For a nation, the overall Air Defence (AD) Threat Perception in military terms means evaluation of its 'susceptibility and vulnerability' against the enemy's offensive capabilities. India routinely has skirmishes on its borders with nuclear-armed neighbours — Pakistan and China. These two hostile nations perpetually maintain a 'minimum credible deterrence' against India by strategic deployment of various ballistic and cruise missiles, both conventional and nuclear capable.
In an effort to push for inter-service jointness, country's first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat in his first meeting set out priorities for the execution of synergy by June 30 and December 31 2020. And has sought a proposal for an Air Defence Command by end of June this year.
From identifying air Threat Perception to creating a common Integrated Air Defence shield over the land, sea and in air, all have to be looked into by the office of the CDS. Any shortcoming in the Concepts and Doctrines document at this stage shall lead to irrecoverable damage and can be fatal for Air Defence during hostilities.
All the three services — Indian Army, Indian Air Force (IAF) and Navy so far have maintained their own AD resources to counter specific threat perceived by each, sometimes even having overlapping areas. However, the responsibility of thwarting an enemy air invasion shall continue with IAF, while the Ground-based AD resources need a better synergy. Integrating AD assets shall assist in avoiding 'fratricide' during heightened security conditions.
The incident of shooting down of a Mi-17 helicopter at Budgam during Indo-Pak's Balakot skirmish was an avoidable loss. Further, the recent shooting down of Ukranian passenger aircraft on a routine flight by Iranian forces is also attributable to Iran's Air Defence Command and Control problems. Even though transponders for Identification of Friend or Foe (IFF) are installed onboard aircraft and warships for Target Classification, this may not be a fool-proof method.
Existing Tri-services Air Defence Effort
Indian Army has it’s ground-based Anti Air Defence (AAD) Corps, responsible for the protection of air space for Army's operations from enemy aircraft and missiles. Plans are afoot to upgrade the existing vintage AAD equipment and to create a responsive AD for Army's Strike formations in plains and tactical AD in mountains. Also, the procurement and upgrades of AD Guns and equipment are being pursued as part of the modernization of the army.
The IAF has been on a technology pursuit to get superior Surface-to-Air Guided Weapon (SAGW) and Air Defence Radars to bolster its operational capability, and to integrate all sensors, weapon systems and Command and Control structures to create an Integrated Air Defence Command for its operations.
"Surface to Air weapon systems are planned to be interfaced with IAF's indigenous C4I system viz. Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) using Software Defined Radios (SDR). Integration of IACCS with Surveillance Network of Civil Aviation is also underway in a phased manner. Further, IAF also plans to deploy an Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) system to support Air Defence and offensive strike missions over the tactical battle area and for this, one AEW&C aircraft was inducted in IAF in 2018," explains Milind Kulshreshtha, C4 expert.
To meet their immediate AD requirements, IAF has procured Israeli Spyder LLQRM System, equipped with Python 5 and Derby missiles. This system is meant to be low level quick reaction SAM system providing air defence against aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and UAVs.
On the other hand, Indian Navy maintains its AD assets mainly on the sea platform, in the expected lines of its operational role. For detection of air targets including missiles, modern Naval warships are fitted with advance phased array radars with specialized radar beams to search and track multiple aircraft and missiles simultaneously.
"As a standard weapon fit in frontline warships, two SAM complexes in Fore and Aft configuration gives the complete 360-degree air engagement capability to a ship. Ships are also fitted with Close-in Weapon Systems (CIWS) like rapid-fire AK-630 systems for engaging air targets a couple of kilometres away. At high seas, Carrier launched fighter jets provide the key AD covers to deter any battlespace air threat," says Kulshreshtha. Adding, "As an operational tactics, all high-value naval units at sea (like Aircraft carrier or Main battleships) are provided at least two layers of AD cover by other ships part of the formation. Usually, outermost air defence screen is provided by picket ships (e.g. Corvettes with early warning radars) cruising at a radius above 100km from the Flagship. Carrier borne fighter jets provide the Combat Air Patrol (CAP). Meanwhile, the inner screen of about 20km radius of Flagship, comprise of Anti-air capability warships."
Indigenization of AD capability
According to Kulshreshtha, "India has an ambitious Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) for the development of the two-layered programme to defend vital assets against ballistic missile attacks. The capability demonstration was undertaken in 2018 by intercepting two kinds of missiles — endo-atmospheric interceptor missile (AAD-26) mission against long-range simulated targets and an exo-atmospheric interceptor missile (PDV04) tested against two-stage ship launched target missile."
Anti-Satellite Missile test (Mission Shakti) was completed last year in which Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) interceptor missile engaged Indian target satellite in low earth orbit (LEO) in a 'Hit to Kill' mode. The interceptor missile had three-stages with two solid rocket boosters. It has given India the capability to defend its assets in outer space and is significant against inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), specifically those which travel through space before re-entering Earth's atmosphere to hit a target.
The Quick Reaction Surface-to-Air Missile (QRSAM) a system capable of engaging multiple targets at ranges of up to 30 km is under development. An Indigenous Air Defence Fire Control Radar (ADFCR) 'Atulya' with its associated anti-aircraft guns for point air defence system at short and very short ranges. And, Indian Army is indigenizing an Air Defence Tactical Control Radar (ADTCR) as a successor to existing Indian Doppler Radar (INDRA) and P19 radars.
It is expected that CDS under its ambit shall be able to ensure exploitation of these S-400 complexes as part of an Air Defence Command.