History is spectator of decisive and predominant role played by aerial dimension in the outcome of wars. The success of air campaign in Arab-Israel and Gulf Wars are numerous examples displaying the might of air power. Evidently, the modern conflicts will be highly influenced by the impact and effectiveness of air power owing to its dynamism, lethality, standoff ranges, multispectral capability and multifarious munitions.
The wide and dynamic canvas of aerial threats includes fixed and rotary wing aircrafts, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)/Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), Ballistic and Cruise missiles, Space-Based Weapons and down to rockets/artillery/mortars. In addition, manned aircraft is a new and heady dimension which was recognised after 09/11 attack by al-Qaeda.
Conspicuously, Army AD (AAD) becomes a pivotal and crucial force in modern battlefield to counter the contemporary air threat which is mutating and multiplying both quantitatively and qualitatively. It must adopt technological advancement, implement conceptual changes, incorporate full automation and adequately hardened to function in a hostile cyber and electronic warfare environment. AAD must evolve as a potent and decisive force capable of providing AD protection to field forces and strategic assets against the complete spectrum of air threat in all operation of war and in all types of terrain.
Conventional Air Threats
Despite the expansion and innovation in aerial platforms, the primary threat still remains the aircrafts (fixed and rotary wing) in the battle. The fifth-generation fighter with better agility, super cruise, stealth, multi-function AESA radars, network-centric systems, fibre-optics data-transmission, multi-spectral sensors, fused situational picture, helmet mounted sights and Precision Guided Weapons (PGMs).
The Sixth generation fighters are on drawing boards and are expected to induct in early 2030s. Other significant airborne platforms that support air operation are the Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&C), electronic warfare platforms and aerial refuellers. All these platforms are thus part of the conventional aerial threat. However, some of these roles are gradually being taken over by unmanned or optionally-manned aircraft.
Advancement and innovations in munitions have made the AD battle more challenging and complex. They provide high accuracy, lethality and standoff ranges for weapon release making them difficult to detect and engage. A few smart munitions are:
- Radio-controlled weapons.
- Infrared-guided/electro-optical weapons.
- Laser-guided weapons.
- Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS).
- Satellite-guided weapons.
- Glide bombs.
- Anti Radiation Missiles.
- Advanced Hit Efficiency and Destruction (AHEAD) gun ammunition.
• Unconventional/ Sub Conventional Air Threats.
UAVs can be either Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Drones engaged in hostile airborne surveillance, tracking, air attacks, directing Artillery fire and other malicious activities. RPAS/Drones are versatile and difficult to detect because of the small size and weight, low Radar Cross Section, acoustic signal, state of art Electronic Warfare (EW) suites, stealth design and standoff capability.
The usefulness of RPAS/drones got a tremendous boost during the Kosovo conflict and today it can be considered as a versatile force multiplier with an ability to perform a multitude of tasks. They are also being weaponised by the Islamic State to conduct bombing missions in Iraq and Syria. Additionally, it has been noted that in Yemen, Houthi rebels have used UAVs to knock out the radar of Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries.
The usage of rockets is highly reliable, reasonably ruggedised, cost effective, easily available and requires very less infrastructure setup. In addition, the rocket launcher being mobile is less susceptible to destruction by enemy AD. Using passive AD measures such as camouflage & concealment, shoot and scoot technique, the system is a preferred option with terrorist organisation the world over such as Hezbollah in South Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine against Israelis.
It is the new and heady dimension of attack which was recognised after attack on World Trade Centre by terrorists on 09/11. Such unconventional use of civil aviation cannot be ruled out in future.
Missiles and Space Based Threat
Ballistic and Cruise Missiles. The advance development and proliferation of missile technology in ICBM and cruise missiles carrying nuclear/non-nuclear payloads now have tremendous ability to affect strategic balance in conflict zones. The ranges of missiles is very dynamic which varies from 50 to 10,000 Kms. North Korea has shown its might to US, Japan and South Korea on numerous occasions in the recent past.
That space based strike weapon systems are capable of destroying or disabling target in air, space or ground has already been well established. These systems can either be placed onboard an orbiting platform in space or a ground beam bounced off space based mirrors. In future these systems will have a global presence and hold the key to aerospace control operations. The US is said to be developing a system based on a constellation of 20 satellites and a megawatt power laser system called Alpha HEL. Space based weapons are scheduled to be deployed by 2020.
AD Solution to Counter Emerging Threat
AD Missile System. The range and altitude of the air threat has increased exponentially in the last decade, it is therefore imperative for the Ground Based AD Weapon System (GBADWS) to keep pace. SAMs are the best response to this threat. Missile systems also augur well for the concept of layered AD and theaterisation of AD grid.
No single system can counter the UAV threat completely. However, guns combined with multiple detectors including acoustic, electro-optic/infrared, micro-Doppler, radar, radio frequency, and visual sensors can affordably be used to detect, track and engage UAVs. High-energy lasers are one option to counter small and low-flying UAVs. Rheinmetall Defence offers various 35 mm revolver and twin guns for this purpose, along with its AHEAD programmable airburst ammunition.
UAVs. Rheinmetall Defence offers various 35 mm revolver and twin guns for this purpose, along with its AHEAD programmable airburst ammunition.
The most effective counter-measure against UAV is Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) which was developed by British firms Blighter Surveillance Systems and Enterprise Control Systems. AUDS is designed for use by military, government and security forces to detect, track, classify and disrupt threats from micro, mini and large UAVs. Features of the Anti-UAV Defence System include a modular design, electronic scanning radar for target detection, Electro-Optical (EO) tracking, Directional RF inhibition systems. It weighs 25 kg approximately and can be quickly deployed in all terrains.
Aerospace Defence(Missile Defence (MD)
Missile Defence Systems are a type of missile defense intended to shield a country against incoming missiles, such as Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) or other cruise missiles. The United States, Russia, India, France, Italy, Israel and China have developed missile defence systems.
Israel has Iron Dome which is designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from distances of 4 to 70 km. It is designed to intercept medium to long-range rockets and cruise missiles, such as those possessed by Hezbollah and Hamas fired at ranges from 40 km to 300 km. Japan, in collaboration with the United States is deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and a ground-based version of the Standard Missile-3 interceptors mounted on Aegis destroyers. In a joint US-Japan test of RIM 161 Standard Missile-3 Block II, a medium-range ballistic missile was successfully intercepted on 3 February 2017.
Laser has been widely used by military for range finding, detection, designation and illumination of targets. Laser Range finder, Laser Guided bombs and Laser designators are typical examples of Laser application in military domain. Infra red Laser can be used as Directed Energy Weapon (DEW) for soft kills. Furthermore, use of Kinetic Energy Projectiles to degrade the aerial target is also a revolutionary change.
The task of AAD in protecting strategic assets and field forces is becoming complicated and tricky due to the growing intricacy, lethality and severity in the air threat. Therefore, it is need of the hour to remain abreast with contemporary technology, add state of art weaponry to AD arsenal and incorporate full automation in execution. AAD remains a relevant and crucial decisive force in the modern battlefield.
Lt Col Sandeep Bhardwaj, is an alumnus of National Defence Academy and was commissioned into a Light Air Defence Regiment in 2004. The officer has done Long Gunnery Staff Course in Army AD College and is a graduate of Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. He is presently serving as Battery Commander in his parent unit.