SOURCE : Pranav D Sharma FOR IDRW.ORG
India has an air space of 3,287,264 km2 to guard against its formidable enemies, Pakistan and China, both of whom possess significant aerial threat in case of a war. More concerning is the fact that both are allies and that raises the possibility of a two front war.
So how is the Indian air defenses ready for this threat?
In every air campaign the first targets are high value military and industrial establishments like air fields, arms depot, power plants, strategic infrastructure like rail links, border roads, bridges etc.
The India Air Force has the first task to protect its vital installations and combat aircrafts. For this it is till now dependent on the obsolete and age old S-125 “Pechora” and 9K33_OSA SAM systems. But due to the advancement in EW and jamming capabilities of the adversary aircrafts this is not sufficient and need urgent replacements. The IAF has tried to address this in the form of Akash missiles with large orders but again Akash has its own problems with limited range and engagement envelop. Akash is an elongated SA-6 KUB missile using the same old soviet era technology developed indigenously with the DRDO developed Rajendra Battery Level Radar (BLR).
It’s not canister based and is intended to protect the fixed assets though some models with the army make use of the track based carrier for providing cover to the infantry troops against aerial threats. The air force has acquired limited number of SPYDER-SR systems which is a welcome step but still lacks the punch of a medium to long range missile system like the S-300 , ASTER-30 or PATRIOT PAC-3.
On the other hand the Indian army has some of ZSU-23 “Schikka” and Tunguska anti aircraft gun systems for close range line-of-sight engagements. It also uses the STRELA MANPADS as well as some Bofors L 40 anti aircraft guns. Similar to the IAF, the IA has also ordered AKASH missiles in large numbers mounted on a mobile track vehicles. Some ZSK-23 anti-aircraft gun systems are upgraded but are no match for high altitude flying aircrafts.
The NAVY is the worst hit of the three arms by the shortage of air defense missiles and practically most of its frontline ships and even aircraft carriers are without any meaningful long range SAM systems. This makes them vulnerable to anti-ship missiles fired from enemy ships or aircrafts. Like Considering a scenario “Most of the current frigates or destroyers have no answer to a PAF Mirage F1 maritime strike fighter firing an EXOCET from a distance as low as 40 kms.” The only passive defense is the 1-10 kms range BARAK-1 missile and AK-630 CIWS. Though some ships are occupied with the SHTIL missile systems can fire a single missile using a deck based launcher. It has no capability to engage high speed sea skimming and supersonic anti-ship missiles.
Though the Gaps in the radar coverage area has been covered quite a bit by introducing the AEROSTAT mounted radars and AWACS , still a lot needs to be done to increase the SIGINT and engagement capabilities of the armed forces. The NAVY has done good job in this regard by installing various Radar stations along the coastlines and on the isolated islands spread across the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. The P-8 anti submarine warfare aircraft provides it with good SIGINT capabilities.
India needs to counter these GAPS in its air defenses urgently especially when China has already created bubbles of its long range HQ-9 missile systems in the whole Tibet Autonomous region ( TAR ). Pakistan on the other hand possess long range SAM systems procured from China like the LY-80E and HQ-9 apart from SPADA-2000 missiles it already have in its arsenal.
For Quick reaction and short range engagements the IAF has already ordered SPYDER-SR system with both Python-5 and Derby missiles. Along with the AKSAH it can do the job for the IAF. There is no need to waste money on the AKASH 2 or the Indo-French “MAITRI” SAM. The production of BARAK-8 missile should be fast tracked to fill the vital gaps in the armed forces air defense capabilities. The IAF will have its own version the BARAK-8 LR SAM with a range of 100 KM+ using a booster motor. It will use the same 8 cell VLS launcher used by the naval version.
Though the DRDO proposes an indigenous QR-SAM systems based on its ASTRA missile, it is still under R&D phase and far from induction.
The BARAK-8 MR has a range of 70 KM+ for the naval version. It can also engage sea skimming and supersonic missiles from a distance. The recent test firing in Israel against a supersonic missiles depicting the Russian “Yakhont” was successfully intercepted and neutralized. BARAK-8 along with BARAK-1 and AK-630 CIWS will be a formidable force multiplier and should be a standard fit for most of the Navy’s existing and future ships.
The synergies involved in using the same type of SAM across the IAF and IN will result in huge cost savings and reduced total cost of ownership (TCO).
The IA on the other hand should procure MISTRAL MANPAD system to replace the decades old STRELA missiles. This is because the same MISTRAL is qualified for the HAL Rudra and HAL LCH choppers as an anti-aircraft missile. Selecting the similar weapon platform for both roles will again simplify tasks involved in manufacturing, costing and training. The MISTRAL along with tracked AKASH variants and upgraded ZSU-23 guns will be a good option to provide direct air defense cover to the infantry forces.
It is an arms race; as better jamming, countermeasures and anti-radiation weapons are developed, so are better SAM systems with ECCM capabilities.
NOTE : Pranav D Sharma is a B.Tech from Jaipur Engineering College and Research Center. Worked in ARDC/ HAL . Article fully or Partially cannot be reproduced without permission of Author or idrw.org