Air Defence Philosophy and Responsibility

The ground-based air defence philosophy can be defined as Full Spectrum Air Defence comprising of a layered defence network across the spectrum of threats. Such a capability will ensure that combat formations and core assets are protected from the modern and advanced aircraft, helicopters, drones and PGMs. Air defence must facilitate freedom of manoeuvre and movement and not restrict forces due to constraints of adversarial air threat.

The overall responsibility of air defence in India is with the Indian Air Force. The IAF view that AD of the nation is its responsibility prevails. The main role of the Army Air Defence (AAD) in India is to provide ground-based air defence protection to field forces in the Tactical Battle Area (TBA) as well as strategic points and areas.

The variety of threats in the tactical battle area (TBA) that are present include fighter jets using standoff weapons, attack helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ballistic and cruise missiles and tactical nuclear weapons. Low earth orbiting satellites will facilitate Post Strike Damage Assessment (PSDA) adding another dimension of the threat.

The primacy of IAF has to an extent curbed the development of the Army Air Defence arm. Also, the birth pangs of the AAD which was first formed on January 10, 1994 split from the Regiment of Artillery have led to the uneven development of this vital combat support arm.

The AAD philosophy envisages a mix of guns and missiles. The present inventory of guns and missiles is dated, Kvadrat Missile System (SAM-6) in conjunction with the Strela (SAM-7), OSA (SAM-8), Self Propelled Schilka and shoulder-fired Igla missile are all of 1980 vintage.

Holding of AD missiles and gun ammunitions is also a critical facet. The present holdings are low, and with limited shelf life, there is a need for constant reinduction of these.

Indian philosophy of AAD restricts the deployment of shoulder-fired SAMs to the AAD and Special Forces battalions unlike for instance Pakistan Air Force (PAF) which has deployed the same with the infantry battalions.

The modernisation of the AAD comprises of two parts, upgradation and induction/replacement of the existing guns and missile systems. The AAD believes that a mix of guns and missiles is necessary to meet the emerging threat paradigm for terminal air defence, low radar cross section targets as rockets and shells and can deliver a high volume of fire by a barrage or ‘cloud’ of shrapnel to destroy the warhead or shell. Israel Iron Dome system is based on this principle thus guns systems are not likely to go away.

As per Lt General Ram Pratap writing in the Indian Defence Review on Modernisation of Army Air Defence states that Joint Services Study Groups (JSSG) on GBADWS and Air Space Management. A perspective plan has been made, which is now the master reference document for all future AAD procurement.

Thus new a series of upgradation and procurement plans are underway for induction of medium-range, quick-reaction and man-portable short-range missile systems as a replacement for the Kvadrat, Strela and Igla and the legacy L 70 gun.

Cost comparison of missiles and UAVs to missile interceptors provides an unfair advantage to the former thus necessitating Air and Defense IAMD missions leverage technology and innovation to do more with this extraordinary capability. Counter UAV options have become increasingly crucial while deriving the IAMD philosophy.

Cost reduction can be achieved by integration of ground and air AD by networking system that can connect between Army and Air Force control and reporting as well as tactical communications. Seamless data transfer from military radars to different IACCS (integrated air command and control system) nodes to ensure swift counter-measures to thwart aerial threats as soon as they are detected in real time is thus the answer.