Military & Aerospace

Integrated Air Defence for the Indian Airspace
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Issue Vol. 29.4 Oct-Dec 2014 | Date : 29 Jan , 2015

Air Defence

India’s air defence network is essentially divided into two parts – the ADGES and the Base Air Defence Zones (BADZ). These two components are closely linked and share information relating to air defence tasks. The ADGES network is responsible for overall airspace management and detection of intruders. The ADGES also controls and coordinates the air defences for large area targets. The BADZ, as the name implies, are tasked with the defence of high value targets – air bases, nuclear installations and key military installations. The BADZ is a scaled down ADGES network, limited to an arc of 100 km. The BADZ is a far more concentrated air defence environment than the ADGES and provides the only gap-free air defence cover in most sectors.

The current communication network of the IAF – the AFNET, is already in place and is the present system’s strength…

The deficiencies in the air defence capabilities of the country are being compounded due to increasing numbers of Vital Areas (VAs) and Vital Points (VPs), galloping obsolescence of radars, Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems and aircraft, and need to be urgently addressed. The surveillance and C3I aspects of air defence are of prime importance. Several studies in the past have brought out various requirements, some of which are highlighted below.

  • Need for acquisition of additional aerostats as national assets, for combined airspace surveillance by IAF and AAI.
  • Hastening the induction and early operationalisation of additional High Power Radars (HPRs)/Medium Power Radars (MPRs), for effective surveillance by IAF and AAI and Low Level Transportable Radars (LLTRs) and Mountain Radars, for seamless surveillance of the Northern, Western and North-Eastern borders, peninsular India and the islands.
  • Need for early integration of inputs from AAI radars, as well as those of Army and Navy. These need to be integrated into the national airspace management system, with an effective communication system. The indigenous Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), set up by the IAF across the country, is a step in this direction.
  • The acquisition of additional Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft and the indigenous AEW&C aircraft for effective surveillance by IAF is an urgent need. AWACS would be a more cost effective option as it would also provide low-level cover deep inside enemy territory, not only to direct own forces but also to track hostile aircraft departing for missions from their bases, thus facilitating positive identification and substantially increasing the reaction time available to the air defence system.
  • The current communication network of the IAF – the AFNET, is already in place and is the present system’s strength. The ability of airborne and land-based sensors to exchange data and resolve anomalies needs to be built-in, or worked on, when purchasing a new sensor, to ensure seamless integration, with further induction of modern communication systems for efficient airspace management.
  • Induction of additional long-range all-weather interceptors and point defences in the form of SAMs and other low-level quick reaction weapon systems.

The sensors of the BMDS can provide early warning against approaching ballistic missiles and manned aerial threats…

Whilst it is agreed that steps have been initiated and inductions have commenced, but more needs to be done and at a faster pace to provide seamless cover, which would reduce the IAF’s reaction time and greatly enhance its response to even peacetime air intrusions such as hijacking or any other contingency.

Need for a Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMDS)

This is an area where not much information is available in the public domain, nor is the subject debated or commented upon frequently. A study on the requirement of an anti-missile defence (range up to 1,000 km) for India was conducted in 1996. The study had opined that there was a need for a mix of credible and potent strategic offensive and defensive capabilities in terms of IRBMs of Agni II class, with a reach of 3,000 km or more, as well as anti-ballistic missile defences. Another study on the subject, in 1998, endorsed the earlier recommendations.

The requirement is to detect the launch and track the ballistic missiles during their passage in space and on re-entry into the atmosphere and then to home onto the target. This requires a series of space-based radars to cover the areas of interest, in conjunction with special ground-based radars, which would take over the task of tracking missiles as they enter its coverage area to launch anti-ballistic measures. The 1998 study recommended that the elements of the BMDS be procured in the type and capability, in consonance with the available funding, but with due urgency, to defend vital target systems of India.

Integration of BMDS with AD Architecture

The sensors of the BMDS can provide early warning against approaching ballistic missiles, as well as manned aerial threats, thus performing a dual role. We, therefore, could keep a watchful eye on the aerial and space-based activity of our neighbours. The Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) would benefit immensely from the target-data information from the BMDS network. Similarly, the target-data available from a large number of AD radars at the IACCS would provide useful input on air breathing targets to the BMDS. Battle management, by using the BMDS, would enable enhanced situational awareness and result in its most optimal exploitation. The system should contribute and derive intelligence from the centralised C3I structure of the existing AD system. It is, therefore, essential that the BMDS be integrated with the AD architecture to exploit its dual capability, as it would create an ideal seamless air defence network that could ultimately be linked to the National Command Post.

There is a requirement for an effective interface between all military radars with their civilian counterparts…


Events such as the Purulia arms drop, use of hijacked airliners as a lethal arm of terrorism, disappearance of a civil airliner from the radar screen and proliferation of tactical and intermediate range ballistic missiles across our western and northern borders, are pointers for us to take a holistic look at our air defence capabilities. To address these issues, which are essentially of peacetime policing, steps have been initiated for closer integration of surveillance and regulatory activities by diverse agencies such as DGCA, AAI and other Services, with the IAF. The indigenously developed IACCS, wherein data provided by all these agencies will be synthesized and analysed to minimise detection-to-interception time, by the most optimum means, is in place in the sensitive areas. Importantly, the IACCS, with new radars, will also bring AD coverage to the Southern peninsula. However, the detection of missiles, possibly armed with weapons of mass destruction, has not yet been adequately addressed.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has acquired and integrated the long-range detection tracking and fire control technologies. Development activities and trials are underway for interceptor missile development. Considering the complementary nature of the radar and missile systems of the BMDS, it would be most advantageous to expeditiously integrate them into the AD network of the IAF, with simultaneous dissemination of information in real time to the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) and National Command Post. Thus, a fully integrated aerospace defence capability would be developed from sea level to the exosphere, against a vast multitude of targets such as the very low speed UAVs, through subsonic and supersonic range of manned aircraft, to hypersonic ballistic missiles, in a cost-effective manner.

There will be problems related to working on source codes of different radars to arrive at an integrated radar picture. Communications protocols would have to be notified within the Services and with the Civil Aviation authorities. There is a requirement for an effective interface between all military radars with their civilian counterparts, with an overarching command and control set up, which may step on the toes of the numerous users, will require a mature resolution, without parochial considerations!

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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 Dhiraj Kukreja

former Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Training Command.

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