Military & Aerospace

Modernisation of Army Air Defence
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Issue Vol. 31.1 Jan-Mar 2016 | Date : 25 Jul , 2016

Akash SAM on T-72

Students of matters military will vouch for the shape of the battlefield in the 21st century. All battles will be preceded by an intense air battle to attempt to destroy the war-waging potential of a nation; which in our case may be two forces joining hands to come at us with the full threat spectrum. In such a scenario, a formidable ground based Air Defence to will be required to combat this threat. The proposed ground based Air Defence system is also be a threat that will prominently figure in the enemy’s calculus while considering the option of an aerial attack. The present condition of our ground based Air Defence does not allow us the luxury to wait much longer.

Air Defence encompasses all actions initiated to protect national assets against aerial threats…

Air Defence gunners are the only soldiers in the world who do not dive for cover when they see an attacking aerial threat. They stand back and fight so that others can be safe to continue the battle.

Air Defence encompasses all actions initiated to protect national assets against aerial threats. These actions can range from purely passive activities such as dispersion, camouflage or concealment of the important assets, to active measures which aim at destroying the threat, well before it can cause any damage or destruction or effectively deterring it from carrying out its mission. Assets meriting protection can be symbols of national pride such as the Parliament, strategic assets such as the nuclear installations, refineries, economic assets and war-like assets, which will enable us to initiate punitive action to destroy – war waging potential of the enemy. The last category will include, amongst others, air bases, major logistics/administrative/communication installations and battle assets such as the field force headquarters, concentration of mechanised forces, gun areas and troop concentrations.

It is important to know that, presently, our economic assets, far too many in number, also outweigh our national assets. Some of these privately owned economic assets need to be accorded the highest priority in allocation of ground-based air defence resources. This practice will increase the quantitative requirement of resources manifold.

Conduct of active Air Defence battle against the aerial threat involves two elements, the combat aircraft employed in Air Defence role, primarily held with the Indian Air Force and surface-based weapon systems held by all the services. This paper will focus only on the Ground Based constituents of the Air Defence architecture presently held or those which must be acquired by the army at the earliest. In addition, this paper will make a case for need for reallocation of responsibility for conduct of air defence operations and a fresh approach to selecting and procuring air defence assets.

The Air Defence battle primarily started as a means to counter threats posed by aircraft carrying weapons…

Historically, what started as a combat between a low performance, flying platform and a manual gun, the Air Defence combat today has a multitude of very high performance flying objects, which can threaten and cause widespread destruction, and a wide array of missile and gun systems, supported by a nationwide, state-of-the-art, automated surveillance and communication system to counter the threat.

Air Defence Engagement

An Air Defence engagement is a unique combat between two adversaries, one a very dynamic, highly manoeuverable flying object, which can fly at very low altitudes and very high speeds, avoid detection and engage targets from long distances and the other, a group of essentially static, surface-based weapon systems, which can detect, in real time, these flying objects and engage them to either destroy or deter them from carrying out their mission.

Modern ground-based air defence systems, which are a combination of various types of radars, missiles and guns can:

  • Detect almost all the flying objects in a given airspace through a network of sensors and surveillance devices.
  • Establish the hostile identity of the flying objects in real time and nominate the most suitable response element to engage them.
  • Engage and destroy the threat through detonation of the warheads when in proximity of the target or “hit-to-kill” the threat for its’ complete destruction or forcing it off-course, away from the intended target.

These systems are capable of engaging:-

  • All types of missiles, Rockets, Artillery shells and Mortars (RAM) and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).
  • All types of threat aircraft including those with low radar signature as well as helicopters.

As a symbol of a nation’s power to impose its will on the enemy and win wars, the fighter aircraft can, in various roles, cause widespread destruction…

Changing Nature of the Air Threat

The earliest known aerial platform in warfare was a balloon. The use of balloons by the Union Army during the American Civil War compelled the Confederates to develop methods of combating them. These included the use of artillery, small arms and saboteurs. They were unsuccessful, but internal politics led the Union’s Balloon Corps to be disbanded mid-war. The Confederates experimented with balloons as well.

Balloon to Fighter Aircraft

Over time, the balloon, a rather unconventional aerial platform as a mode of conveyance/re-supply or dropping grenades transformed into a fighter aircraft. As a symbol of a nation’s power to impose its will on the enemy and win wars, this versatile system can, in various roles, cause widespread destruction and for the present, this instrument of war is the unsurpassed master of skies.

Ground-Based Air Defence Systems

The one-pound Krupp gun, the first ever weapon designed to engage a moving target, has transformed itself into a family of complex weapon systems including guns of various types and a family of versatile missile systems which, when deployed together in a complimentary manner and supported by a modern system of universal surveillance, for a given airspace and an automated command and control system for real time operational control, can sanitize any part of the airspace by destroying the hostile aerial platforms for use by friendly air elements.

The Changing Air Defence Battle

The Air Defence battle primarily started as a means to counter threats posed by aircraft carrying weapons. Over a period of time, this threat has transformed from a threat based on one type of weapon platform i.e. a manned fighter aircraft or helicopter to multiple platforms, which include the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), various types of missiles and projectiles as threats. These threat platforms/weapons have a well-coordinated plan to address pre-determined ground-based assets.

The emerging air threat is qualitatively superior, varied in composition and includes manifold rise in numbers…

Changing Air Threat

The emerging air threat is qualitatively superior, varied in composition and includes manifold rise in numbers. Such a threat will need a multi-level, well-calibrated and coordinated response, which must focus on destruction of the threat rather than mere deterrence. Countering the new threat will urgently need fresh and innovative doctrines, new concepts and primarily a new family of modern weapons, in sufficient numbers, organised into new air defence architecture, to be effective.

The spectrum of modern aerial threat, which will need to be countered by the ground-based air defence includes:

  • High performance combat aircraft, which are difficult to detect; some of them invisible to even radars.
  • Versatile helicopters including armed platforms. Wide variety of UAS, some of them carrying sophisticated electronic/opto-electronic devices or lethal air to ground weapons. A new era of war fighting – the remote controlled war, which needs a fresh approach of assured destruction of the threat.
  • Cruise missiles.
  • Ballistic missiles including ICBMs, Theatre/Tactical Ballistic Missiles.
  • Rockets, Artillery shells and Mortar bombs (RAM)
  • AB Electronic Warfare Jammers/Suppressors/Deceivers.
  • Unconventional flying objects such as Para Gliders.

Imperatives for a Modern Ground-Based Air Defence

A modern air defence system, to be able to protect a nation’s assets, must include the following constituents:

•   Surveillance: The system must be capable of keeping an all-time watch over the entire national airspace as well as the airspace of the neighboring countries and over the sea. The surveillance should detect and identify all aerial objects and cover a pre-determined height band, depending on the appreciated enemy aerial capability, to detect, well beyond our geographic boundaries, all aerial activity approaching our airspace.

•   Control and Reporting (C&R): The process of reporting detected aerial activity, establishing its identity and nomination of the response weapon system must be fully automated for a real-time or near real-time response.

An important aspect of qualitative adequacy is the ability of the weapon systems to engage the threat away from own airspace…

•   Weapon Systems: The missile and gun systems, qualitatively adequate and in sufficient quantities, to protect all nominated assets to meet an ever-changing threat. An important aspect of qualitative adequacy is the ability of the weapon systems to engage the threat away from own airspace.

Countering the Threat

The airspace over a 21st century battlefield will have a large number of users. The challenge for ground-based Air Defence will be to detect, engage and destroy the hostile objects before they can accomplish their assigned task while ensuring safe passage for friendly aerial activity. The detection of aerial objects must be followed by a positive identification of the object as hostile, in real time, to start the process of engagement. Mere detection of any aerial object is raw information, which may include the present position of the object and direction towards which it is headed, along with its speed. This information, for a given sector, zone and progressively for the entire national airspace has to be collected, collated and processed into actionable intelligence; in real or near real time.

Once the detected object is identified as hostile, an Air Defence HQ, at the appropriate level, will initiate action to instruct the units/formations towards which it is headed, as an early warning for the battle procedures to start. This warning is followed by change in the status of ground-based Air Defence weapons in a given sector/zone to take over or detect the target for engagement by a series of successive tiers of weapon systems, till it is destroyed or is prevented from accomplishing the assigned task by the most suitable system.

The foregoing narrative simplifies what is, in fact, a complex and expensive system of tiers of ultra-modern detection devices, linked through automated communications culminating into layers of various types of response systems, which can destroy the most modern aerial targets.

The Air Defence Architecture

To carry out their mission, of destroying (or deterring) the threat aerial objects, Air Defence resources are organised in a capability-based architecture, which defines the role and in some cases, the ownership of a weapon system.

The challenge for ground-based Air Defence will be to detect, engage and destroy the hostile objects before they can accomplish their assigned task…

The modern ground based Air Defence architecture may include the following:

  • Long Range Air Defence Missiles with ranges greater than 100 km.
  • Medium Range Air Defence missiles with ranges from 60 to 100 km
  • Short Range Air Defence missiles with ranges from up to 60 km.
  • Close Defence Protection by missiles with ranges up to 10 km.
  • Air Defence guns with ranges up to 4.5 km.

This Air Defence architecture, besides the weapons, comprises an integrated system of radars and communications to exercise operational control as well as provide adequate warning for detecting and engaging targets. The vast, nationwide, integrated system may include:

•   An extensive network of Early Warning radars of different configurations, located at suitable sites on the borders/shores as well as other geographic/tactical locations within the country, depending on the role and capability, for detecting the threat and warning the air defence system about the impending enemy action or passage of friendly aerial activity.

•   A fully automated data management and communication system, which can collect, collate and evaluate information and disseminate intelligence to create theatre-wide situational awareness and battlefield transparency for prioritisation and nomination of the most appropriate system to counter the threat in near real time.

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