Books | The Sky is Safe

With IAF’s extended integrated area defence concept in place, air defence command would be redundant

Diptendu Choudhury

INDIAN AIR FORCE IN ITS CENTENNIAL DECADEAir defence concepts have evolved from the older point defence construct in which high-value assets, infrastructure, or defined areas, were defended with anti-aircraft guns, into the present-day extended integrated area defence (EIAD) concept which covers a large volume of airspace over a large swath of geographical area. This large space is defended by a variety of sensors, surface-to-air, and air-to-air weapons that are seamlessly integrated together by data and communication networks. It comprises several SAGW systems with different capabilities, engagement altitudes and ranges, integrated and arranged in tiers, thus enabling a much larger area and airspace volume of air defence coverage. The air defence surveillance coverage of this much-expanded volume is made possible with a mix of advanced three-dimensional radars, radars that track very slow-moving targets at very low altitudes, radars capable of tracking free fall and guided bombs, high-speed cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. The kinetic element of EIAD comprises SAMs with varied ranges of kill envelopes, and air defence interceptors which are dynamic weapon platforms that operate across all the tiers of the EIAD. All these individual systems are integrated seamlessly to form a larger ‘system of systems’. Tier one of the multi-tiered air defence system is the outermost layer with a surveillance reach and volume that extends well into the enemy territory, and is tasked with searching, detecting, identifying and tracking threats. Next is tier two, which comprises of long-range SAMs, the lethal envelop of which also extends hundreds of kilometres deep inside the enemy territory. Tier three is made up of the medium range SAM systems, and covers the intermediate spaces of less than a hundred kilometres. The penultimate tier fourth layer is the domain of low-level quick reaction short-range SAMs with lethal ranges in tens of kilometres. Tier five is the innermost core and is actually the vital asset itself that is being defended, and is covered by terminal defence weapons. It consists of a close-in weapon system (CIWS) that typically comprises of quick reaction missiles, or high calibre guns with extremely high rates of fire, or a combination of both. These are also capable of engaging and destroying small precision or free-fall bombs and missiles.

The kinetic shooters that include air defence interceptors and SAGW systems, are totally integrated and interconnected with the non-kinetic sensors consisting of a surface and airborne surveillance systems via high-speed integrated and secure networks, are all holistically fused with advanced command and control systems, to form the integrated ‘Kill Chain’. The real core of the IAF’s integrated architecture is the extremely successful Integrated Air Command and Controlled System (IACCS), which weaves all the sensors and shooters together, and allows all the air defence activity to be closely monitored and controlled by IAF’s highly specialized air defence fighter controllers. The system’s multi-layered transparency permits every individual air movement or mission within the entire networked airspace, civil or military, friendly or hostile, to be monitored and tracked in real-time, and provides an integrated air situation picture that is directly connected to the shooters by data links of the air defence nodes. The robust and combat-proven integrated architecture is a war-winning critical combat enabler, which will in the future extend to include India’s island territories as well.

Expanding Air Defence Umbrella: The expanded capabilities of contemporary air defence has brought about significant conceptual changes from the legacy concepts which were limited to the coverage of specific areas of responsibility. The extended depth, altitude and volume of airspace coverage that are possible today are due to the synergistic combination of a variety of surface and airborne-based sensors, and multiple forms of kinetic capabilities ranging from the fighters armed with a variety of air-to-air missiles, and a wider range of surface to air weapon systems. The air defence surveillance coverage of sovereign airspaces today is no longer restricted to the mainland and covers India’s Island territories as well. The number of civilian facilities on the mainland which require air defence cover have grown exponentially over the years apace with India’s economic growth. These include strategic assets like major industries, shipping and major transportation and communication hubs vital data, network, and communication hubs, petroleum and hydrocarbon processing and storage facilities, power sector assets and infrastructure, transportation facilities like airports, ports, container terminal, etc. Given India’s sustained economic growth and development trajectory, the list of such facilities is an ever-growing one.

Air defence protection of friendly surface forces in the tactical battlespaces are a part of IAF’s coordinated operations, and forms only a limited portion of the much larger area over which it conducts a wide range of air operations. Air defence is equally an integral part of IAF’s offensive operations that target the high-value strategic centres of gravity deep in the enemy heartland. Air Interdiction (AI) mission against the vast array of vital enemy infrastructure, logistics and communications, military and non-military targets in the intermediate spaces up to around 100 km in-depth, are critical for isolating, shaping the tactical battle areas (TBA) and therefore are critical to the surface battle. The large volume of AI missions flown towards coordinated air operations and indirect assistance of the surface war, comprises of almost 80 per cent of the Air Forces target list and have to be provided air defence coverage. Therefore, IAF’s air defence responsibilities are no longer limited to the Army’s deployed forces in the TBA, but extend into the larger battlespaces much deeper into enemy territory. All TBAs of the Army thus come under the battlespace coverage of the IAF’s EIAD envelope, bolstering their air defence significantly. This is a fact often missed by those who look at air defence from their limited Service-centric points of view, and seek independent tactical control of Service specific air defence or an integrated air defence Command, missing the larger benefits to them from an EIAD structure. Today, while there is some understanding of the inevitable need to plug into IAF’s EIADS and yet the inability to see the future air threats beyond their Service-specific tactical needs, continues to persist. The fact is the IAF looks at the nations’ future aerospace defence responsibility in a holistic manner, and has systematically over the years invested heavily in terms of assets, manpower, training and operation. Given the large volume of airspace to be managed, the IAF’s air defence has with considerable foresight anticipated India’s future aerospace defence requirements against ballistic and cruise missiles, stand-off weapon threats, etc., has today become a future-ready system of systems, operated by a team of teams. Considering the humongous volume of peacetime surveillance that is solely the IAF’s responsibility, it has over the years painstakingly and prudently apportioned its Service budget to balance the air defence imperatives with its other inventory needs. A cost-benefit analysis of the peacetime utilisation of IAF’s air defence assets—fighter aircraft, airborne sensors, radars, SAGW systems and manpower, vis-à-vis those of the other Services will unambiguously underscore this fact.

IAF’s air defence is under centralized control only for the sensor tasks of surveillance and data fusion. While all the air defence sensors are networked centrally though the IACCS to provide a common air picture, the shooter elements of air defence fighters and SAGW units, operate in a decentralized manner under the air defence Commander, within each Air Command’s defined area of responsibility. The key aspect here is that while surveillance can be centrally controlled at the national level, the size of our country necessitates air defence operations to be decentralized to the Air Commands. Very importantly, all offensive operation and air defence operations of each of these Air Commands are seamlessly interfaced with each other, to ensure common use of resources for sharing targets and air defence responsibilities that overlap all the Army’s Commands. Future national security imperatives necessitate that all air defence assets contribute in peacetime to ensure their cost-effective utilisation and be available to deploy rapidly to plug and play at very short notice into the larger national air defence mainframe that the EIADs provide. Without any disrespect to the limited air defence needs of other Service, the IAF is conceptually, doctrinally, operationally and technologically way ahead, because of its holistic approach that is totally invested in the nation’s aerospace defence. These are also the reasons why conceptually an air defence Command is a retrograde step for national security. Its proponents will do well to examine why the massive erstwhile PVO Strany, USSRs independent air defence force, was dismantled and merged with its Air Force, and also why the Aerospace Defense Command of the US which responsible for continental air defence was disbanded in 1980, and why only the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning in the defence  of North America and Canada combined, remains.

Edited by Anil Golani and Swaim Prakash Singh
Knowledge World, Pg 206, Rs 1680


Call us