Article by Shantanu K. Bansal
The Air Defence (AD) concept is moving towards more transparent airspace, the new detection technologies like the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radars for countering 5th Generation aircrafts, ELINT systems to identify the source of electronic signals and space-based C4ISR satellites plus with the upcoming big data computing power and AI can enhance the effectiveness of surveillance and Target Acquisition resulting in less “man in the loop” processing and more “man on the loop” paradigms.
The advent of improved sensors and processing will make aerial warfare more transparent in coming future. Along with new projectiles as part of ‘Soft-Kill’ weapons like lasers, particle beams, RF Energy and High Powered Microwave/ DEWs which can render any electronic system ineffective, can increase the effectiveness of AD by manifold.
But nothing is absolute in warfare by the time the counter-measures will also proliferate as over the time many systems and tactics have been developed to evade modern AD systems along with advancement in EW platforms making SEAD and DEAD operations more effective.
For E.g. the ground-based ELINT system or better the ELINT satellites along with high-end imagery satellites are already operational and are capable of mapping radars hence providing the clear signal to the forces about gaps and vulnerabilities of AD set-up in an area. Further, development of Anti-radiation missiles has made radars more vulnerable to attacks. China has recently unveiled a dedicated EW fighter known as J-16D comparable to EA-18 Fighter of U.S. Navy, they both are specialised to conduct SEAD and DEAS missions.
There is also an upcoming concept of Manned and Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) where a conventional fighter aircraft lead a swarm of drones and do coordinated operations.
There are efforts to make the stealth technology better, India have been developing meta-material which can absorb all kinds of radar waves. The IIT- Kanpur is also said to be conducting research on meta-material, controlling emissions and absorption of light.
U.S. has developed Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) which is a distracting weapons-jamming dynamo. It can confuse and deceive opponent IADS. The MALD is a 150kg jet-powered pack that cruises for up to 800km, inviting enemy defenders to unload their guns and missiles at it.
Meanwhile, anti-radiation missiles sneak around to destroy the enemy air defences as they are busy tackling the MALDs.
On the other hand, camouflage technologies along with radar deceiving technologies like decoys, and false target generators etc. can be used by the ground forces to evade the penetrating attacks by the opponent fighter. Russia is also developing ferrite fibres, a material that can be used to shield electronics from EW countermeasures, and to create a fabric that can be used to reduce radar signatures.
It is interesting to note that Electronic Counter-counter Measures has become so strong that DRDO developed 4D Medium Power Radar (MPR) Arudhra radar having range of 150Km can even withstand even Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) effects generating from Tactical Nuclear Detonation.
At present, AD weapons have to take on satellite-based weapons, Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), long-range stealth bomber, fighter aircrafts and dropped stand-off weapons, unmanned systems, surface-skimming cruise missiles, long range artillery and small high speed projectiles. In future, the AD systems have to counter projectiles like hypersonic missile, Directed Energy Weapons, lasers, Electromagnetic Pulse Weapon, small-drone SWARM, aerial platforms equipped with more effective EW suits and Cyber-electronic weapons. Therefore, we need both active and passive AD measures to be activated.
The importance of passive AD increases as counter-AD platforms are proliferating at rapid pace. Hence, the passive Air Defence shouldn’t be ignored. The Armed Forces need to use passive methods to absorb damage by any missile or a projectile which get through the IADS.
The IAF needs an adequate number of Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) to park fighter aircraft. Another passive method which needs to be explored is deployment of modern means of runway repair material which can keep the runway down time to minutes instead of hours for instance aluminum mats.
India also need to build extensive steel plated underground bunkers at borders and important areas due to threat from ballistic as well as upcoming hypersonic missile technology which has the ability to evade even hard structures build for missile defence purposes, China has made a lot of efforts in this direction.