MEETING NEW AIR AND MISSILE THREATS
Geopolitics|February 2021
The Indian Air Force has begun substantial modernisation of its strategic air defences. But while progress has undoubtedly been made, strategic SAM defences remain weak, writes SANJAY BADRI MAHARAJ
SANJAY BADRI MAHARAJ

There has been a multi-dimensional development of air risk confronting India and specifically the AAD. This has occurred after some time and has two basic angles. The first of these is the variety of aerial threats that have emerged. Fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters as major air threats have been joined by a multi-dimensional strike punch comprising attack helicopters and Unmanned Aerial Systems/Vehicles (UAS/ UAVs), tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, Precision-Guided Munitions (PGMs), AntiRadiation Missiles (ARMs) and now the soft-kill weapons.

The other vertical is the spatial development of the risk in the entirety of its three measurements of range, altitude profile, and hours of operation. In the mid-seventies, when the air risk was indicted primarily at a relatively short range and defenses utilising generally short-range weapons such as guns and a small stockpile of unguided rockets and missiles, were the principal threat. Today, the capacity is to hit in-depth with accuracy and precision from long ranges and several miles from the protector's visual space. In addition, improvements in the sensors of attack aircraft have enabled an attacker to strike at any time – day or night.

Analysis of ground-based air defences requires thorough scrutiny of the adversary. Any air threat now comprises the following major categories:

  • Manned Air Breathing Targets (ABT)

  • Ballistic Missiles (BMs)

  • Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

Manned air Breathing Targets (ABT)

The typical aerial targets such as aeroplanes and helicopters fall in this category. While advances in propulsion have produced supercruise capability as well as extreme agility, there have been relatively few changes in flying dynamics or engines. Future aircraft will become stealthier and with improvements in self-protection suites and combined with new ordnance, will become ever more difficult to intercept.

Ballistic Missiles (BMs)

While tracking and engaging ballistic missiles of the ICBM and IRBM type may be beyond the ability of AAD systems owing to the division of work between the IAF and the AAD, there are a plethora of SRBMs that have increased exponentially in capability. Further, extensive proliferation has ensured that these are very common. The higher speed of ballistic missiles and their ability to deploy from mobile launchers has significant implications for AAD and the systems needed to deal with this growing threat.

Unmanned Aerial Systems

The growth in the capability, effectiveness, and range of unmanned aerial vehicles has been astonishing in the 21st century. From mini UAVs to High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicles (UCAVs), the military use of UAS has become widespread. Compared to manned ABT, the key advantages that these systems have are the reduced design, test, and line-production costs which in turn means that these systems can be produced in large numbers. These unmanned systems can be used in “high risk” operations, like SEAD/DEAD missions against enemy air defences. In the near future, the unmanned systems will be equipped with solar panels in an effort to have – virtually – unlimited endurance together with their exploitation in new roles, like communications relay, which will have a reduced cost compared to the satellite equivalent. Further, unmanned systems can be used in order to condense air defences and exhaust their payload. The future belongs to unmanned systems. Legacy manned aircraft will provide the role of the “mother ship” to a variable number of unmanned combat systems.

In addition to these threats, consideration must be given to dealing with precision-guided munitions and artillery, rocket and mortar bombs. These systems are increasingly able to target opposing positions with great efficacy. Given the need of AAD to protect high-value military targets from such munitions, there will be an increasing need to develop systems to protect said targets.

To date, however, the effectiveness of AAA and SAMs against PGMs and artillery has been somewhat inadequate as the high speed and small profile of such weapons render interception exceedingly difficult.

INDIA’S EFFORTS IN PREPARING DEFENCES

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