Air Defence System of Pakistan ( Suggestions )
Columnist Syed Imran Shah suggests high-tech modernisation.
The dominant role of air power in modern warfare has been clearly established. A nation unable to defend itself against air assaults of its adversary would be placed at a serious disadvantage in any future conflict. Air defence especially for nations under threat of military aggression thus becomes a vital element in its overall defence strategy.
India has a potent air power strike element that poses a serious threat to the security of Pakistan in any armed conflict. To be able to employ this offensive potential, the Indian Air Force would first have to overcome and degrade Pakistan’s air defence network. A strong and resilient air defence system then becomes imperative for Pakistan in order to prevent the Indian juggernaut. This article will address the air defence issues in general with special focus on Pakistan.
To carry out effective strike missions against targets defended by complex air defence systems a special mission was designed, called Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD/DEAD). Some specially modified aircraft were used for these missions, which were called Wild Weasels in the United States Air Force. These warplanes have special equipment for the detection of enemy radar stations and special missiles for knocking out these radars, called anti-radiation missiles (ARMs). The first of this kind was F-100 Super Sabre and later F-105 Thunder Chief armed with AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missiles, used in the Vietnam War. In the Operation Desert Storm in 1991, USAF used its F-4G Wild Weasels in SEAD role and they played an important role in the destruction of integrated air defences of Iraq. In Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom, the annihilation of the Taliban’s air defence network by SEAD missions permitted the use of the huge B-52 bombers and AC-130s to carry out devastating aerial attacks with impunity.
It was the growing threat of SAMs (Surface-to-air missiles) and sophisticated gun systems that caused the development of Stealth Technology. Stealth Technology is basically used to avoid radar detection without flying at low-level and thus escape many air defence systems. In Operation Desert Storm in 1991, USAF used its stealthy F-117 Night Hawks in the first strikes against the heavily defended targets in Baghdad. The F-22 Raptor is a stealth fighter, therefore, all of the weapons are carried internally in the weapon bay to minimize the range from which it can be detected. But it also has the external stores option, which can be exercised once enemy air defences are suppressed and there are no high stealth requirements. So, the heavy blow comes after the destruction of the air defences.
In order to carry out an effective interdiction mission, air defences of enemy have to be knocked out. On the other hand, for the defenders, to avoid devastation of national assets, air defence must be impregnable. Also, any nuclear strike will certainly be easy against the country whose air defences or ballistic missile defences are relatively weaker.
The EW & Arm Threat
Suppression of enemy air defences is carried out either by hard kill method or soft kill method. Hard kill means actual destruction of anti-aircraft defences and soft kill means jamming or disabling the surveillance and fire control radars for a particular time-period so that a strike formation can finish its job. For the hard kills, AGM-88 HARM (High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) and other PGMs (Precision-Guided Munitions) are employed. For the soft kill, special EW (Electronic Warfare) planes are used. The EW planes used in Operation Desert Storm were EF-111 Ravens form USAF and EA-6B Prowlers from US Navy. These EW planes jammed the Iraqi radars and provided a safe corridor to the incoming strike formation. The EF-111s have been retired now. The EA-6 can also carry out HARM strikes against radars.
If a radar operator sees himself under attack of an anti-radar missile and shuts down the radar, even then a soft kill is achieved while attempting a hard kill. But the newer ARMs (other than AGM-45 Shrike like AGM-78 Standard, AGM-88 HARM, ALARM etc) remember the last location of the radar when it was emitting, and they continue their attack based on that last updated position of the SAM radar.
Israeli Air Force has also undertaken SEAD/DEAD missions on massive scale in the Yom Kippur war (1973) and Bekka Valley conflict (1982) in which 19 Syrian SAM sites were destroyed in a single day. In April 1986, the Libyan SA-5 Gammon long-range SAM was disabled by destroying its Square Pair radar by US planes firing ARMs.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR SAMs
An ARM basically destroys the emitting antenna of a radar unit, but the incoming strike formation can then destroy the remaining installations by cluster bomb attacks.
So the radars are prone to jamming and anti-radiation missile attacks and then there is no use of radar-guided Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) and radar-controlled AAA (Anti-Aircraft Artillery).
The Indian acquisition of Russian (Kh-25MP, Kh-59) and French (ARMAT) ARMs, and Israeli Harpy anti-radar drones coupled with IAI Malat Searcher 2 UAVs pose a serious threat to our air defence system. Hence, most of the SAMs defending the strategic assets must have multiple guidance methods, e.g., they should have at least two more guidance sensor like Electro-Optical, Laser, FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red), IIR (Imaging Infra Red) etc in addition to engagement radar to impart them all-weather 24hr capability.
The Crotale NG SHORAD (Short Range Air Defence System) also features this approach and has multiple sensors like radar, FLIR and CCD TV. Both the surveillance and engagement radars of the Crotale NG are frequency-agile. The laser guidance is difficult to jam like CCD TV and IIR seekers. Laser guidance is available in short-range SAMs like Shorts Starburst and ADATS. Laser guided SHORAD systems should be made available to form MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defence System) and DETPADS (Detachment Portable AD System) around key points. The laser guidance allows the SAM to engage intruders at more head on range than simple IR-guided systems. TV-guidance allows engagement of targets at even lower levels than that is possible through radar guidance.
Long-range SAMs have no other option but to be guided by radars. They can be fooled in their final approach by ECMs (Electronic Counter Measures) like jammer, chaff, flare or other decoys, so these radars must feature ECCMs (Electronic Counter Counter Measures) like algorithms of AMRAAM’s radar to reject chaff and other decoys and to engage the correct target.
The MANPADS should be equipped with night sights to enable them to be used at night. Infrared (IR) guided missiles with Imaging IR (IIR) seekers are also difficult to counter because they can even select the part of aircraft to hit from its thermal image.
A SAM-based air defence system consists of surveillance radar for the detection of intruders and engagement radar for missile guidance. The surveillance radar (which is usually long-range) is difficult to replace with another sensor, but should be made resistant against jamming efforts. It should feature high frequency-agility and all possible ECMs (like operating on multiple frequencies at the same time) to make jamming difficult and keep it functioning. Our 35mm GDF-series Oerlikon AD guns should be upgraded to fire the AHEAD round, which will increase their lethality and SSKP (Single Shot Kill Probability).
DEALING WITH LOW LEVEL AIR THREAT
If the attack formation comes at a very low-level (about 100 feet), like the Jaguars of IAF, to avoid radar-detection and follow it up with a typical pop-up manoeuvre over the target, then the only time to engage them would be during their pop up phase when they will be pulling up in order to acquire the target and deliver their weapons load. During the pull-up, they will try to get a radar lock of the target, and this will be a time to get a lock on them and fire the SAM before they can release their payloads in the following dive.
With the availability of retarded bombs, this pop up phase has been considerably reduced thereby making it harder for the SAMs to achieve a lock on for successful engagement. AAA, with its inherent limitations would then be the only option with the defenders to intercept the raiders before weapons release phase.
To detect low-level intruders, the best solution is AWACS (Air Borne Warning And Control System). Today, we have many AWACS platforms available in the market other than US E-2 Hawkeye and E-3 Sentry, like Erieye radar on EMB-145. India is also trying to purchase the Israeli Phalcon AEW system and install it on IL-76 aircraft. This capability will be a force multiplier and greatly assist in not only their air defence effort but also their interdiction missions over Pakistan. The Indian raiders would get timely warning of any interceptors during the strike phase thus permitting them various defensive options to avoid getting intercepted. In the air defence role, after the Indian acquisition of AWACS, PAF’s strike formations would be unable to avoid detection even while flying at very low levels. This would seriously compromise its offensive potential.
Today, the range of standoff Air-to-Surface weapons is on the increase and if the range of an AGM (air-to-ground missile) is more than the engagement range of a SAM, then the SAM site can be easily targeted, if no air cover is provided. With the standoff air-to-ground weapons, the pilot needs not to over fly the target and thus avoid its short-range air defences. So, the counter can be a long-range SAM belt around strategic assets or at least air force fighters should be provided with the best available BVR missiles (which in turn requires a modern long-range airborne radar to operate, even if it has active-radar guidance).
Indian Jaguars have the AS-30L missile, which give them the ability to target Air Defence sites in addition to other targets. Mirage 2000Hs, Jaguars and Mig-27s have been equipped with Rafael Litening targeting pods to deliver LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) at standoff ranges of up to 64.8km and from a max altitude of 40,000 feet. Thus Litening allows them to avoid the VSHORAD (up to 4km) and SHORAD (up to 10km) systems.
Similarly, PAF is equipped with AGM-65 Mavericks and LGBs (with Atlis pod) and can use them in a number of ways. But this does not mean that they will always attack from standoff ranges. The possibility may be that they will try to destroy the air defences from a standoff range using ARMs, AGMs and LGBs and then carry out interdiction missions of over flying the targets, on the pattern of Israeli Air Force.
Litening Pod also allows Mirage 2000Hs, Jaguars and Mig-27s to undertake night strike missions over Pakistan through FLIR (Forward-looking Infra red). At night manned AAA will also be not effective and the range of the airborne radars (especially where ground radar cover is not available) will limit the operation of hostile interceptors, which is about 39km in Griffo-7 radars in F-7s and upgraded Mirages. Here the long-range radar of F-16s may work.
AIR DEFENCE FIGHTERS
PAF’s F-7s are a Chinese copy of Ex-Soviet Mig-21 Fishbed, which also forms the backbone of Indian air defence. Therefore, F-7s must match the performance of the upgraded Mig-21bis, called Mig-21-93. The upgraded Mig-21 also features BVR capability in the form of R-77 (AA-12 Adder), which is equivalent to AIM-120 AMRAAM.
The F-16s are considered air warriors of Pakistan, so they must be upgraded on the style of MLU (Mid-Life Upgrade) if possible. These fighters rely on Sidewinders (AIM-9L, P) and must be equipped with some latest 4th generation WVR (Within Visual Range) AAM having at least 70-60 degree off-bore sight engagement capability as IAF has R-73 (AA-11, Archer) missile which has off-bore sight capability along with an impressive range. If the acquisition of AIM-9X is not possible then the possibility of integrating A-Darter or ASRAAM or Mica with F-16s, F-7s and Mirages should be investigated.
THE ROLE OF BVR AAM
The detection range of the surveillance radars is always more than the range of Anti-radar missiles or Air-to-Surface Missiles. This can be used to an advantage in the way that friendly fighters on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) or ADA (Air Defence Alert) be instantly vectored towards the general heading of the enemy formation to intercept them well before the launch range of their weapons or the operating range of their jamming equipment. This means that enemy strike formation should be intercepted at least 50km away from target and any enemy fighter/attacker going beyond this should be engaged on priority basis. Some methods should be devised for identification at long distances, so that IFF (Identification of Friend or Foe) is not a problem and ROE (Rules of Engagement) can be relaxed. Here it becomes necessary to have fighter jets equipped with BVR (Beyond Visual Range) AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles) of at least 35-30 km range to intercept enemy attack formation head on at a maximum safe distance from a strategic or tactical asset.
With the active-radar guided BVR missiles, our fighters will also be able to shoot down very high-flying enemy jets like Mig-25 recce planes. This is a point where we cannot replace fighters by SAMs or other missiles.
BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENCE
The next important aspect of our air defence system is against Ballistic Missiles because our adversary has the short and long-range Ballistic Missiles and they will certainly be used in any possible future conflict. Here we shall not discuss a national missile defence umbrella on pattern of NMD programme of USA, but the point defence system or TMD (Theatre Missile Defence) protecting a strategic asset from Ballistic missile attacks, like the Patriot system, whose latest version PAC-3 has proved itself in tests.
The Ballistic Missile attacks can be very successful if there is no defence against them, like in our case. A Ballistic missile defence system may not be able to intercept all ballistic missiles fired upon a target but it is also very difficult to launch many ballistic missiles together on a single target due to many reasons.
No one can guarantee the safety of mobile Ballistic missile launchers.
During war, it will be the highest priority of PAF & IAF to search and destroy the mobile launchers of each other like it was the duty of F-16s and other strike aircraft during Operation Desert Storm with surveillance provided by recce planes, UAVs and satellites. The UAVs are capable of providing real-time surveillance. Therefore, air force planes may hunt some of the launchers. It will thus be very unwise both for India and Pakistan to bring many launchers together for launching a salvo of Ballistic missiles.
Out of the remaining launchers, it will be difficult to make about 10 or so missile launchers ready at the same time, due to technical and maintenance problems, keeping in view the complex nature of a ballistic missile. Sometimes the situation may not permit to erect and launch a missile, such as air attack or unfavourable weather conditions.
At last, if one or two missiles are fired on a target, which is defended by a modern ATBM system, then these missiles can be intercepted. These are the reasons that many countries are pursuing ABM systems.
FUTURE PLANS FOR ABM DEFENCE
India is acquiring Russian and Israeli ATBM (Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile) systems like Antey-2500, which is an improved version of S-300V system. It is effective against Ballistic Missiles of ranges up to 2,500 km with a velocity of up to 4.5 km/s. Antey-2500 missiles will be integrated with Israeli Elta Green Pine radars. India has already leased S-300PMU for training purposes. It is also pursuing its own SAM system called Akash with Rajendra radar. Although many tests of the system failed but the programme is still under development. China has also acquired S-300 system from Russia and is working on several SAM systems.
Iran modified the US supplied HAWK SAM for air-to-air role on its F-14 Tomcats. We can also launch our own programme with help from China. Another possibility may be that Pakistan, Iran and China should start a joint ATBM project.
The NESCOM setup can pursue a project in collaboration with the above friendly countries to develop a medium to long-range SAM system (which includes the missile itself and associated radars) capable of intercepting both the air-breathing targets and Ballistic Missiles. Its detection range must be at least 300 kms and engagement range of at least 50-40 km. The SAM system should fire two types of missiles, one for long-to-medium range engagements and other for medium-to-short range engagements, with overlapping region in between.ECCM features must be incorporated right into the design. A start can be taken by designing a medium-range SAM system only against air-breathing targets
(aircraft and cruise missiles).
USA, Russia and Israel are all working on ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) systems. US is pursuing ABL (Air-Borne laser), THAAD (Theatre High Altitude AD) etc, Israel is pursuing Arrow programme and lastly comes the ultimate S-400 multi-layered, multi-missile air defence system of Russia. In future, India may acquire these systems from aforesaid countries but Pakistan may not be able to do so.Therefore, to maintain a balance of power and a strong air defence, we shall have to do it ourselves.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author is a Mechanical Engineer and graduate in International Relations & Economics with deep interest in military technology, operations and history.