Threats from Above

Indian Army Air Defence must modernize to meet new challenges

The changing threat form manned to unmanned coupled with delivery of weapons by aircraft from stand off ranges has compelled the air defence gunners to think of new strategies to counter this threat from the air. The air defence guns which were the mainstay of ground based air defence seem to have lost its importance due to their limited range. Army Air Defence (AAD) in India is also faced with the similar situation. Bulk of the air defence weapons held by it are guns. It also holds medium and short range missile systems. These weapon systems are old, and besides being of older technology are also facing problems related to availability of spares.  To meet the futuristic air threat, it would be ideal to replace the older weapons systems with new and modern one but financial prudence inhibits such schemes. The ideal solution is to have an ideal mix of upgradation of some of the air defence weapons held in the inventory of AAD and simultaneously go in for their replacement with modern weapon systems.



The bulk of the inventory of weapon systems in AAD comprises guns controlled by radars, Russian ZU-23 twin gun and self-propelled Schilka weapon systems. The AAD has already issues Request for Proposal (RFP) for upgradation of these weapon systems. While the upgradation of L-70 and ZU-23 guns involve the need for a modern day and night sight and provision of electrical drives, the upgradation of Schilka weapon system involves replacement of the existing radar and provision of a modern day and night sight. The upgradation however does not increase the range or rate of fire of these weapon systems.

The upgradation of weapon systems is a primarily a short-term measure. The Indian AAD as long term measure may procure more Tunguska weapon systems. It is capable of hitting fixed-winged planes and helicopters as well as ground targets. Tunguska M1 vehicle carries eight 9M311-M1 surface-to-air missiles, with a range of 15 to 6,000m for ground targets and 15 to 10,000m for air targets. It can either be a replacement of Schilka weapon system or meet the existing deficiency of self-propelled weapon systems for providing close air defence protection to the Indian mechanized forces. Around 80 such weapons are already there in the army. Replacement of L-70and ZU-23 guns with a modern air defence gun like Skyhield of Contraves, Switzerland is under consideration. The Skyshield comprises two 35mm gun with a rate of fire of 1,000 rounds per minute and can integrate Surface to Air missiles for added air defence capabilities. Programmable ammunition is another area where AAD is presently working on.



As brought out earlier, the changed air threat has increased the importance of missile systems. The Indian AAD is presently holding medium short and very short range missile systems of Russian origin. These missile systems are old and after the breakup of Soviet Union are facing shortage of critical spares. In fact, the Kvadrat which is a medium range missile system is almost at the last stage of its life and AAD is looking for its replacement with a Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM) system. The weapon systems being considered include the Russian Buk-M1, Israeli NG Barak, French Aster 30 and Patriot of the US. The Russian Buk-M1 system can simultaneously engage up to six targets from any direction at the maximum speed of 1,200m per second. The Israeli NG Barak is an all-weather system with eight-cell launchers and Barak vertical launch missiles. The French Aster 30 consists of six vertical launching systems with eight ready to fire missiles each and an effective interception range of up to 20km. The recently-offered Patriot anti-aircraft system to India by the US is also being considered. The system has eight launchers and an inventory of 32 missiles.

Similarly OSA AK weapon system acquired by Indian Army in 1985 is of older valve technology. AAD is also looking for a Quick Reaction Surface is Air Missile System (QRSAM) either to replace OSA AK or to fill up the existing void. The various systems being considered could include Russian Tor M1 can track up to 48 targets and engage two targets simultaneously at a speed of up to 700m per second at a distance of one to 12 km in less than 10 seconds. The other option can be the Spyder missile system of Israel. The system consists of the Derby and Python missiles with an intercept envelope of less than one km to 15m against targets flying at altitudes between 20m and 9,000m.

The ADA TS of Canada or French VL Mica can also be considered as a replacement for the OSA AK system.

The man portable missile system Igla 1 M is planned to be replaced by Iglas which are manufactured by KBM Kolomna, Russia, which also supplied Iglas 1M to the Indian Army. However, Iglas are likely to be manufactured in Indiaby BDL, Hyderabad, after transfer of technology takes place.


Radar Systems

The fire control radars held by Indian AAD includes the flycatcher radar of Holland origin and upgraded SFM Radars. Flycatcher Radars are being manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) Bangalore. The upgraded SFM radars are in the fag end of their service life and will need to be replaced with modern radars. Similarly, at a later stage even Flycatcher Radars will need to be replaced which can track up to 16 targets at any time to provide accurate targeting for the guns, which can be placed two kilometre from the radar. The AAD has already issued qualitative requirement of the futuristic radar. These radars when procured may also be manufactured by BEL after acquiring necessary transfer of technology.

Similarly, the tactical control radar Reporter held by the AAD is a two dimensional radar which may may not fit with the future requirement of networking of radars. The AAD is therefore looking for a modern three-dimensional tactical control radar to make up the existing weapon system and procurement of new modern systems is also working on improving the capabilities of existing weapon systems. These may include improving the night fighting capability by fitment of night version devices or thermal imaging sights in their weapon systems including self-propelled air defence equipment.


Voids in the Existing Air Defence Systems

The following systems are essential to meet future operational requirements of the AAD:

  • Light Weight Radars/AD Alerting System: All the AAD resources deployed in the mountains today lacks any warning system. There is a need to provide them with Light Weight Radars/AD alerting system.
  • Tactical Radar cum Command Post (SP): The AD elements supporting mechanized formations do not have suitable system that can provide tactical control and Command Post functions. There is a need to identify and procure such system.
  • C&R System: An automated and integrated command and control system for passage of air raid warning and exercising operational and tactical control over AD weapons is mandatory for optimal utilization of AD weapons.
  • EW systems: Induction of AD EW systems, which is addition to neutralizing effect of hostile aircraft would also provide facilities for passive surveillance and will be a force multiplier.
  • Communication System: To be able to meet the demands of extremely fast and fluid air battle it is imperative that all elements of AD are networked with near real time and dedicated digital and voice communication systems.
  • Gun Ammunition: Improved ammunition for guns is required for enhanced effectiveness of the gun system.
  • Training Aids: Modern training aids both in the category of simulators and live firing with suitable evaluation system is mandatory for training of weapon crews in the future.



Weapon philosophy

  • To effectively counter the wide spectrum of air threat, there is a need for a judicious mix of gun and missile system with varied ranges to provide multi-layered and area AD cover in the combat zone to deal effectively with stand off air attacks and for terminal AD of specified assets.
  • Futuristic AD system must have enhanced target handling capability to cope with air missions comprising much larger number of aircraft. Sensors will need to be extremely sensitive to deal with aerial objects with much smaller ‘Equivalent Echoing Areas’ such as missiles, rockets and UAVs.
  •     Adequate integral surveillance capability must exist to provide minimum necessary warning to AD weapon sites for such their integration to surveillance systems will be mandatory. Reduced reaction time of threat manifestation would call for all weather AD system to have in-built target acquisition, identification and fire control capability to function in an autonomous mode, if required.
  • Stealth technology and intensive EW environment, apart from high reliance on ECM, will compel passive surveillance by means of AD EW System (ADEWS).
  • For fighting a successful AD battle there is a requirement of a integrated, automated and reliable AD C&R system to provide an efficient means of target warning and operational control. It should be backed by a real time, multi-channel; data and voice enable communication system.
  • AAD weapon system in plains should have matching mobility with the VA/VP they are protecting. Light weight man portable weapon system and sensors will be required in the mountains.
  • System operators will have to be very skilful in adapting to new systems and operating in highly hostile electronic environment and hence would need extensive training for which realistic training devices, to include air target sstems and simulators will be required.
  • To enable cost effective maintenance and logistic support, AD weapons, sensors and command and control system must have commonality and standardization to the extent possible.


Weapon Family: A large variety of AD weapon systems will be required to provide the optimum mix of suitable weapons for cost-effective and threat compatible AD. The family of weapons and support systems must comprise a balanced mix of the following:

  • Light versatile guns with night fighting capability.
  • All weather towed AD gun system with better ammunition.
  • Man portable and vehicle mounted short-range SAM system with night sights.
  • All weather SP gun/gun-missile system.
  • All weather short and medium range SP SAM system.
  • Low and medium level surveillance system with threat evaluation and target designation capability.
  • Light weight radars and ESM system for mountains.
  • AD EW systems.
  • Auto-target processing and integrated command and reporting system.
  • Near real-time dedicated and reliable data and voice communication system.
  • Training systems including simulators.

The role of AAD is likely to expand exponentially in future wars. The state of the art technology of modern air power and its lethal potency has increased manifolds, which requires AAD sensors and weapon systems to become more potent and powerful.

A FORCE Report



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