India’s Air Defence: What Needs to be Integrated?
Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The issue of creation of Air Defence Command is very much relevant in the current context with many subject matter experts (or otherwise) giving their special comments on what needs to be done and what must be avoided.

While the author’s detailed views are contained in the quoted article at the end of this write-up; this brief commentary is in reply to one question- ‘What needs to be integrated in air defence’? The commentary builds up as a series of successive points.

  1. Most fundamentally, the air defences, world over, exist for countering the adversary’s air threat. In that, these attempt to ensure that despite the application of air and missile power by the adversary, own operations progress unhindered as planned and our vulnerable assets are not destroyed by the enemy air.
  2. The nature and characteristics of air and missile power is such that the above said air threat gets executed in the air, on land and at sea (including sub-surface)
  3. To counter the air threat one-on-one air defence weapons therefore, exist in all the above three mediums like this:-
    1. The air defence aircrafts of the Air Force and the Navy intercept the adversary’s air threat vehicles in the air and through a combination of offensive and defensive operations attempt to maintain a favourable air situation for the progress of own operations.
    2. An entire family of Ground Based Air Defence Weapons (GBADWS) of the Army and Air Force consisting of towed and self-propelled guns and a series of Surface-to-Air-Missiles (SAMs) provide air defence cover to ground assets, which could either be the field force waging combat, war-waging potential, naval shore assets or the rear area/national strategic assets. GBADWS cover a range and altitude continuum from a few km (6-8 km) to hundreds of km.
    3. The comprehensive air defences of the Navy provide an extensive air defence cover contained on board the fleet at sea, warding off the adversary’s air threat on our maritime borders.
  4. The point to note here is that air defence weapons existing at land, sea (including sub surface) and air have their own nuances and typical characteristic signatures. The Service operating them has decades of ‘core-competency’ in executing their portion of the air defence battle.
  5. This ‘core-competency’ needs to be fully understood. It is not about Service turf, or Service domain, it is about war-waging skills in a particular medium honed up after decades of training and on-ground experience. Sample the following:-
    1. GBADWS of the Army protecting mechanized forces in the Tactical Battle Area (TBA) not only have to ‘accompany’ the assets being protected in time and space; these need to understand each and every very nuance of the mechanized ground battle. Such an understanding gets developed drop-by-drop through years and decades of joint training and exercises. Constituents in the tactical battle understand one another’s ongoing and likely next moves.
    2. Much the same way, as the attack helicopters (AH) take part in the mechanized battle as an ‘extended air arm’ fighting the ground battle from the vertical dimension. This very realization that a veteran of the ground force will make a suitable AH pilot made the Government sanction AHs to the Army.

    3. In much the same way, the nuances of the air combat both in offensive and defensive role is the forte of the air-warrior. It is not only just flying the aircraft; it is complete and thorough understanding of the ‘airmanship’. Prosecuting the air battle with hunch and experience is a skill demanding a lifetime of training. Air Forces the world over have the niche vertical of this core-competency.
    4. Talking of fleet at sea is a world of its own. Complete with all the verticals that constitute an air defence capability, namely the ‘sensors’ (radars of all varieties) ‘shooters’ ( guns, SAMs, aircrafts, AHs) and a fully automated Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2) System the fleet constitutes a formidable air defence punch spread over multiple platforms and threaded into ‘one whole’ as an Integrated Air Defence System (IADS)
  6. The peculiarity of air defence is such that all the three core-competencies stated above have to co-exist together, each holding its own vertical and yet ‘integrated seamlessly’ in the execution of the joint air defence battle.
  7. In order to understand what exactly is implied by saying ‘integrated seamlessly’, the argument needs to be built afresh from the viewpoint of the ‘air threat’. This is attempted.
  8. In the last five to six decades, the air threat, which at one time was the purview of a binary pair of some fair-weather aircrafts firing unguided rockets and dropping some dumb bombs etc. or the helicopters basically doing the ‘look-see’ or firing a few weapons kept on board, has changed beyond recognition.
  9. The air war today is prosecuted with aircrafts (3rd to 5th generation and counting) with state-of-the-art avionics, munitions, and stealth signatures scaling higher and higher capabilities of long range, deep strike, precision-kill and stand-off beyond visual range combat capability. These are joined by deadly AHs which are armed to the teeth and are capable of flying in the nap-of-the-earth enabling them to take on targets in the TBA suddenly with surprise and precision.
  10. The dull dirty and dangerous unmanned monsters have changed the face of warfare. Much beyond simple surveillance, these are flying shoulder-to-shoulder with manned platforms giving dis-proportionate kill capability in the hands of the combat pilot. Flying in swarms with a mind of their own these machines have a muscle to carry out a mission end-to-end in a totally autonomous mode.
  11. And as if that is not enough, there are cruise missiles with sub-meter accuracy and near 100% kill probability and needle-sharp anti-radiation missiles capable to take out any emitting sensor.
  12. The world of munitions has undergone a metamorphosis, so to say. It does not stop today at being just precision-guided, smart and intelligent warheads alone, the new and the deadlier world that is fast emerging is of ‘soft-kill’ weapons. Laser-based air defence weapons are already in the arsenal of air warriors. The ones residing in the other possible domains like the charged particle beam, high power microwave etc. is a few finite years from realization.
  13. Hypersonic weapons on a high road of development to operational standards in a few years from now will write a new chapter in lethality and effectiveness; being unstoppable by any conventional air defence weapons. These will force open a new era for defenders as time and technology will develop newer tools to deal with newer threats (soft kill, EW kill, EMP kill, RF kill etc).
  14. To counter the type of threat briefly enumerated above, requires the full punch of the air defence capability of the nation to be ‘integrated’ as one cumulative punch. What does this integration means? Here is an attempt to elaborate.

  15. The most fundamental requirement in addressing the above type of threat is, that the aerial threat vehicle is to be detected and identified at the longest possible range and thereafter subjected to ‘continuous fire’ that must shift ‘seamlessly and successively’ from weapon-to-weapon crossing service boundaries till either the threat is destroyed or the mission is aborted.
  16. It does not matter whether own aircrafts carry out interception first or the long range SAMs are launched first to defeat the threat, the rule is ‘most suited’ weapon at a point in time, irrespective of ownership. The essence of the air defence battle is therefore speed, instantaneity and seamless continuity.
  17. In order to ensure that such a capability is achieved, air defences are threaded together in a ‘lifeline’ called the Air Defence Control and Reporting System or ADCRS.
  18. The word ‘lifeline’ is chosen with great care as without an effective ADCRS, the best of the air defence weapons in the world will prove to be impotent. Following lies in the domain of ADCRS:-
    1. Surveillance of the air space.
    2. Detection of aerial targets.
    3. Fusing together the inputs from multiple sensors to remove duplication of same target reported by many.
    4. Generation of Air Situation Picture (ASP) by integrating the inputs from ground, air and seaborne sensors (where applicable) and cumulating the same upwards upto the theatre level.
    5. Identification of aerial targets into friendly or hostile (Identification Friend or Foe; IFF), thereby converting the ASP into a ‘recognised air situation picture’ (RASP)
    6. Sector-by-sector prioritization of the threat based on immediacy and lethality.
    7. Selection of the most ideal weapon to engage the threat at a point in time in each sector.
    8. Designation of the target to the selected weapon system.
    9. Dynamically shifting the fire from weapon-to-weapon ensuring seamless and successive punishment to the threat.
    10. Minute-to-minute control of the air defence battle.

    The above battle-sequence unfolds in many different sectors all controlled by a ‘national level ADCRS system’.

    In context of the national level ADCRS system, following points as applicable in our context are made:-

  19. As per the Government’s classified document (not quoted), the responsibility of the air defence of the national air space belongs to the Air Force.
  20. In that, while the execution of air defence is done by all the three Services, the overall control is still exercised by the Air Force. This is the ‘control’ that manifests as the ‘ADCRS’.
  21. For executing this responsibility, the Air Force at the national level has established an Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS). Following points are stated as regards IACCS :- ( open source only)
    1. Riding on the Air Force Net (AF Net) andconfigured on SATCOM the IACCS comprises of a series of ADCRS nodes from the highest (national level) downwards.
    2. At some point in this chain, the IACCS hand-shakes with the ADCRS nodes of the Army and the Navy which extends right up to the weapon end.
    3. In this way, the connectivity of the IACCS duly integrated with the other two Services extends right from the highest level of control down to weapon end.
    4. There are procedures in place (standing instructions, control orders, degrees of autonomy etc.) which ensure the execution of the ADCRS function through the IACCS control.
    5. IACCS not only integrates with the other two Services, but also, with civil aviation and all other stake-holders.
    6. Besides air defence, it also controls many other battle functions like the offensive air support operations, close support operations to ground forces and air space management (ASM). ASM basically ensures the optimal utilisation of the finite air space by its multiple users ( air force, GBADWS, Artillery, counter rocket and motor fire, army aviation, naval air assets, civil aviation etc.), with minimum restrictions and maximum freedom of action.

    From the foregoing discussion following points emerge

  22. Since the air threat manifests in all the three mediums, viz. land, sea (including sub-surface) and air, the air defence weapons are tailor-made for each medium to counter the threat.
  23. Each service has a core-competency in executing air defence in their respective medium of operation. This is peculiar to each Service and has its unique characteristic signatures.
  24. While retaining the above core-competencies, the requirement is to integrate the air defence capability of the nation in one seamless and cohesive system whose cumulative might must bear on the adversary’s air threat irrespective of the medium.
  25. By this integration is implied the integration of the air defence capability of the systems residing in the core competency of each service and not physical integration.
  26. This capability integration is achieved by having a suitable ADCRS system.
  27. Air Force has established a national level ADCRS system to achieve the above ‘capability integration’ for optimal employment of the country’s air defence against the adversary’s airthreat.
  28. The need of the hour is to remove the glitches in the IACCS system in forging a ‘complete’ and‘seamless’ handshake of the national level ADCRS system with the other two services rather than a physical amalgamation of distinct core competencies. The sum of the parts far exceeds the sum of the whole.
  29. As regards removing the glitches, following specific action points are stated:-
    1. The voids in the IACCS handshake with the ADCRS of the Army and the Navy must be addressed at top priority.
    2. The surveillance and BMC2 voids of the IACCS need to be filled up on top priority so as to achieve a gap-free surveillance of our border areas.
    3. The existing gaps in the handshake of the IACCS with sensor and control assets of civil aviation must be identified and filled quickly.

The question ‘What needs to be integrated’?…. stands answered.
This article is a sequel to the author’s earlier work titled ‘Air Defence Command - some salient aspects’ carried on the VIF portal on 17 Jan 2020 (Click here to read...).

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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