Good strides of progress, cutting across Service boundaries have taken place in automating the erstwhile manual/semi-automatic Control and Reporting (C&R) Nodes that exercise tactical, operational and minute-to-minute control of the air defence battle. This has been made possible by the paradigm shift brought about by the satellite communication and Digital Data Transmission technologies and a near steady flow of induction of all grades of Sensors from the Low Level Light Weight Radars for the mountainous and high altitude areas and the regular ones providing gun/missile control or 3D Early Warning of incoming raids. More modern Sensors with more and more robust ECCM and anti stealth capabilities are lined up in procurements both on the indigenous, as well as the foreign OEM route.
Ever since October 2015, the media is abuzz with the news of a likely purchase of S-400 Air Defence System by India from Russia. Later, the open source firmed up on the likely numbers, reporting that the clearance has been accorded for the procurement of five Regiments of S-400 at a likely cost of $4.5 billion1.
On Twin Track
Currently, the GBAD capability in the country is in a state of flux. The Services are firmly afoot on a twin track of ‘Sustenance and Modernisation’. In that, while on the one hand, all efforts are in hand to manage and keep alive a nearly obsolete inventory of GBAD Weapon Systems (GBADWS), on the other, a Long Term Integrated Plan has been put in place for a systematic and phased induction of new and technologically-enabled GBADWS encompassing all the three GBAD domains of Sensors, Shooters and BMC2 systems.
There are welcome signs of induction of the state-of-the-art Akash Weapons System…
While the above looks ‘neatly stated’, there are numerous challenges. ‘Sustenance’ per se, is a herculean task, since not only the OEM production lines have long closed down for vintage GBADWS drying up the spares support, the existing stocks of spares have severely depleted forcing the way towards indigenisation/cannibalisation. Another route being followed with modest success is the product upgrade where entirely obsolete (and hence non-maintainable) systems/subsystems are being revamped through replacement with the state-of-the-art systems to the extent a legacy system would allow. Towards modernisation, the inherent delays and uncertainties in the procurement process are well known.
The resulting landscape emerging through the above is indeed unenviable at the moment though it hides a big promise in the years ahead. While conceptually, a layered-and-tiered defence as a part of an Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) has been put in place, its constituents are just about being realised. Currently, the terminal GBAD domain is held by the vintage towed L70 and the ZU 23-2 guns and the Self Propelled (SP) Schilka/Tunguska gun/gun-missile systems, the VSHORAD component is being provided by the Igla missiles. Both the vintage gun systems are being put through major systems upgrades and the new VSHORADS are in the pipeline to replace the dwindling numbers of vintage Igla missiles.
Short/Medium/Long range SAMs
On the Short Range Surface to Air Missiles (SRSAM) front, while the anchor is held by the ageing Strela, OSA AK on the lower end of the range and altitude bracket and Kvadrat and Pechora on the higher end, there are welcome signs of induction of the state-of-the-art Akash Weapons System. Also in the procurement pipeline are more modern Short Range (up to 30km), Medium Range (70 to 100km) and Long Range (beyond 100km) SAMs besides the quick reaction SAMs for Mechanised Forces.
The weapon designers invested a lot of resources in the initial detection of the incoming threat…
Good progress, cutting across Service boundaries, have taken place in automating the erstwhile manual/semi-automatic Control and Reporting (C&R) Nodes that exercise tactical, operational and minute-to-minute control of the air defence battle. This has been made possible by the paradigm shift brought about by the satellite communication and Digital Data Transmission technologies and a near steady flow of induction of all grades of Sensors from the Low Level Light Weight Radars for the mountainous and high altitude areas and the regular ones providing gun/missile control or 3D Early Warning of incoming raids. More modern Sensors with more and more robust ECCM and anti-stealth capabilities are lined up in procurement both on the indigenous, as well as the foreign OEM route.
The Indian BMD programme is steadily moving forward. The double-tiered system consists of two interceptor missiles, namely the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) for high altitude interception (exo-atmospheric, altitude 50 to 80 km) and Advanced Air Defence (AAD) for lower altitude interception (endo-atmospheric, altitude 15 to 30 km). All the components of this system, namely ‘Swordfish’ – the Long Range Tracking Radar (LRTR) for long range early warning of the incoming threat (range 600 to 800 km), Multi Function Radar (MFR) for tracking of the identified threat and guiding the interceptors towards it, the two type of interceptors PAD and AAD, as also the upgraded version of PAD, i.e. PDV (altitude capability 150 km with IIR seeker onboard for the end-game) are all realised. Phase One of the Project (capability of tackling SSMs of ranges up to 2000 km) is ready and Phase Two (5,000 km) likely in 2016.2,3
This essentially is the landscape in which the S-400 may enter. What will it bring?
What is S-400?
The Birth of S-300
Way back in 1978 to 1979, the then Soviet Union deployed a long range Surface-to-Air (SAM) system as a part of area air defence system for the defence of large sized Vulnerable Areas (VAs) This system was named S-300P (NATO SA-10 Grumble). Initially, the system was designed to provide Air Defence (AD) against aircraft and cruise missiles, the main components of the prevailing air threat then.
Evolution of the S-300 Family
In the period 1978 till 2016 and counting, the S-300 family has grown along three verticals, namely P Series where P stands for the Russian ‘PVO Stranny’ (Country Air Defence System), V Series where V stands for ‘Voyska’ (Ground Forces) and the F series, where F stands for Russian ‘Flot’ (Fleet) or naval version.
P Series. This has been the mainstay development line of the weapon System for large-sized VAs; the variations being S-300 PT/PT1/PT1A.S300 PS. S300 PM/PM1/PM2. S300 PMU/PMU2/PMU3 or S-400 and now the S-500 (under development).
- V Series. Basically a self-propelled and compact version, where mobility to keep up with mechanised forces is a requirement. It has seen the versions S-300 V/V1/V2. S-300 VM/VM1/VM2/Antey 2500 and S-300 VMD.
F Series. The naval versions in many configurations are onboard ships such as S-300 F/FM/, Fort/ Fort M, Rif/Rif M.
Basic Design Configuration Philosophy
The basic design configuration philosophy of the weapon designer (earlier the government-owned Russian Almaz Corporation KB-1, later Almaz-Antei Air Defence Concern with missile design by MKB “Fakel” design bureau) has followed a nearly unchanged pattern all through the evolution journey. In fact, it runs almost parallel to Programme AD system Configuration regime. Essentially it runs like this:
The unique signature of the S-300 family is its capability of featuring multiple missiles with varying ranges all fireable from the same weapon platform…
Long Range Surveillance Radar (LRSR). Much like the LRTR, this mainstay radar serves as the eyes and ears of the system for long range surveillance and identification of the incoming threat and its recognition through Identification of Friend or Foe (IFF).
- Multi-Function Tracking Radar (MFTR). In various permutations, the Multi-Function Tracking Radar is configured either as a separate vehicle station, or onboard the SP mount (in V versions). The task of MFTR’s missile guidance in various modes that the technology has enabled over time.
- Missiles. The teeth or the interceptors/missiles have emerged over time with varying ranges, altitudes and ECCM capabilities featuring commensurate guidance system matching with MFTR.
BMC2/C&R System. Essentially based on satellite-based communication and data transmission capability, this nodal portion of the weapon system is responsible for tactical and minute-to-minute-control of the air defence battle including resource distribution functions over the entire weapon system.
The Growth Story
The entire growth story of the S-300 weapon system over the last 45 years is the story of ‘ongoing cumulative enablement’ made possible by the emerging and the state-of-the-art technologies. Some of the weapon development was also as a result of the Cause-Effect equation. In that, as the growing air threat brought in new technologies (stealth, miniscule EEA) the weapon system graduated upwards to counter them.