Indian Army Air Defence (AAD) which evolved as a separate arm from field artillery provides ground-based air defence protection to field forces in the Tactical Battle Area (TBA) as well as strategic points and areas.
This comes within the overall ambit of air defence in India which is the responsibility of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Importantly provision of air defence support to advancing field forces can best be provided by the AAD through deployment of mobile guns and missile systems.
Even as the threat perception leading to requirement of air defence today includes defence against missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), the Indian Army operates a mix of guns and missiles. Use of guns is expected to increase as UAVs many of which operate at low altitude and thus will come within the AAD target profile. UAVs are best targeted by guns specifically from the cost benefit point of view.
As per Lt General Ram Pratap writing in the Indian Defence Review on Modernisation of Army Air Defence Joint Services Study Groups (JSSG) on GBADWS and Air Space Management has drawn up a perspective plan, which is now the master reference document for all future AAD procurement.
Thus 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.
A review of the systems held and the responses is being carried out herein.
Despite advances in missiles, gun systems remain a popular alternative given the rate of fire that can be brought on the target, in addition to the cost to kill ratios particularly against UAVs. Terminal targeting of missiles can also be achieved through use of gun fire.
The Indian Army holds at present varied types of gun systems to include the 40mm L70, 23mm twin-barrelled guns, the 23mm quadruple guns mounted on the Schilka chassis and tracked Tunguska gun missile system.
Gun regiments are planned to be reorganised to Gun-Missile (GM) regiments. The philosophy of GM mix is to make optimum use of the characteristic of both guns and missiles. However, the progress of this plan is not very satisfactory though a beginning has been made.
The Tunguska gun- missile system is the most modern available in the AAD and is employed effectively to accompany armoured columns in deserts and semi desert terrain mounted on GM 352 M chassis, radar system IRL 144 (NATO Hot Shot), dual 2A38M 30mm cannons and also has two 9M 311-M1 missile with a range of 10 km.
Upgradation of Guns
Qualitative up-grade of guns manifests in multiple domains - ordnance, superstructure, laying and target tracking systems, enhancement in range and reach parameters, hours of operability and so on.
Up-grade of air defence gun systems, namely the L-70 and ZU23 guns and the Schilka Weapon System includes quality enhancement of Electro-Optical Fire Control System (EOFCS), complete with its day camera, night camera, laser range finder and fire control computer), besides enhancement in drives and power banks.
Upgrades of L/70 guns and ZU-23mm (Twin) guns are also being carried out by Bharat Electronics Ltd [BEL] to remove night blindness amongst other areas. The deficiency of ammunition is also being addressed.
As per BEL India, Upgraded Schilka system is an advanced air defence system against attacking aircraft and helicopters. The Upgradation includes replacing the existing Radar, analog computer, engine, GTE with state of the art system and addition of air conditioning system for crew comfort. This upgraded system provides drastic improvements in operational performance, accuracies, power consumption and MTBF. The addition of an electro-optical system operating in parallel with the radar enables accurate identification, acquisition and tracking of targets while operating in an ECM environment.
The system is capable of firing aerial targets while on move. The system can accept cueing from external Surveillance Radar. The system can engage enemy aircraft during day or night and in all weather conditions.
Indigenisation of Gun Systems
Proposal for manufacture of L 70 and ZSU 23 mm guns indigenously in under consideration with private sector firms Bharat Forge and Punj Lloyd are keen to manufacture a new gun system.
In October this year the Indian Army has issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) or tender for procurement of Quantity 220 Air Defence Guns and quantity 1,41,576 rounds of ammunition are being procured under Buy and Make (Indian). The Buy quantity is ‘Zero,’ thus implying that the guns will be completely assembled in India.
Of the 1,41,576 rounds of ammunition (37,440 advanced and 1,04,136 standard rounds of ammunition) will be procured under Make portion of the contract again with Buy quantity as zero. Minimum of 50% IC is required on cost basis of the Make portion of the contract less taxes and duties.
Some Indian media reports have indicated that the original RFP was altered to allow an Indian public sector company to finalise a JV with Rheinmetall. In 2020, Rheinmetall offered its Skyshield, however this would require confirmation.
Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS) are short range SAMs which are man portable and allocated at present mainly to special forces and in the future could be allocated to infantry battalions particularly mechanised forces following in the wake of an armoured assault in the desert and plains.
These will also be very pertinent for deployment along with elements of the Mountain Strike Corps on the Northern borders. The Indian Army is also envisaged twin launcher use and basing the VSHORADS on a high mobility vehicle.
VSHORADS also provide the required gun-missile mix at the terminal end of the point defence deployments, provide flexibility, enhancement in range, surprise and can engage opportunity targets like the unmanned aerial systems or UAS very effectively.
Indian Army’s present inventory comprises of Russian made Igla which is dated.
The Army has completed the trial evaluation of a new VSHORADS under the $ 1.5 billion acquisition caters for 1000 launchers and 5175 missiles. 2,315 missiles will be bought off the shelf, 260 in a semi- knocked down condition and 1,000 missiles in completely knocked down condition while 600 will be produced in India as per Defense News.
French MBDA Mistral, Sweden’s SAAB RBS 70 NG and Russia’s new generation Igla-S participated in the trials. Field evaluation trials were conducted at Rajasthan (hot weather), Ladakh (high altitude, cold weather), and Vishakapatnam (coastal trials). System trials of sights and sensors were undertaken at Bengaluru and Dehradun. The QR included multiple target detection, tracking by day and night, providing data to the missile and engagement of aerial targets.
On progress of the VHORADS acquisition process Vivek Raghuvanshi of Defense News has indicated that in the commercial bid opening Rosoboronexport is the lowest bidder against Saab of Sweden and MBDA of France. However Raghuvanshi reports that as the Russian Igla S was not compliant as it failed in missile locking and direct hit repeatedly, confirmation from other sources is awaited.
Recently the Hindu reported that the Army had contracted Igla-S systems from Russia under emergency procurement through the Vice Chiefs emergency financial powers to include 24 launchers and 216 missiles. However given Russia’s extensive employment of missiles in the Ukraine War, these systems could be delayed and the larger order for 258 single launchers and 258 multi-launchers appears to be in a limbo.
Meanwhile the DRDO, is also testing an indigenous Man Portable Air Defence System (MANPAD) which is designed by Research Centre Imarat (RCI), Hyderabad, in collaboration with other DRDO laboratories and Indian Industry Partners.
The Indian army has inducted Akash indigenously designed and developed medium range SAM system with a range of 25 km. “The Army has two Akash regiments in service and negotiations are on for two more. Contract is expected to be concluded by January,” an official has indicated to the Hindu.
As per Bharat Electronics Ltd, Akash air defence missile system is a medium range, surface-to-air missile system which provides area air defence agaist multifarious air threats to mobile, semi mobile and static vulnerable forces and areas. The system has cutting edge features with cross country mobility.
The real time multi sensor data processing and threat evaluation enables simultaneous engagement of multiple targets from any direction. The entire system is flexible, up scalable and can be operated in group and autonomous modes. It employs command guidance and relies on phased array guidance radar to guide the missile till intercept.
As per the Frontline, the Indian Army is to induct Akash Prime the advanced version of current system. Frontline quotes that Akash Prime is, “equipped with an indigenously developed active radio frequency (R.F.) seeker for improved accuracy,” and has a higher degree of reliability.
In addition to Akash, the Army variant of the MRSAM, being jointly developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), is nearing induction with the final stage of trials scheduled to be held in the next few months. “It’s in the penultimate state of induction,” an official has been quoted by the Hindu.
Some reports indicate that the Army is looking at two regiments of the MRSAM that provides point and area air defence for ground assets against a wide range of threats including fighter aircraft, UAVs, helicopters, guided and unguided munitions, sub-sonic & supersonic cruise missiles etc.
The MRSAM is said to be capable of engaging multiple targets at ranges up to 70 kms in severe saturation scenarios and is powered by indigenously developed rocket motor and control system for achieving high manoeuvrability during the terminal phase.
Under a contract with DRDO, Tata Advanced Systems designed and manufactured combat management systems for the MRSAM programme.
Bharat Dynamics (BDL) the lead integrator for the MRSAM missile systems has established a new production facility in Hyderabad with an investment of $100m to manufacture both MRSAM and LRSAM missiles. The facility has the capacity to produce 100 missiles a year.
Kalyani Rafael Advanced Systems (KRAS), a joint venture of Kalyani Group and Rafael Advanced Defense System, was contracted to produce and supply missile kits for final integration by BDL.
Other contractors involved in the development of the MRSAM include BEL, L&T, Elta, and other private companies.
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.
Air Defence Command
The Indian Armed Forces programme of theaterisation envisages setting up of the Air Defence Command. Late General Bipin Rawat, then Chief of Defence Staff had sought to create the Air Defence Command as the first of the inter services commands. The present status of the Air Defence Command is unclear as the IAF had very strongly resisted creation of the Air Defence Command complaining of dissipation of resources. As an when the Air Defence Command comes up there may be a reset of doctrines and integration of resources.