Air Defence Command – some salient points and imperatives
Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Air Defence Command (ADC) is going to be a reality sooner than later. This article looks at certain salient points related to the ADC and lays out certain imperatives that lie ahead for the decision-makers to make ADC a success.

National Level Decision

The decision to create the ADC is a decision of national importance. The success or failure in implementing this decision will decide how effectively the country as a whole will be able put together its cumulative air defence capability in countering the overall air threat from our potential adversaries in any future war.
Such are the stakes for making a success of this decision.

Overall Configuration

Following points are statedin relation to the overall configuration of ADC:-

  1. ADC must be a tri-Service Command.
  2. Since the overall responsibility of the air defence of the national air space is that of the Air Force (AF), it will be in order for the ADC to be headed by an AF three star officer as its Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C).
  3. Notwithstanding the apex leadership, the texture of ADC must remain tri-service, with Deputy C-in-Cs for Army’s Air Defence Corps and Navy. This will be in conformity with the peculiar nature of the conduct of air defence battle (explained later).
  4. As other Tri-Service Commands, ADC should be placed under the Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee ( COSC).
Integration- A Paradox

Paradoxically, while the most fundamental and the bottom line requirement for the ADC is INTEGRATION, not everything requires to be integrated. In fact, it is most critical to understand, what needs to be integrated and what must remain as ‘distinct verticals’under the ADC banner. This will be explained further.

What Needs to be Integrated1?

In order to evolve an answer to this poser step-by-step, following points are made:-

  1. As stated, all air defences exist for the sole purpose of negating the air threat from our potential adversaries.
  2. This air threat can manifest itself on land, sea or air either simultaneously or in any combination.
  3. Specific weapon systems exist to counter the threat in each medium. Army, Navy and AF have built core-competencies in their respective domains of land, sea and air to execute air defence.
  4. Implementation of the above task not only requires the expertise to operate the weapon system per se, but also, and more importantly, it requires a thorough understanding of the nuances of the battle in the respective domain. That to say, the air defender protecting mechanised forces in the Tactical Battle area (TBA), must fully understand the flow of the mechanised battle as much as air warriors who must know the nuances of the air combat. In essence, while the weapons are specific to the domain of usage, the skills are specific to the conduct of battle. Both have their specific signatures which need to be preserved.
  5. It therefore, follows from the above that the weapon verticals of each Service need to retained as specific competencies of each Service under the integrated structure of ADC; much like the three distinct arrows in the ‘sheath’ of ADC. As an apt simile, each of these weapon verticals represent one of the arms of a Trishul (the weapon of Lord Shiva), which together as one weapon can cause lethal damage with all three arms impacting on the target integrated as one.

While the weapon verticals must be retained as explained above what then needs to be integrated? The answer is Battle Management and Control System (BMC2).

This requirement has evolved over time and needs to be understood in the right perspective. Following points are made2:-

  1. Air defence battle is peculiar in nature. Many different systems and sub- systems have to operate together and in near real time. One common thread which ties up many dissimilar resources and makes them tick in a perfect time sequence is called the Air Defence Control and Reporting System or ADCRS.
  2. In order to understand the centrality and the criticality of ADCRS, a look at the tasks performed by it will be relevant. Here is a very brief and a point-wise summary of responsibility of the ADCRS:-
    1. Carrying out surveillance of the air space.
    2. Detection of multiple aerial targets in air space under surveillance.
    3. Analysing the inputs from multiple sensors to remove duplication of same target getting reported by more than one sensor.
    4. Accumulation of Air Situation Picture (ASP) by integrating the inputs from ground, air and seaborne sensors (where applicable) and cumulating the same upwards up to the theatre level
    5. Carrying out identification of aerial targets in the ASP into friendly or hostile (Identification Friend or Foe; IFF), thereby converting the ASP into what is called a ‘recognised air situation picture’ (RASP)
    6. Sector-by-sector prioritization of the threat based on the twin considerations of ‘immediacy of impact’ and ‘assessed comparative lethality’.
    7. Ensuring an appropriate regime of ‘weapon fire areas’ (WFAs) and ‘weapon control orders’ (WCOs) relevant to the threat (technical details not explained).
    8. Promulgating and enforcing ‘no-fire-lanes’(NFLs) and ‘no-fire-zones’ ( NFZs)
    9. Ensuring multiple weapon systems in correct ‘states of readiness’based on threat assessment.
    10. Selection of the most ideal weapon to engage the threat at a point in time in each sector.
    11. Auto-designation of the target to the selected weapon system in near-real time.
    12. Shifting the fire from weapon-to-weapon dynamically to ensure seamless and successive punishment to the threat as it continues on its mission.
    13. Minute-to-minute control of the air defence battle in real time.

That much for the centrality of the ADCRS

It can now be appreciated why ADCRS is central to the air defence battle. In essence because of the following:-

  1. ADCRS ensures that the air threat is detected at longest possible range.
  2. It ensures that that effective fire, cutting across Service boundaries is made to bear on the threat successively and seamlessly shifting from weapon-to-weapon in a dynamic manner.
  3. It ensures that the air defence capability of the three services, existing as separate verticals in their respective core competencies is integrated as one strong punch to bear against the threat.

It is this ADCRS capability which NEEDS TO BE INTEGRATED seamlessly. This is PRIORITY 1 task of the AD Command. This integration means the following:-

  1. In execution of its overall responsibility for the air defence of the National Air Space (NAS), the AF has put together a national level ADRCRS system called the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS).
  2. This system provides connectivity from the apex (national level) ADCRS Nodes right down to the formation ( xxxx) level entities.
  3. Downwards of it to the Fire Unit (FU) level the connectivity is provided by the ADCRS systems of the Army and Navy (Projects Akashteer and Trigun respectively).
  4. IACCS riding on the AF Net (WAN) and anchored on the SATCOM as the primary media is not only the ADCRS lifeline, it also controls other battle-critical functions such as the offensive air support (OAS) and air space management (ASM).
  5. IACCS enforces ADCRS functions -WFAs, NFLs, ASP, IFF, RASP, restricts/frees weapon systems and exercises real time control on air defence weapons be it on land, sea or air. No air defence weapons fire unless cleared by the ADRCRS chain of IACCS.
  6. The linkages are in the form of communication connectivity, software hand-shakes, data-transfer protocols, audio/visual data exchange, putting in place a regime of authorisations and access controls etc.
  7. All the current glitches and voids in this hand-shake (details classified) need to be addressed by ADC as their No 1 task.
  8. In addition, all voids in terms of sensors, hardware and software need to be addressed by priority procurements under the ADC.
  9. The integrated model needs to tried and tested repeatedly in realistic air threat situations in tri-service exercises so that the bugs could be identified and addressed.
  10. Keeping the fundamental requirement of this integration in mind, a common vendor was selected ab initio to design and develop the ADCRS of the three Services. That vendor needs to be made accountable to forge the integration as its fundamental and logical responsibility (details classified).
  11. It is also stated that enough expertise is now available in the private sector to undertake this task

So much for what needs to be integrated and what must become the priority 1 task for the ADC.

Other Possible Areas of Integration under the ADC

Besides the ADCRS, there are some other areas which require to be integrated under the overall air defence banner. These are briefly enumerated:-

Intelligence (Air threat)

In air defence parlance, intelligence relates to the assessment of the air threat from the potential adversary. In generic terms air threat will relate to the total cumulative capability of the adversary to cause damage/destruction to our assets and war-waging potential towards achieving his overall aim of the war.

Air threat assessment is a very complex and a dynamic exercise since the variables are many and the overall throughput keeps varying in quantum and quality. For this very reason, air threat is always assessed in quantitative (implying numbers) and qualitative (implying technological prowess) terms. Both change significantly in quick time frame.

Currently, there are several intelligence agencies (details classified) that put out versions of air threat from time to time. Some of these versions from different verticals are at slight variance at times. ADC must provide an institutional platform that should put out one version of the air threat as a base reference document for all. It should be the charter of the ADC to seek and collate inputs from multiple agencies and put out an analysed statement of air threat.

It is this one document which must become the basis of all planning and policy makingand must drive all actions aimed tobuild air defence capability.

Capability Development

Taking the air threat as a base reference, ADC must lay down a clear policy and a time-bound programme for capability development of the nation’s air defence capability. This policy must be all encompassing and must take into its fold, all dimensions of the air defence capability be it sensors (radars and associated support structures) shooters ( weapons-aircrafts, guns, SAMs, ship-based air defence resources, munitions of all types) and the BMC2 systems (ADCRS elements- communication equipment, media, software tools etc.).

The policy must lay down, how the capability will be made upover time. What will be procured for which Service? What will be interse priorities driving the sequence of procurement? Is there a need for emergency procurement of some resources? Which way the R&D must proceed to provide the forces what they would need in times to come? What are the niche areas of technology that must be addressed here and now? In sum, this policy that must betime-valid for 10-15 years must be re-visited and tweaked (read up-dated) from time to time and must lay down a clear way-ahead for the build-up of the nation’s air defence capability.

Budget Allocation

While the ADC must be nodal to the budget allocation for air defence out of the total kitty, the inter se priority defined by it in the capability development plan must drive the sub-allocation of the said budget to individual Service. It is hoped that in doing so, the erstwhile inter-Service biases, turf-wars, unfair share etc. (sic) will become a history.

Sustenance

Keeping in mind the fast pace of the development of technology, it is not possible for the entire force to remain state-of-the-art. In fact, it is a common guideline that in any force package, the state-of-the-art inventory remains just about 30%, another 40% which is short of the state-of-the-art can be called current, while the balance 30% is at various stages of vintage and obsolescence. Percentages may vary slightly, force-to-force.

Since air defence weapons are extremely cost-intensive (and hence low-population), every effort is required to sustain the ageing inventory. The activities which drive this effort are many -mid-life upgrades, time-driven weapon overhauls, life-extension of SAMs (through selective testing and certifications) and cannibalisation (fait accompli activity to keep a part of the weapon system alive).

ADC must lay down, sustenance guidelines for the Services. In addition the sustenance activities need to be monitored very closely to ensure that no weapon or a support system dies an untimely death, upgrades and overhauls are picked upin time and successors are inducted before the predecessors (original or upgraded) fade away.

This is a huge responsibility which must become the Charter of ADC.

Training

If air defenders have to fight a joint battle with their capability verticals integrated for a maximum effect, they need to train cohesively, jointly and in integrated manner. This is not to mean that the Service training establishment be all amalgamated into a minced meat, what is required is to optimise the overall training effort by cutting out duplications.

Explaining further, while the Service based training establishments must retain their specific core-competencies; ADC must lay down how duplications will be cut down and how the tri-Service joint training will be conducted? This content and methodology must be laid out for each training year and monitored closely.

This strategy will not only usher in high training levels on a common threshold but also throw up many voids on year-to-year which the ADC must take it upon itself to address on priority.

Inspection Regime

Once it is possible to get the training on a common threshold, it will become possible to put down a common regime of inspections to check out the skill levels and war-preparedness of the entire air defence force of the nation.

It will indeed be a big aim achieved, and will also be unprecedented, if all the air defenders belonging to the three services can be put on one common inspection regime. This is however easier said than done.

On Weapon Verticals

As has been explained earlier, while the battle management and control of the air defence battle need to be fully integrated, each Service must retain its core-competency for the execution of the air defence its specific medium of land, sea and air under the ADC control. In this context, the following points are made:-

  1. The focus of Army Air Defence must remain on Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD).
  2. For execution of this responsibility, Ground Based Air Defence Weapons (GBADWS) staring from towed and self-propelled guns, Very Short Range Air Defence Systems (VSHORADS), and short and medium range SAMs (SRSAMs and MRSAMs) will be critically required. This weapon vertical should be with Army Air Defence as a part of ADC.
  3. For the AF, besides all aircrafts and helicopters along with associated support structures, the Long Range SAMs, Ballistic Missile Defence Systems, Space based assets (in future) along with the IACCS as explained earlier, must be integrated under it.
  4. While the Army being responsible for the GBAD must provide air defence to shore-based assets of the Navy, the air Defence of the Fleet-at-Sea must be the naval exclusive domain.
Integration with Theatre Command

As and when theTheatre Commands come up ADC will be integrated with them.

To ensure this, there will be a requirement of ADC-specific staff to be placed under the Theatre Commander as rep of ADC. Keeping in mind the flexible nature of the air assets, it will be prudent to allocate certain core-assets to each Theatre Command ab initio while the balance allotment could be flexible and driven by dynamic battle situation at a point in time.

The allocation of GBADWS will however be driven by the criticalassets to be protected and the inter-se priority of the same. This deployment once initially made, will not be static. In fact, there will be many instances of re-allocation or attachments/detachments as the battle flows. Of course, unlike the air assets for which the allocations/reallocations can be real-time, for GBADWS, the aspect of time and space will have to kept in mind.

Conclusion

The conduct of air defence battle has its own characteristic signatures. The nuances of this battle demand that while some aspects of it need to be integrated as one binding glue, the others must be retained as specific core competencies much like the colours of the VOIBGYOR or the arms of the Trishul, - ‘distinct yet one’, ‘diverse-yet-united’.

ADC is a step in the right direction. If correctly developed, it can become a great integrator of the national air defence capability; true to the dictum – one and one eleven.

End Notes
  1. “ Air Defence Command-Some Salient Aspects,” at www.vifindia.org. Accessed on 29 Jan 2021
  2. “India’s Air Defence Command-What Needs to be Integrated,”at www.vifindia.org. Accessed on 29 Jan 2021

(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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