Military & Aerospace

Surface Air Defence Missile Systems – Potent and Relevant
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Issue Vol. 32.4 Oct-Dec 2017 | Date : 19 Jul , 2018

Air is increasingly the medium for launch of offensive operations as it offers the advantage of inter-continental range, short-notice employment, high speed of delivery, high accuracy of weapons with low collateral damage and concentration of fire power. Ground based AD weapons have to take on satellite-based weapons, Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), long-range stealth bombers, fighter aircraft dropped stand-off weapons, unmanned systems, surface-skimming cruise missiles, long range artillery and small high speed projectiles. Air threats need to be detected well in time, tracked and then destroyed well before they can cause any damage. Surface radars, Aerostats and Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AEW&C) are deployed to detect these threats.

In the coming years, the development of Directed Energy Weapons will give much a higher magnitude of precision and cross the realm of science fiction…

The Doklam incident and stand-off between the two major military and economic powers China and India, may have de-escalated after an extended face-off, but it led the Indian military establishment to quickly review its military capability to take on Chinese military onslaught across the Himalayas. Meanwhile, the world is alarmed with North Korea’s aggressive missile-testing regimen and nuclear threats to the civilised world. In a Sino-Indian conflict, China is likely to take the initiative of first strike to neutralise major airbases in India’s North East region for a possible localised war. Her strategy will be to attack with a mix of combat aircraft armed with Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) and surface launched missiles. All elements of passive and active air defence are therefore required to be activated.

A key element of the air-defence of any nation is the Surface Air Defence Missiles (SAM). The future will have short wars. The Chinese thinker and strategist General Sun Tzu stated in the military treatise Art of War, “The military values victories; it does not value prolonged warfare.” There is a full chapter in the treatise devoted to weapons and attack. Quick reaction accurate weapons are germane to military victory.

As for defence against attack by aircraft and missiles, a new threat is an aerial attack by a bomb-laden Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). These easy-to-procure civil replicas could land up in the hands of terrorists. Space is also gradually getting weaponised. The day is not far when there will be space-based strike weapons. The Air Defence (AD) systems had been designed for coping with threat mainly from combat aircraft. Major military powers are now looking at newly emerging threats and evolving weapon systems to counter these. For their own defence, weapon systems have to have Shoot-and-Scoot mobility. The modern AD systems deploy a combination of kinetic weapons, Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) and electro-magnetic techniques.

In the coming years, the development of Directed Energy Weapons will give much a higher magnitude of precision and cross the realm of science fiction…

Armaments have a finite shelf life and also, obsolescence sets in quickly. Acquisitions and replacements need advance planning. Reports of acute shortage of weapons with the Indian armed forces surfaced again and the Government had to quickly announce higher financial powers to the Vice-Chiefs of the three services for procurement of urgently needed ammunition. There is a need to assess the state of surface AD missile systems.

The Air Threat

Air is increasingly the medium for launch of offensive operations as it offers the advantage of inter-continental range, short-notice deployment, high speed of delivery, high accuracy of weapons with low collateral damage and concentration of fire power. Ground-based AD weapons have to take on satellite-based weapons, Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), long-range stealth-bombers, air-launched stand-off weapons, unmanned systems, surface-skimming cruise missiles, long-range artillery and small high-speed projectiles. Air threat needs to be detected well in time, tracked and then destroyed well before it can cause any damage. Surface radars, Aerostats and Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AEW&C) are deployed to detect these threats.

Multi-Layered Air Defence

Air is a complex medium. The very large scope and dimension requires that air defence is handled through an integrated approach. Seamless integration of the sensors and effectors requires command and control capabilities – Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence and Interoperability (C4I2) solutions are the key to the all-encompassing AD approach. With several active players, the density of air operations especially in the Tactical Battle Area has increased phenomenally. Any AD system must be capable of quick response, be lethal as also permit freedom of operations to own forces and prevent fratricide. The air defence of a vital asset or an area is normally built around a system of concentric layers. The outer layer will usually be handled by fighter aircraft with Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and combination of AD missiles supported by AEW&C. If an attacker is able to penetrate this layer, then the next layer would be of SAMs. The area-defence missiles could have range up to 400 km. Point-defence missiles would have a range of around 30 to 50 km. Finally, there will be the Close in Weapon System (CIWS), the Very Short Range AD System (VSHORADS) missiles, the man-portable missiles and the radar controlled anti-aircraft guns firing several thousand rounds per minute.

With several active players, the density of air operations especially in the Tactical Battle Area has increased phenomenally…

Medium and Long Range Missile Systems

The ballistic missile defence requires very long range interceptor missiles such as Israeli Arrow-II co-developed with the US. Long range weapons include the Patriot and S-400 systems, which have effective range up to 400km and offer relatively good mobility. US AD systems include MIM-23 medium-range Hawk and the Terminal High Altitude Air Defence (THAAD). Israel has some of the most potent AD missile systems in the world. These include the Arrow missile system, SPYDER, Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot, Barak-8, David’s Sling, Iron Dome and Iron Beam. Several countries including the US, China, Israel and India are developing Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) and conventional SAM systems. The Arrow 3 system under development will be capable of exo-atmosphere interception of ballistic missiles. The Iron Dome and David’s Sling are designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles as well as medium to long-range rockets and slower flying cruise missiles up to 300km way. India is developing its own Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile system.

Short Range Missiles

All modern armed forces have point-defence short-range missiles, generally mounted on trucks or light armour vehicles so that they could also move along with the armed forces they are required to protect. Russian SA-6, SA-8 OSA and Tunguska; Raytheon MIM-23 Hawk; British Rapier; Franco-German Roland and French Crotale can neutralise low flying high speed fighters. As technologies improved, it was possible to make Man-Portable AD Systems (MANPADS). These include General Dynamics FIM-43 Redeye, Russian SA-7 to SA-14 Grail (Stella and Igla family), Raytheon FIM-92 Stinger, RBS 70 NG, Blowpipe and Chinese FN-6. The MIM-104 Patriot can also take-on smaller artillery projectiles and SSMs. Pakistan replaced its Crotale and older Chinese HQ-2 and FT-2000 systems with ten batteries of MBDA Spada 2000 low-cum-medium altitude missile with 20-km range. Among the latest is the General Dynamics RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile which is smaller, faster and allows for mid-flight course correction (guidance) to ensure a hit.

Current Top-End Surface AD Systems

The S-400 ‘Triumph’ (NATO SA-21 Growler), a formidable and latest SAM system in the Russian arsenal has four interceptor missiles that can engage all types of aerial targets including aircraft, UAVs ballistic and cruise missiles within a range of 400km and an altitude of up to 60km. Russia currently has 25 battalions with ove r 200 launchers. On the other hand, the Iron-Dome, Israeli ground-based, truck-towable, short-range, AD system that is operational since 2011, has been developed to take on enemy rockets and cruise missiles fired at short range with low warning. Tested in Operation ‘Pillar of Strength’ and Operation ‘Protective Edge’ against Hamas, the Iron-Dome is designed and manufactured jointly by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), in close coordination with Israeli Defence Forces.

The Iron Dome and David’s Sling are designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles as well as medium to long-range rockets…

In 2011, US aerospace major Raytheon, the developer of Patriot system, had teamed up with Rafael to market the system in USA and to complement its own intercept weapon system. The Iron-Dome can integrate seamlessly with Raytheon C-RAM systems for layered defence. In January 2010, China carried out a land-based ABM test to demonstrate its intercepting ballistic missile with a kinetic kill vehicle and followed it up with another anti-ballistic missile test in January 2013. Italy and France have developed a missile family called Aster. Aster 30 is capable of ballistic-missile defence. Aster 30 Block II would destroy ballistic missiles at a maximum range of 3,000km.

Air Threat To India

China is India’s primary threat. By 2020, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aims to have at least 1,000 ‘modern’ combat aircraft. Currently, its fleet of combat aircraft include the Su-30 MKK, Su-27, J-16, J-11 and J-10 fighters. Stealth fighter J-20 has already entered service. Under-development J-31 is touted to be equivalent of the Lockheed Martin F-35. The Russian Su-35 aircraft is likely to enter service by 2018 and will enhance the PLAAF’s capability. Of greater concern also is the inventory of PGMs and SSMs. The PLAAF operates H-6 bombers. Newer bomber variant H-6K can carry six DH-10 cruise missiles. China has up to 500 DH-10 ground based land attack missiles with 1,500-km range. A few of these are air launched. China is reportedly working on a stealth bomber designated as H-18. China is also developing the capability of attacking satellites and cyber warfare. China also has an arsenal of the Dong Feng (East Wind) series of ICBMs covering up to 15,000-km range. Most are road-mobile. At the strategic and tactical levels, China’s air power can now achieve a variety of effects. China wants to exploit the advantage of using its tactical/strategic missile force which is easier to use for offensive operations than for defence. The PLAAF plans to move forward edge of the battle into Indian territory. It will try and use air offensive to keep the IAF grounded.

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With 22 combat squadrons, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is no match for the IAF. It is heavily dependent on China for all hardware and support. F-16, JF-17 and FC-20 are the main fighter aircraft types. Pakistan has been in talks with China to acquire the JF-31 stealth fighters and with Russia for the Sukhoi Su-35 air-superiority multi-role fighter. Being an air defence-centric air force, the PAF has little offensive capability and will not be much of a threat to India. However, Pakistan has an evolving SSM force and India needs to cater for that. This includes the 60km range tactical nuclear missile ‘Nasr’. The other immediate concern is terrorists acquiring weapon-laden UAVs. Terrorists have the advantage of choosing the time and place of attack. While response to the threat would be conventional, better surveillance, policing and preventing weapons from falling into their hands are more important. The IAF will also have to cater for a two-front war and would have to assign adequate assets. While the IAF is responsible for the AD of the country, the Indian Army and the Indian Navy need to defend their integral assets from aerial attack as well.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Air Marshal Anil Chopra

Air Marshal Anil Chopra, commanded a Mirage Squadron, two operational air bases and the IAF’s Flight Test Centre ASTE

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