Threats from Above
Different weapons are required for air defence as no single system can counter the entire air threat spectrum

Hostile air action has been perceived as natural fallout since the time man thought and implemented flying machines. Therefore, actions to counter these hostile air actions also did not take too long to follow. The definition commenced from defence of homeland from hostile air actions and went on to become counter air activities and missile defence which all now can be loosely put under the umbrella of air defence. In some Western and also ex Warsaw Pact nations, air defence is put as either an independent service or command or under the air force.

Pinaka multi barrel rocket launcher system at Republic Day parade

In India, however, under an operational control each service has its own ground based air defence. Air defence is a requirement wherever there is a threat from the air which ranges from micro unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aircraft to ballistic missiles. Since the threat is multiple in nature, the air defence also has to be complementing the requirement to offset these threats. The best would have been to have one system which could take care of any aerial threat and could range from hundreds of kilometres to a few hundred metres by suddenly popping helicopters with their deadly arsenal. Also, the threat from air has two important dimensions. The time available to counter the aerial threat is in seconds and more importantly, the countering is against a fast moving, and in most cases, nonvisible threat. Therefore, there is a need for multiple systems which have different capability, ranges and types of payload to counter all the aerial threats. This makes the air defence organisations more complex and expensive.

To have all equipment of latest technology in the inventory of any country’s armed forces is cost prohibitive. It is a judicious mix of mature or legacy, current and state-of-the-art technologies that addresses the operational needs of any force. Every country, therefore, goes through the stages of updating, upgrade and eventually phasing out of the equipment. The army air defence is also in the cyclic process of shedding its old skin and into the dynamic activity of acquiring new teeth. Surface to air weapons used by the army air defence consist of surface to air missile (SAM) and guns. These can maintain high-readiness states over long periods, give quick response and may provide the best form of defence against targets which are particularly challenging for fighter aircraft (i.e. cruise missiles, UAV and helicopters). On land, SAW systems are described generically as Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD); the aim of GBAD is to prevent enemy interference from the air with the conduct of operations on the ground.

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