In any full-blown war situation, it becomes important for all components of the military and associated
setup to establish and maintain supremacy in every possible aspect, directly or indirectly related to the
frontline combat. A vital domain, amongst others, is the air-superiority. It is established by the air force
and/or naval fighter aircrafts along with ground/ship-based air defence systems, in order to ensure
seamless operations by the friendly forces.
Mainly in the opening days of war, major militaries focus heavily on crippling the enemy forces with
well-planned, overwhelming air attacks. These include air-to-air combat, use of anti-aircraft weapons,
missile fires and bombardments to destroy crucial enemy assets and infrastructure. Such operations
further make the enemy ground forces vulnerable to significantly unopposed air strikes, thereby
spreading chaos, destruction and forming clouds of defeat over them.
It is important for the leading air forces to keep upgrading their inventories of personnel, tactics and
armouries periodically to match and overcome the ever-evolving threats, more so looking at the current
geopolitio-strategic situation around the world. From the Indian perspective, the situation isn’t far
different. With two nuclear-armed hostile neighbours looking for opportunity to destabilize peace, as
seen in February 2019 on one frontier and since May 2020 on the other, it becomes a prime objective to
keep the military updated with equipment granting serious capabilities.
As far as the air force operations are concerned, air superiority is established and maintained by the
means of air battles, electronic attacks, missile strikes and bombings – destroying enemy aircrafts,
runways and support structures, radar stations and command & control centres, fuel and ammunition
storages- beautifully exhibited by the Israeli Air Force during the Six Day War. The forces tend to work
round the clock in peacetime to secure an edge over the adversary in terms of weapons and sensor
systems in a potential conflict.
In an active war zone, it becomes a priority to neutralize the enemy air defence capabilities in order
dominate the airspace – a role known as SEAD/DEAD in military parlance. This requires the use of
multiple platform based intelligence sensors to locate the hostile radar sites, record various physical
parameters such as their emission frequency patterns and scan rates and the reaction time of the missile
launchers. Next, a combined package of electronic attack, air defence and strike aircrafts and other
systems neutralize these targets.
For this purpose, the Indian Air Force utilizes a wide range of weapons – missiles, guided bombs and
electronic warfare systems. Of these, the Soviet-origin Kh-31P, a batch of which was delivered as late
as the end of last decade, forms IAF’s mainstay. This missile’s passive radio frequency seeker homes in
onto the radiating structures like radar antennae. But, a list of issues – aging of the earlier lots, high
price, short range, integration with western aircrafts – asked for an indigenous alternative. So was born
the “RudraM” family. These missiles can be used in dual mode, against radars as well as against other
surface targets, upto 550 km.
However, limited number of ISR aircrafts, their operating costs, vast territory, doubts over availability
of airfields for regular operations, finite flight time, mobility and inactivity of enemy radar systems
limits the intelligence collection capabilities regarding the enemy equipment, meaning the requirement
for a new system which would address all the problems. Owing to these reasons, the Indian Air Force
has come up with an idea of having a dedicated surveillance satellite. This satellite will detect, locate
and track the hostile emitting radars throughout, record and transmit in real-time their details to the
control station. It would map parameters such as the scan rates, frequency ranges and patterns, pulse
repetition intervals, radiation power, beam widths.
This Low Earth Orbit satellite shall operate over a wide bandwidth from UHF to Ka, which means it
would be capable of detecting radiation from long range surveillance radars to that from precision
approach radars used as landing navigational aid, sniffing out every possible hostile transmitter. This
would force the enemy to either keep their antennae switched off or make them prone to the incoming
attacks. IACCS would hold a database of the radars’ historic locations, emission patterns and other
characteristics, which would act as references for future operations.
While the development programme is still underway, the participation of experienced defence and
space firms means it would not take much time to realize. Once deployed, it would form the tip of
IAF’s SEAD/DEAD capabilities and will definitely give hard time to the enemies.