The Russian philosophy for the development of air-to-surface missiles hinged on the twin requirements of giving the Soviet Frontal Aviation the capability of providing air support to the Soviet ground forces and protecting them from air attacks. Russian developments focused on PGM’s to attack fortifications and ground forces and anti-radiation missiles to knock out NATO air defences. The current developments in Russian air-to-surface missiles have followed the same trend. Russian technology has adapted some the earlier designs, some weapons are unique Russian designs and in some cases, they have adapted Western designs to suit their requirements. These concepts can be seen in the contemporary air-to-surface missiles where most use the airframe and propulsion systems of earlier models with improvements in digital technology replacing the Soviet era electro-optical and radar systems.
The French have imbibed the lessons from their recent combat experience and invested in modifying their older dumb weapons into relatively low-cost precision weapons.
The Russians have developed unique missiles such as the Kh-31 /NATO AS-17 Krypton which has a wide array of roles. The Kh-59M/ NATO AS18 and Kh-25/ NATO AS-10 are also significant weapons in the Russian arsenal.
Kh-59 M (NATO AS-18 Kazoo Series). The Kh-59 M series is an extended version of the earlier Kh-59 (NATO AS-13) missile. The original KH-59 was a two stage solid fuel propulsion missile with a 115 km range with TV guidance. The new version Kh-59 MK series is a more effective weapon, the most significant change was the installation of ventral RDK-300 turbojet engine for sustained flight and the range has been increased to over 280 kms. The basic original design has been developed into what essentially is a completely new weapons viz. the Kh-59MK an anti-shipping missile and the Kh-59 MK2, a land attack missile. The auto-pilot can be set to fly at different heights between 50 to 1000 metres above the ground and also at seven metres above the sea. The electro-optical seeker has been replaced with a new active radar seeker designed for anti-shipping or other high radar contrast targets. The Kh-59 M2E is an improved version optimised for night operations with a complete make-over of the low-light capabilities.
Kh-31 P (NATO AS-17 Krypton). The supersonic Kh-31P entered service in 1998 designed to be an anti-radiation missile to suppress the US Patriot and I-Hawk missiles. The missile is powered with a solid fuel rocket booster to accelerate it to ramjet ignition speed, which then accelerates it further till burnout. The missile reaches a speed of Mach 4.5 at height and Mach 2.7 at low level. The combination of small size and very high speed make it a very difficult target to intercept. It was claimed that an air-to–air version was being developed to be used as an AWACS killer. The basic anti-radiation version Kh-31P has band- specific seekers and the required missile has to be chosen during the mission planning phase. The missile has undergone continuous development. The Kh-31PK is an improved missile with a more effective warhead and proximity fuse to increase lethality. The Kh-31PD has an extended range using an improved ramjet engine and greater fuel capacity. The radar seeker has also been improved giving a coverage of 1 to 11 Ghz. The variant Kh-31A with a range of 70 kms is a high speed anti-shipping missile with a new Leninetz RGS-31 active radar homing seeker, the seeker can lock on to the target before launch or it can acquire the target post launch. The Kh-31 AD is an extended range variant of the Kh-31A with a bigger warhead, an improved radar seeker with a larger field of detection and can be used in choppy sea conditions up to a range of 140 kms. In the development of this missile Russia has progressively modified the original weapon and adapted it to the changing requirements.
Chinese air-to-ground missile development has been driven by its operational necessity to cater for a Taiwan contingency, pose a threat to US naval forces who may interfere with China’s military designs on Taiwan and to support its new Active Defence strategy.
Russian developments have primarily focused on increasing the range and lethality of its heavy air-to-surface missiles and there appears to be no move to reduce the size of the warhead and reduce the risk of collateral damage. It is quite possible that Russia does not visualise a scenario where these weapons would be used in asymmetric warfare or against low value targets.
Chinese operational philosophy was inhibited by the fact that till the introduction of the Su-30 MK and FH-7 fighter aircraft, its Air Force lacked the capability to penetrate enemy air defences. The induction of an indigenous aircraft carrier will enhance China’s ability to project power away from its shores. On-board air-to-ground missiles will further extend the capability of carrier-borne fighters. At the Zhuhai air show in 2010, China displayed more than 25 varieties of unmanned aircraft, some for combat roles and others for reconnaissance. This clearly demonstrates China’s ambition to be amongst the front runners in unmanned aircraft technology, small, smart, accurate weapons for unmanned aircraft are essential if their potential is to be exploited. It is reported that one of the displays was a pictorial display of the WJ 600 UAV powered by a jet engine and armed with several missiles attacking what appeared to be a US carrier.
China has developed an air-launched land attack missile, KD-88 which is about the size of the C-802 AKG anti-ship missile. The KD-88 has been seen carried by the Su-30MKK and JH-7 fighters. Details available about the missile are scanty; but it appears to have a heat sensing and TV guidance system. The turbojet engine will give it a range between 100 to 200 kms thus making it ideal for attacking large targets on land with high radar contrast and ships. China has also exhibited what resembles a ramjet powered missile as a part of the weapon systems for the Xian FBC-1 fighter (export variant of the JH-7 fighter). This supersonic missile could be used against ships and also for Suppression of Enemy Air Defence roles.
Chinese air-to-ground missile development has been driven by its operational necessity to cater for a Taiwan contingency, pose a threat to US naval forces who may interfere with China’s military designs on Taiwan and to support its new Active Defence strategy. China is a major user of cruise missile technology and it manufactures and exports a wide range of missiles of all categories.
The Naval Strike Missile is an anti-ship and anti-land target missile developed by the Norwegian company Konsberg Defence Systems (KDS) for which the production contract was signed in 2007. This was initially designed to be a helicopter launched missile but with Norways’s interest in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the company is in collaboration with Lockheed Martin to produce this weapon for other JSF users. With a range of 240 kms, the missile will weigh around 400 kg and is called the Joint Strike Missile. The design of the missile and the use of composite materials gives it a stealth capability. It is powered by a solid fuel rocket for the initial flight and a turbojet for sustained high subsonic flight till impact. According to KDS it is the only land and sea attack missile which will fit into the internal weapon bay of the F-35. The missile has on-board target database and uses GPS, inertial and terrain reference systems for navigation. It has an imaging infra-red seeker. The JSM will have a two-way networking data link which is said to provide the operator target update, re-targeting capability, mission abort and Bomb Hit Indication.
The IAF sees a role for itself in the full spectrum of conflict but is woefully short of air-to- ground PGMs for its fighter, helicopter and UAV fleets. This aspect will have to be addressed when the IAF acquires the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft…
Norway has focused on modifying an existing weapon into a small air-to-ground missile that gives it great flexibility in operations, lethality with a small warhead, improved bomb damage assessment and incorporates stealth technology for reducing the enemy’s reaction time.
The French defence procurement agency awarded Sagem a major contract in 2009 for the AASM (Armement Air- Sol Modulaire) modular air-to-surface weapon for the French Air Force. The contract envisages an order for 3400 AASM’s with a firm order for 680 units and calls upon Sagem to develop and integrate the latest generation GPS module. The modular kit will provide the standard bombs of 125, 250, 500, and 1000 kgs with inertial/ GPS/laser terminal guidance. This development will give the French Air Force a stand-off capability exceeding 50 kms and allow them day and night bombing with a high degree of accuracy. The AASM has been designed to strike targets vertically with precision. These features make it an ideal weapon for difficult terrain and urban warfare, the missile can also be used against moving targets.
The French have imbibed the lessons from their recent combat experience and invested in modifying their older dumb weapons into relatively low-cost precision weapons. Since the kits can be used on a wide variety of dumb bombs, it gives them the capability to engage targets which need a heavy punch as also the ability to destroy small moving targets with great accuracy. The AASM is comparatively inexpensive as compared to the more sophisticated air-to-surface missiles.
The Royal Air Force has been very successful with the Brimstone missile that was originally developed by MBDA as a replacement for the BL-755 cluster bomb. It has a dual sensor i e very high frequency millimeter wave radar and laser guidance. This gives the missile an autonomous target tracking capability and at the same time it can be used in areas where own troops are in close proximity of the enemy forces. The laser designation system was added since the “rules of engagement” in Afghanistan needed a “man in the loop” as this reduced the danger of causing collateral damage. It was originally designed as a “fire and forget” missile to be used against massed armour formations and as an upgraded version of the US made Hellfire anti-tank missile.
After development, it bears no resemblance to the Hellfire and is a completely new missile. The Brimstone missile can be launched from fighter aircraft and is carried three per launcher thus giving fighter aircraft a large weapon load. MBDA is also exploring the possibility of fitting it on helicopters and UAV’s. France and USA have expressed interest in this missile. The missile was originally designed taking into account the lessons of Desert Storm and today it has become a formidable weapon for close air support and has been validated for urban warfare after the experience in Libya.
The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) first combat experience of using PGMs was during the Kargil war when Mirage 2000 fighters obliterated a Pakistan army battalion headquarters on Tiger Hill. Only nine smart weapons were used during the war but their efficacy left no doubt.
Military leaders need to evaluate the requirements of future air wars and ensure that the Air Force has the wherewithal to address the challenges of waging and winning wars over the entire spectrum of conflict and not remain bound by the dogma of conventional “force on force” aerial warfare.
India and Russia are jointly developing BrahMos, a supersonic stealth cruise missile with very high kinetic energy at impact. DRDO and the Russian Fererations Mashinostroeyenia have jointly formed BrahMos Aerospace Pvt Ltd to produce variants of the missile. The air-launched version is expected to be mounted on the Su-30MKI. The missile has a range of 280 kms and attains a speed of Mach 2.8. The air launched version will weigh 2500 kgs. One problem envisaged is difficulty in landing the aircraft in the event of the missile not being fired during the mission.
India is looking to procure 100 LGB kits and issued a Request for Proposal in early 2011. Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Israel have responded. Trials of a homegrown version were conducted in 2010 highlighting India’s urge to achieve self sufficiency in this vital capability. The IAF sees a role for itself in the full spectrum of conflict but is woefully short of air-to- ground PGMs for its fighter, helicopter and UAV fleets. This aspect will have to be addressed when the IAF acquires the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft and the new combat helicopters that it proposes to induct in the near future.
The development of airtoground precision weapons in the last two decades has been based on the operational inputs from conflicts around the world and the over-arching need to protect and minimise the danger to aircrew and aircraft in the face of hostile air defence systems. Coupled with this, is the requirement to destroy targets accurately with minimum force. These two ideas have propelled the development of some of the most effective air-to-surface weapon systems in the history of military aviation. World War I saw military aviation introduce a new dimension to warfare. Since then , the duel between attacking aircraft and ground-based air defence systems to gain an upper hand has been the driving force in the development of air-to-surface missiles. Carl Von Clausewitz in his treatise “On War” has discussed revolutionary wars, the struggle between regular troops and the “people in arms”. In recent times Air Forces have been drawn into such conflicts, necessitating changes in the strategy, tactics and weapons of the Air Forces. Military leaders need to evaluate the requirements of future air wars and ensure that the Air Force has the wherewithal to address the challenges of waging and winning wars over the entire spectrum of conflict and not remain bound by the dogma of conventional “force on force” aerial warfare.