Defence Industry

What S-400 will bring to the Indian Ground-Based Air Defence Capability?
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Issue Vol. 31.1 Jan-Mar 2016 | Date : 26 Jun , 2016

S-400

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.

The News

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…

Challenges Galore

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 Landscape
Terminal GBAD

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…

BMC2

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.

Programme AD

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.

Developments in the LRSR

The initial version of the LRSR associated with S-300 was 36D6 (NATO ‘TIN SHIELD’). It was a 2-D surveillance radar operating in the E/F band (2-3 Ghz/ 3-4 Ghz) with a range of 180 to 360-km and a capability to simultaneously detect 120 targets. 36D6 was optimised for medium/high altitude detection. However during the early eighties and beyond, when the avionics onboard the aerial threat vehicles allowed for a low and level prosecution of the attack, neatly avoiding radar detection by the type of surveillance radars signified by 36D6, a need was felt to associate with the system, low attitude detection capability.

Keeping in mind the above, another LRSR optimised for low altitude detection was associated with the system (versions S-300 P and S-300 PS/PM). This radar was 76N6 (NATO ‘CLAM SHELL’). 76N6 was an I band (8-10 Ghz) radar and with a capability to detect 300 targets (catering for multiple saturation raids on large sized VAs). Some range compromise was obvious at low altitude due to ground attenuation of radar energy (range 120 km).

The biggest advantage of TVM is that the missile remains passive and is not painted on the aircraft’s radar…

A combination of Medium/High with Low altitude with respective operational ranges pegged at 300 km and 120 km actually shows the canny understanding of the air attack pattern by the weapon designers in that, while the ‘eyes and ears’ of the system went really long up to 300 to 360 km for a possible medium/high altitude detection, the low and level detection anchored was not required to stretch beyond 120 km as that would be about the maximum range at which a potential low and level raid will actually start to descend for aligning with the intended attack profile.

The next development in the LRSR domain was when 36D6 was replaced by another LRSR is called 64N6 (NATO BIG BIRD).This radar was designed to operate in still lower E/F band was optimised for detection of Ballistic Missile class targets up to 1,000 km away travelling at up to 10,000 km/hr.

The shift towards the lower bands was again a deliberate and smart move by the weapon designer as lower band radars were found to be more efficient in the detection of Very Low Observable (VLO) or stealth threat.

The above gain had to be balanced against the disadvantages of large antennas and unwieldy designs of these radars making them slow to move and deploy and easy targets for ARM attacks. Experience in field however showed that even with the above disadvantages, VLO capable radars which were a greater necessity for the emerging stealth threat, could operate safely under the overall protection umbrella provided by the mainstay weapon system.

The Services are firmly afoot on a twin track of ‘Sustenance and Modernisation’…

The weapon designers invested a lot of resources in the initial detection of the incoming threat. In that, to further augment the detection capability of 36D6 (medium and high altitude) radar and the low altitude detection of 64N6, another all-altitude detection radar 96L6E (NATO ‘CHEESE BORAD’) was also made a part of the weapon system (range of 300 km and a max capability to simultaneously detect 300 targets).

The latest development in the weapon system in the field of LRSRs is the radar 91N6E (with S-400). This radar is an upgraded version of its predecessor 64N6E. It is a Panoramic 3D All Altitude Radar Detection System with a maximum range of 600 km and a max target track capability of 300 targets. Ranges actually vary based on the Radar Cross Section (RCS) of the target. This radar is a fully digitised adoption of the earlier 64N6E system. It is a 2700-element phased array radar with latest ECCM features such as the frequency agility, suppression of side lobe jammers and a capability to accurately measure the location of jamming sources. The reflective phased array technology allows the radar to search two opposite 90 degree sectors simultaneously greatly improving its detection probability. The radar is especially optimised for Ballistic Missile targets and has a capability to detect stealth targets.

Developments in the MFTR

The initial versions of the weapons system started with 30 N6 (NATO FLAP LID) MFTR. It is an I/J Band radar which is a typical band for fire control and missile guidance systems. Over a period of time, the MFTR kept on improving in its capability of simultaneously tracking and engaging targets. This capability enhancement is a direct effect of the signature feature of the contemporary threat which demands that multiple threats be simultaneously tracked, and based on threat priority, engaged alongside, as well. These radars had ranges of 200 km which was considered adequate for an MFTR getting its target designation from LRSRs.

The latest development in the weapon system in the field of LRSRs is the radar 91N6E (with S-400)…

As the threat versatility grew, aerial targets started to operate in a wider band spectrum. A need was thus felt for the MFTR to embrace broader spectrum detectability. Also, there was felt a requirement of more compact system especially for the V series of the weapon system. To address this requirement, a Multi-band MFTR 9S32-1 (NATO GRILL PAN) was designed. The compactness of the system had a range penalty which reduced to 140 to 150 km.

Development in Missiles

The unique signature of the S-300 family as regards its missiles are concerned has been its capability of featuring multiple missiles with varying ranges all fireable from the same weapon platform with nil/minimal changes on action-stations.

As to the guidance system, the initial versions of the missiles (5V55K, 5V55R) used the basic Command guidance where the MFTR tracking both the missile, as well as, the target, gives commands to the missiles to home on to the target. These missiles had a range in the bracket of 50 to 75 km.

As the technology advanced, the newer missiles (5V55R, 5V55KD, 5V55U, 9M82, 9M83, 9M83ME) switched to Semi Active Radar Homing (SARH) Guidance, wherein, the missile guides itself to the target by homing on to the signal of the illuminating radar reflected off the target. The range of such missiles increased (150 km approximately) since missiles being semi-active, need not carry radar transmitter electronics on board except for a small mono-pulse radar for terminal/end game guidance.

The entire growth story of the S-300 over the last 45 years is the story of ‘ongoing cumulative enablement’ made possible by state-of-the-art technologies…

Then came the missiles having Track-Via-Missile (TVM) guidance (48N6, 48N6 E2). In this, though the missile still receives the radar energy from illuminating radar reflected off the target, it does not use this signal to home on to the target as in the case of SARH missiles; instead, it relays the signal back to the ground station which passes guidance command to the missiles to home on to the target. The biggest advantage of TVM is that the missile remains passive and is not painted on the aircraft’s radar. Due to this, when a TVM system is engaging a threat, say an aircraft, the pilot will know that a SAM radar is illuminating it but whether it is being engaged by a missile, it will not know. TVM missiles were particularly found useful in tackling low level threats.

And finally, the missiles of the S-300 family graduated to the Active Radar Homing (9M96E1, 9M96E2, 40 N6) as in the case of S-400 system. These missiles carry an active radar trans-receiver capable of finding and tracking its target on its own steam. The missiles being closer to targets (than the ground radar) produce highly accurate tracking with much better resistance to ECM. These missiles therefore have very high kill probabilities (>90 per cent) and a fire-and forget weapon effect achieving high ranges.

Out of the above missiles, the three specific missiles onboard, the S-400 have the following special features:

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…

  • The 40 N6 is an extremely long range missile (400 km). Because of being independent, it can engage targets out of radar sight of the ground radars. The missile features both an active, as well as, a semi active homing seeker thus combining the advantages of both systems. Also, the flight profile of this missile (apogees in excess of 40 km) enables the missile to convert potential energy into kinetic energy during the terminal phase. This makes the missile accelerate as it dives on the target permitting higher G capabilities as compared to flatter cruise profile. The missile is optimised for the ABM role.
  • The 48 N6 is a long range missile that has a number of variations covering different range brackets. 48 N6 DM (48 N6E3) covers the longest range of 250 km. It is an SARH missile flying at 17,000 km/h or Mach 14 and is capable of handling target speeds up to 4,800 m/s. 48 N6 E2 is a TVM missile (optimised for low level attacks). It has little less range of 200 km. Its corresponding features are 10,000 km/h, Mach 8.2 and 2800 m/s. The original 48 N6, the base version is also a TVM missile with a range of 150 km.
  • The third type of missile with the system is the 9M96 Series. Two versions are held 9M96E1 and 9M96E2. Both are active radar homing missiles covering close-in threats. 9M96E1 has a range of 40 km while 9M96E2 has a range of 120 km.

Other Systems

The BMC2 system (30 K6E) provides a full automation of Control and Reporting (C&R) system for the entire conduct of the Air Defence battle. The automated battle functions include the Coordination of surveillance by multiple sensors through Multi Sensor Fusion, generation of Recognised Air Situation Picture (RASP), Prioritisation of the incoming threat, Target Selection, Missile Assignment and the minute-to-minute control of the air defence engagement.

The biggest advantage of TVM is that the missile remains passive and is not painted on the aircraft’s radar…

The vertical launch operation of missiles negates the need of Lock On Before Launch (LOBL) and can quickly respond to the threat developing from any direction. This makes the system highly responsive.

The deployment time of a typical Fire Unit has seen a compression in time from over an hour in the initial S 300 systems to 10 to 15 minutes in the current version for a single fire unit.

Quantum

Normally a battalion (Fire Unit or FU) of S-400 has eight launchers each with four missiles (32 Missiles). Besides this, each FU it will have its own contingent of LRSR (either a Panoramic Detection System like 64N6E of a pair of medium/high altitude LRSR (36D6) with a low altitude detection system (76N6) , one or two MFTRs (30N6 or its variants or 9S32-1), the BMC2 system (30K6E) and associated support structures, vehicles and maintenance gear. The missiles could be in a combination of 40 N6, 48N6 and its variant (48N6E2) or the shorter range 9M96E1/9M96E2.

Five such systems will have a multiplication factor of five to the above basic constituents cutting out duplicates where possible.

The quantum of missiles will actually be distributed over the first line, second line and War Wastage Reserves (WWR) and training aggregates. One open source quotes a figure of 6,000 missiles.

Impact of Induction

Will the proposed induction be a “game changer” as claimed by many? Some thoughts:

The 48 N6 is a long range missile that has a number of variations covering different range brackets…

  • A weapons system of such range and altitude capability (20 to 400 km and low and level to 56 km) is a totally way up induction from the capability that is currently possessed.
  • As a part of the overall layered and tiered defences anchored on the theatre grid, the system will integrate seamlessly with the existing lot of GBADWS. This feature of backward and downslide integration has been specifically flagged by the OEM of the system. It will imply the following:

– The LRSR resources of the system will be able to provide long range and ultra long range early warning to the integrated family of GBADWS tied to S-400 in layered and tiered defence.

– The MFTR of S-400 will not only be able to provide BMC2 support to S-400 Fire Units but will also be able to thread other shorter range and altitude systems (MRSAM, SRSAM and VSHORAD) fire units in providing continuous successive punishment to the incoming threat.

– While the existing GBAD weapon inventory is seriously limited in its overall range and reach capability (exact figures omitted), the gaps will gradually get filled up as the modern GBAD weapon systems get inducted over time.

– Once the above is realised in times to come, the entire range-altitude bracket will stand addressed (terminal GBADWS 2 to 3.5 km, VSHORADS – 3 to 7/8 km, SRSAMS/QRSAMs- 2/3 to 20/30 km, MRSAM- 5 to 50/70 km, LRSAM >100 km) and the S-400 (20 to 400 km).

– While not talking about the quantum adequacy of GBADWs where huge voids remain (percentages not covered), the type of capability which the S-400 brings along makes every single aerial threat vehicle in our immediate and extended neighbourhood addressable be it strategic bombers of the type H5/H6/H6K, or the front line strike aircrafts like Q5,J8,J11,J16, JF17, SU27,SU30, F16, Mirage or stealthy targets like J20,J31, PAK FA or the FGFA targets like FC31 and more (lower end threat not mentioned).

– The S400 being an anti-missile system will complement the indigenous capability as contained in Programme AD. In that the FUs which are normally deployed for protecting the city-centres/seats of power/industrial and financial hubs could be deployed complementing each other. It must, however, be appreciated that given a huge quantum of VAs/VPs that need to be protected, the limited quantities of Programme AD FUs combined with FUs of S-400 will still leave quantum voids.

–  With the BMD capability as jointly achieved above, the SSM threat from our immediate and extended neighbourhood (from the HATF range up to and including Ghauri class and the DF series known to be in Tibet Autonomous Region) will become addressable, “capability wise”.

On the Flipside

While all looks very hunky-dory on one side, the following realities also need to be understood:

The S400 being an anti-missile system will complement the indigenous capability as contained in Programme AD…

  • The procurements of this magnitude get spread over many years (three to five on a modest count).

  • Experience has it that from initial negotiation to the Contract itself, following the DPP route, is anything up to one to two years on a most promising/optimistic note. This is to be followed up with phased deliveries to be built up over another three to four years. Alongside this, will be the huge requirements of spares, training aggregates and simulators besides initial training of crews and maintenance staff. It is likely to be anything from three to four years before the capability is realised unless some shortcuts/overlaps are approved and taken.
  • Mention has already been made of the quantum inadequacy for which the figures cannot be discussed.

Now, it is up to the reader to decide whether the claims of the proposed induction of the S-400 Air Defence System will be a “Game Changer”.

Notes

1. Franz Stefan Gady, India Cleared Purchase of Russian S-400 Missile Defence System; The Diplomat Dec 21 2015. Accessed on 23 Dec 15

2. https://en.wikipedoia.org>wiki indian-ballistic-missile-defence-programme

3. www.army-technology.com.drdo-bmd

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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

Lt Gen VK Saxena

former Director General Army Air Defence. He is presently an Advisor to a leading Defence PSU.

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3 thoughts on “What S-400 will bring to the Indian Ground-Based Air Defence Capability?

  1. Nothing on it but we are not ready, people are wrong if they think that the planes take anti-S400 in the event of war, does not it will do the drones, long-range missiles and rockets! With them will S400 will have problems in the beginning, fighter planes to switch on later! The policy may mean something!

  2. This article is an another example that high-ranking Indian defense officers are not keeping up to date information and want to purchase foreign equipment even after 66 years of independence. When Russia is developing miniature gliding missile, our Army officers are thinking about bulky missiles which can be detected by enemy radar very easily. Our aim should be to cripple enemy missile installations and fighter planes before they could launch in the preemptive strike. It is a well-known fact that Gnat fight plane was very effective because enemy radar was not able to detect its movement as its size was very small. Tejas was developed based on the above experience. So far as my knowledge goes , it is the smallest fighter plane in the world within its category. The UPA Govt and the high-ranking IAF officers tried their best to stop the development of Tejas Mark I. Now Rafale fighter plane will remain as a dream. No Govt can purchase Rafael plane paying six times the cost of Tejas.

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