Analysis : The Massive move of unified air defence command by October
In a massive move, the Indian armed forces are all set to come up with a unified air defence command (ADC) by the end of October this year. This command will oversee India’s airspace and ensure protection against any unfriendly aerial object be it an aircraft, copter, missiles or a UAV. This move will enable one single entity to work seamlessly to achieve one common goal with all the assets available with three forces.
Current Structure: The current structure is prone to silo operation as the air defence units of the Indian army, navy and air force operate separately. While the Indian air force is responsible for the protection of Indian airspace, the corps of Indian air defence is responsible for the protection of Indian air space below 5,000 ft. The Indian navy however is confined to the sea and shore operations.
The air defence is a niche role and requires a great degree of coordination and control. This new approach will allow the three forces to work seamlessly which will not only improve the coordination but will also improve the reaction time. In modern warfare the reaction time is the key, it can be the differential between victory or defeat.
The air defence has two components which are further classified based on the role:
a. Early warning
a. By Surface to air missiles.
b. Electronic Warfare.
c. By Aircraft in air defence role.
Before further diving in the topic least have a look at the assets of Indian army air defence crop, Indian air force and Indian Navy.
Corps of Army Air Defence: The Corps of Army Air Defence forms the lower layer of the air defence. The corps is responsible for the protection of Indian air space below 5,000 ft. Thus, the asset operated by the corps is also short-range, quick reaction and mobile systems. The systems operated by the corps are the following:
1. Akash surface to air missile system developed indigenously.
2. Kub (SA-6 Gainful).
3. S-125 Neva/Pechora.
4. S-200 (3 battalions)
5. 9K33 Osa (SA-8 Gecko),
6. 9K35 Strela-10 (SA-13 Gopher),
7. 9K22 Tunguska,
8. ZSU-23-4M ‘Shilka’, ZSU-23-2
9. Bofors 40 mm gun
10. IGLA – MANPAD
The Akash air defence system is the only system in the inventory which is for this generation. Most of the pieces of equipment of the force are from the soviet era, although most these units are upgraded but need replacement to maintain the technological edge against adversaries. Indian army will soon acquire K30 Biho and QRSAM to replace few of these.
Indian Air Force: The air defence components from Indian Air Force are integrated with the squadrons and Air Force stations. The force uses both surface to air missiles and aircraft for the air defence. The components of the Indian air force are as follows:
Surface to air missile systems:
1. Akash Surface to air missile system.
2. S-125 Neva/Pechora
3. S200 (4 Group)
5. MRSAM – Based on Barak 8
1. XR SAM – Under development
2. S400 Triumf – Will be delivered in 2021
The Indian navy component as of now is limited to the sea and days to come when current Integrated Air Command & Control System of Indian Air Force gets unified with three services they will have a larger role to play.
VC11184 – Missile tracking ship: VC11184 is also known as the missile tracking ocean surveillance ship. The ship is being constructed by Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) for the requirements of Indian Navy. As of now the vessel is not named but will be named once it is commissioned into active duties of Indian navy. Its current name follows the yard number at which it is being constructed. The role of the ship is to form the sea component of India’s strategic weapons systems and much-touted Indian Ballistic Missile Defence Programme. The ship will simultaneously gather electronic intelligence.
Unified Command: The unified command will be formed under a three-star general (Marshal or vice admiral). The command will have the component from Indian army navy and air force thus the chief of staffs (likely a two-star general) will have three one-star generals from each arm (Army, Navy and Airforce) reporting to them. The three-star general or commander in chief of unified air defence command will report directly to the Chief of Defence Staff (In this case to General Bipin Rawat)
Seamlessly layered air defence system: To be an effective air defence system the integrated systems should be layered and tired systems. To achieve this unified command could use all the assets at the disposal to make them more effective together.
- The Ballistic Missile Shield: The threat of nuclear-tipped basaltic missile is one of the most realistic threats in the theatre. The current system under development will form two layers to protect India from this threat. The desi Ballistic Missile Defence Program is a programme to indigenously develop a multi-layered ballistic missile shield system.
The programme was introduced considering the ballistic missile threat from western neighbour though not confined only to it. The system is a double-tiered system comprising of two land and sea-based interceptor missiles
• Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile for high altitude interception
• Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Missile for lower altitude interception.
The two-tiered shield system could easily intercept any incoming missile launched from a launch pad 5,000 kilometres away. This complex system also comprises of an overlapping network of early warning sensors and tracking radars.
2. Long-range air defence systems: The long-range segment is yet to be deployed or even tested. This segment will have two different missile systems
a. S400 Triumf
b. XR SAM
Both the systems are yet to be deployed. The delivery of S400 will start in the yet 2021 while the tests of XR-SAM are yet to be conducted.
3. Medium Range: It is this segment that looks really promising. The current inventory has the following systems which are deployed (Excluding Akash NG).
a. MR SAM – Based on Barak 8
b. SPYDER – Based on Derby and Python
c. Akash NG (Under Development)
4. Short Range: The components of this segment are also more or less developed and are ready to be inducted in larger number. The segment has both mobile and semi-mobile systems to be deployed based on the requirement and doctrine. The components are as follows
b. QR SAM
5. Very Short-range Air defence system: The segment includes man-portable air defence, anti-aircraft guns and short-range missile system. It is this segment where most of the legacy systems are present and require immediate attention.
a. Legacy Systems
i. 9K33 Osa (SA-8 Gecko),
ii. 9K35 Strela-10 (SA-13 Gopher),
iii. 9K22 Tunguska,
iv. ZSU-23-4M ‘Shilka’, ZSU-23-2
v. Bofors 40 mm gun
vi. IGLA – Manpad
b. New Planned Systems
i.IGLA S – Story of this system is disappointing, but we will talk about this some other day.
ii.L&T Modified Bofors 40 MM gun
iii. K-10 Biho
Along with these some other systems are under discussion.
Advantages of Unified Command:
One of the premier advantages of the unified command is the smaller command chain thus the entity will be more responsive, faster and lean. However, the underlying advantage of this new command will be will consolidate the assets of all the three forces and thus the redundancy can be removed and much leaner, faster and cost-effective logistics can be achieved.
Overall, this was one of the most important requirements in the armed forces command reform and achieving this in such steep timeline is commendable.