air Defence systems.
- All IAF bases conducting air operations as well as all controlling Air Defence HQs to be protected by more than one tier of static air defence resources.
- All battle assets of formations holding defences along our borders to be protected by more than one tier of static or semi-mobile Air Defence systems and mechanised elements of these formations to be protected by more than one tier of mobile Air Defence resources.
- All battle assets of strike formations which will undertake offensive into the enemy territory to be protected by more than one tier of mobile Air Defence resources.
- Dedicated deployment of long range weapons along all known seaward and overland fly-in routes likely to be used by the threat.
A multi-disciplinary group of specialists should be formed to consider the army’s requirement to shortlist the weapons and choices available…
While this paper does not attempt to establish the number and type of weapon systems, organised into batteries/regiments/brigades that will be required to meet modern threats; it needs to be left to the specialists. Suffice it to say that it will be a very large number and will need an enormous capital outlay to acquire this inventory. Today, we can say that the number is too large and not possible to acquire or we may find a justification of not having the money for such an outlay. In either case we need to consider the following:
• This proposal for modernisation will be spread over more than a decade and can be somewhat paced to match our financial resources. We can now select our methodology to deliberately start the process to modernise ground-based Air Defences, to keep pace with the frantic make-over of our adversaries or we can do it under pressure when the requirement will not brook any delay.
• While focusing on saving human lives, we need to consider the changing nature of war, where boots and tanks may make a late entry into the battle and primacy of the air battle to destroy the enemy’s war waging potential and as a result the need to destroy this threat by ground based Air Defences as a very important facet of war fighting in the future. We also need to consider the possibility of vast amounts of funds and technology transfers, which may accrue if we offer the right type of incentives to arms manufacturers to make the systems in India and export them elsewhere.
Some Important Related Issues
The Acquisition Process
The Indian armed forces have a well-established process for identifying the requirement, trial evaluating the offered systems and final selection of the weapons as part of the capital acquisition – all this against an annual financial allocation by the ministry. It may be of interest to know that we even trial evaluate systems which are in service with all the leading armed forces of the world. It is a complex system in which the period between the users stating the requirement to final selection can take three to four years or even more. This procedure for acquisition, unfortunately, is certainly not recommended for making up decades old deficiency of weapons in large numbers.
The allocation for the defence budget normally varies between two to three per cent of the GDP…
To make up this huge requirement it is recommended that a fixed financial allocation be made for modernisation of AAD and the following procedure be adopted for acquisition of weapon systems:
- Based on the assessment of assets to be protected, along with the nature of appreciated threat against them, the AAD and the Indian Army, should project their requirement of various types of weapon systems.
- A multi-disciplinary group of specialists should be formed to consider the army’s requirement to shortlist the weapons and choices available in an order of priority.
- This group should issue global Requests for Proposal for the shortlisted items with a proviso that the weapon performance will be assessed under the aegis of the manufacturers within a stipulated time frame, for compliance against a pre-determined qualitative requirement.
- Systems which are fully compliant or better than the requirement should be selected for final negotiations for acquisition.
- Obviously, this is an oversimplification of what has become a very complex practice, driven by bureaucrats, with a stranglehold on the procedure, who neither have any idea about the systems to be acquired nor any sense of urgency. However, if something radical is not done, we are not likely to make any progress.
Options for Funding the Proposed Modernisation
The allocation for the defence budget normally varies between two to three per cent of the GDP. There have been assertions by specialists in the field seeking a much larger allocation, especially for modernisation of the armed forces. The government, on the other hand, at least the UPA dispensation, always maintained that funds will never be a problem, if the armed forces can justify the need and the Ministry of Defence can overcome all the self-created procedural wrangles. In all probability, the NDA regime will also do the same. There is a possibility of funds being made available in the normal course as a one off case for making up a major shortfall.
The variety and type of weapons and the quantities required by us can be used to convince a number of manufacturers to establish manufacturing facilities in India…
However, this paper is making a case for a massive outlay for acquisition of a gigantic inventory in which the total expenditure, in the final tally, might equal the entire defence budget; but spread over a decade or more. There may be a number of ways for finding the money for this modernisation, once we have made up our mind. We may also consider the following options, which may find wide acceptance:
• Make-in-India: The variety and type of weapons and the quantities required by us can be used to convince a number of manufacturers to establish manufacturing facilities in India, bring-in technology and employing Indians for manufacture of weapons for our requirements as well as for exports. Suitable policy changes, equitable distribution of equity, realistic expectations from the manufacturers and a sovereign assurance of good business can save us millions of dollars as well as earn us equal or more millions as our share. This option will need only the political will to do what has been under consideration for a long time.
• Funding by the Beneficiaries: This paper has proposed, elsewhere in the text, including the privately held critical economic assets in the list of beneficiaries of Air Defence protection. There is a precedence in which an industrial house funded in World War II, the raising of possibly three Air Defence regiments. Two of those regiments as Territorial Army Units, now regular units in AAD, still have the trophies presented by the industrial house. We can consider this option, in consultation with the beneficiaries and industry associations to draw up a plan, which benefits both sides.
This paper makes a case for the much-awaited, long overdue modernisation of the Army Air Defence while also calling for the tasking of the Army Air Defence to be a destructive force and ownership of all ground-based Air Defence resources, less naval assets, to be vested in the Indian Army. There is a need to create a will to undertake this crucial but belated, large scale and expensive modernisation.
Students of matters military will vouch for the shape of the battlefield in the 21st century. All battles will be preceded by an intense air battle to attempt to destroy the war-waging potential of a nation; which in our case may be two forces joining hands to come at us with the full threat spectrum. In such a scenario, a formidable ground-based Air Defence will be required to combat this threat. The proposed ground-based Air Defence system is also be a threat that will prominently figure in the enemy’s calculus while considering the option of an aerial attack. The present condition of our ground-based Air Defence does not allow us the luxury to wait much longer.