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The M factor in Indian air defense systems

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Abhishek Mishra
Abhishek Mishra
Strategic analyst and political commentator with two decades of experience in Security & Investigations industry currently leading a multinational at S Asia

As World watches in bewilderment the effectiveness of Iron Dome Defense system of Israel, it throws open the debate on India’s air defense capabilities amidst a looming threat of two front war for the nation. Air defense systems have been in existence since the advent of fighter aircrafts, however its modernization over the years has changed its capability and scope. The primitive air defense systems were man-pads deployed at airports for ensuring safety. 

The different types of air defense systems include Very Short Range Man Pads and anti-aircraft guns (VSHORAD), anti-aircraft missile system, CIWS (Close in Weapon System), CRAM (Counter -Rocket, Artillery and Mortar), short range Surface to Air Missile System (SAM), medium range SAM, long range SAM and intercontinental endo and expo atmospheric defense systems. The basic air defense systems depend on manual detection of incoming adversary and have fire capabilities to take it on like the Map Pads, artillery guns and anti-aircraft guns.

The next level of these systems includes a semi-automatic system wherein short-range radars are deployed for detection of adversary like Rockets and artillery fire and response is proceeded after manual detection- Israel’s Iron dome is one such potent C-RAM Fire system. The more advance systems are more automatic in operation with capability to detect high speed adversary including 5th generation fighter aircrafts, small size UAVs and ballistic missiles. They also have a command-and-control system for a proper response besides advance Radars. An active electronically radar in modern defense system helps to intercept multiple threats by simultaneously working on different frequencies in different directions unlike a passive single frequency system. Some also deploy border and asset surveillance using standard optical and thermal surveillance cameras.  

With India’s adversaries having range of missiles and possess a formidable air force with nuclear capability, it is extremely important that we have strong air defense systems. While the air defense program started in 1980s with further impetus during Vajpayee government, it is only under present Modi regime that it has become a core focus area for the country. 

India started focusing on strengthening air defense systems in 1980s by acquiring Russian S125 Pechora and later first in the world mobile air defense system OSA with its own radars for interception and then engagement via integrated launchers. We have been using Russian 9K33 OSA in IAF, Russian 2K12Kub in the army and Kashtan CIW in the Indian navy. All these SAMs are short range effective weapons and completes India’s SAM-SR requirement. India also acquired long range Russian S200 in 1989 but it did not see any action in 1999 Kargil war. While all above are potent systems capable of inflicting heavy penalties on adversaries, it is the current Modi regime that has changed the dimensions of Indian Air defense systems. Let us examine the M factor in Indian Air Defense Systems.  

Indian Navy CIWS has been made more potent with induction of Barak 8 SAM (Surface to Air Missile) systems. Barak 8 is a joint development of Indian government units and Israel counterparts and has short range and medium range guided reactionary missiles. Also, Indian Navy has recently added to its arsenal reactionary defensive short range (350 kms) Ballistic Dhanush missiles. In 2018, Indian Navy inducted another game changer submarine based retaliatory nuclear ballistic missile Sagarika with range of 750 kms.  Indian Navy is also likely to induct reactionary VL-SRSAM (Vertical Launch Short Range Surface Missile System). These make the defense of Indian warships strong and can inflict heavy toll on an advancing adversary in a naval battlefield. 

Marching battalions of armed forces are often subjected to intense air raids. In 1965, PAF managed to hit armoured vehicles of advancing Indian troops on way to Lahore which temporarily halted the movement of our battalions. Similarly, IAF created a graveyard of unavowed Pakistani tanks at Battle of Longewala. Hence a strong air defence system that can march with moving infantry brings lot of teeth to the land forces. A detailed analysis indicates India is rapidly modernizing its land air defence systems. India has recently purchased US made FM-192 Stinger MANPADS. India is also in the process of upgrading Russian MANPADS Igla-M to latest Igla-S in a Rs 27,000 Crore deal. To further augment very short-range air defense, DRDO with BEL has recently developed fully automatic Quick Reaction SAM. QR-SAM which has a range of up to 25 Kms and after successful trials is now deployed at Ladakh.

Further in short range SAM, Akash air defense system is a mobile SAM functional with Indian Army for more than a decade. To keep pace with modern technology, India’s Akash now has indigenously developed seeker. Modi regime has sanctioned further development of Akash New generation SAM which will have active electronically scanned array multi-function radar and optical proximity fuse with a range of 40-80 kms. This new radar technology shall make Akash SAM a battle winner. On one hand India has reinforced focus on indigenously developed SAM under Aatmnirbhar Bharat program and at the same time Indian army has placed an order for 5 regiments of Indian Israeli Barak 8 based MR-SAM i.e., Medium Range SAM systems. These land MRSAM are among World’s quickest and most deadly SAMs and can be launched in canister configuration with a range of 70 kilometres. Again from 2018, Indian army has been upgraded with higher range Prithvi Air Defense Systems.

Moreover, Prithvi air defence vehicle mounted Mark II now has anti-satellite defense weapon system. In 2017, government of India allotted more than 1000 acres of land at Alwar and Pali districts of Rajasthan to help DRDO set up advance radar system for tracking missiles. India is the fourth nation to have built Ballistic Missile based Endo and Expo Atmospheric air defense systems thus possessing striking capabilities of up to 5000 kms. We are also among elite nations that can strike down enemy’s spy and communication satellites. However Indian army do not have plans for short distance C-RAM systems and looking at their success in recent Israel conflict may start procurement process as a defensive system for bordering villages at Jammu region who have always been at receiving end of enemy crossfire.

In current regime more teeth have been added to air defense of Indian Air Force. Forward Air Force stations have been armed with short range Akash air defense systems. A deal that started during Vajpayee regime was concluded in 2005 with induction of medium range Israeli Spyder systems. Indian Air Force has weaved a security net in its western borders by deployed most of the 18 nos. of Spyder system to boost its readiness for any enemy misadventure. In a meeting chaired by Defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman, government has approved purchase of US NASAMS worth 1 billion. NASAMS are the best SAMS in the Armoury of NATO countries.

In addition, for its long-range defense, India will start receiving by end of 2021 world’s best air defense system the Russian S-400. Indian government has purchased five batteries of S400 in a government-to-government deal in 2016. S 400 has a range of 400 kms and is likely to be completely delivered by end of 2023. Currently a team of over 100 Indian Air Force engineers are at Russia to gain hands on training on the S400. Its induction will be a game changer for the air force with the system capable of striking PAF planes as soon as they are launched from their air bases. 

All Indian Air Defense systems in armoury of its three divisions are technology marvels thanks to a rapid modernisation plan ably led by the present regime. It is worth mentioning that acquisition of these systems means billion-dollar expenditures with lot of back-channel negotiations and government to government agreements. By being the first Indian PM to give a go ahead on surgical strikes, PM Modi changed the perception about India. By leading her forces towards an aggressive air defense program built on a mixture of Russian, American, Israeli, British and indigenous systems, he is doing everything to secure the country borders and live up to his reputation of being one of the strongest leaders the country ever had. Keep marching Mr. Modi, the defense of the country rests on shoulders of Indian armed forces, Jai Hind!!! 

(The writer is a Strategic Analyst with two decades of experience in Security & Investigations. He currently works with a Multinational as Regional Head – S Asia)

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Abhishek Mishra
Abhishek Mishra
Strategic analyst and political commentator with two decades of experience in Security & Investigations industry currently leading a multinational at S Asia
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