The Long and Short of It

To meet future challenges, Army Air Defence has to be well equipped

Brigadier MKK Iyer, SM

The Long and Short of ItIn today’s scenario, wars are expected to be short, swift and intensive. The air is going to be used extensively and relentlessly. Air power and the nature of aerial threat is undergoing a dynamic change. Today, the air power no longer connotes manned combat aircraft alone, but is shifting towards the realm of unmanned platforms. The air threat matrix, wherein the use of Beyond Visual Range (BVR) weapons have become a rule rather than exception and is now defined by players like attack helicopters, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), cruise and ballistic missiles, Electronic Warfare, Anti-Radiation Missiles, smart, intelligent and precision guided munitions; and in times to come space-based weapon platforms will dominate the battlefield. Therefore, safety of own assets and their survivability, especially during the initial days of operations, has to be ensured. To ensure their survivability, the ground-based air defence has an unenviable role to play in future operations. Although, the ground-based air defence is part of the army as well as the air force and need to be deployed in a fashion that will complement each other, the nature of ground war and deployment forces of the Army Air Defence to be in more mobile role and operate independently, albeit under the operational control of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Uniqueness of Army Air Defence: Air Defence and Army Air Defence in particular, has certain uniqueness. To ensure that multiple aerial threats in a particular geographical area is taken care of, in seconds, there is a requirement of shifting layers, mobile equipment with capability of providing varying ranges of engagement for flexibility in the equipment being utilised for air defence. These layers will also have to provide multiple punishment at area and point defence levels with a mix of guns and missiles with added capability of handling multiple targets. Hence, one system cannot be suitable or even capable of catering to this need. That is the reason that the Army Air Defence has different types of equipment and consequently becomes expensive to have and maintain. World over, making an air defence equipment to work till it can only be placed on a pedestal in a museum is the norm and Indian Army also follows the same norm. To have all equipment of latest technology in the inventory of any country’s armed forces is cost prohibitive. It has to be a judicious mix of mature or legacy, current and state-of-the-art technologies that addresses the operational needs of any force. And, therefore, all the armed forces have to exist with the legacy system which in turn adds the need for sustaining, supporting, maintaining and exploiting the equipment. To do this, every country makes the equipment go through the stages of updating, upgrading and eventually phasing out the equipment. Therefore, every country has its quota or share of legacy systems. 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. The need for capability development is well understood by the Army Air Defence and is now progressing towards an integrated family of ground-based air defence weapon system. This is being planned as a two-pronged approach by consolidating the existing capability through upgrades and build futuristic capability with global procurement and indigenous development. Surface to air weapons used by the Army Air Defence consist of surface-to-air missiles (SAM), radars and guns.

Upgradation, digitisation and maintenance of legacy systems: In the short-term, the primary need is for continuing with the existing guns, radars and missile systems and is being carried out. These upgrades are being carried out in India with Indian private and public sector undertakings. This would add to a dozen odd years to their existing life and would cater for the successor equipment to be in service. The upgrades amount to change of hydraulic and mechanical functions of the guns to electrical drives. It also involves adding teeth in terms of Electro Optical Fire Control System (EOFCS) consisting of a day and night camera, in terms of TV and thermal imaging camera and also a laser range finder. In case of the tracked gun system, the upgrade also involves complete change of the radar by introducing three dimensional radar and new engine and auxiliary engine to power the system. In addition, these systems are also being provided new technology generators which are mounted on board, making the systems more independent and mobile. These generators are totally indigenous and bring in better technology in terms of fuel efficiency, pollution norms and smaller size. These upgrades also bring forth future requirements of spares. Apart from the upgraded portion, the vintage portions also need sustainment. This raises the prospect of indigenisation of the parts of these vintage equipment. There would be a need to buy life-time spares of the equipment from the Soviet era which Indian industries could indigenise or tie up with East European companies. Many MSMEs have come forward and have even been successful too in many fields including manufacture of tracks of specialised tracked vehicles. Adoption of up-to-date elemental base in the electronics portion of the equipment is also a way to upgrade and is also a requirement in the short term. In the field of radars, conversion and provision of radars for early warning and control of fire by introducing three dimensional phased array radars, low noise amplifiers and capability of multi target tracking due to electronic steering in elevation are some other features which can enhance the capability. Better Electronic Counter Counter Measures (ECCM) could also be added for better survivability and also could lower the power output of the radars a part of the update. Digital search cum tracking radars with capability of tracking multiple targets can be added. In other systems, integrated fire detection and suppression system could be added improvement. Modern communication system could be provided with better radio and inter communication systems. Crew comfort like air conditioners and chillers are other systems which can be added easily. Liquid Crystal Displays would make the displays very user friendly. In the case of the existing missile systems, replacement of subsystems of the equipment will increase its reliability and reduce its power consumption. It gives improved performance and extended functional capability. There are many sub systems like tyres, wheels, tracks, fuel pumps, spares and fire detection systems which can be cleanly replaced by new and better systems. New algorithms of data processing with software based moving target indicators and integrated circuits with high and medium levels of integration with use of microprocessors are other things that can be replaced with. Simple things like introduction of test and monitoring systems for recording and playback of actual operation can give the system a new lease of life. Built In Test Equipment (BITE) is another value addition to any equipment which is short-term requirement.

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