'In the current threat scenario and also in the futuristic scenario, the AD guns will remain very much relevant'

SP’s Land Forces Team led by Lt General Naresh Chand, Senior Technical Editor of SP Guide Publications, interviewed Lt General V.K. Saxena, Director General of Army Air Defence, Indian Army, in his office at Sena Bhavan. The interview essentially covered the global and regional air threat, the role of army air defence, air defence control and reporting system and equipment issues.

Issue: 3 / 2014Photo(s): By DRDO

SP’s Land Forces (SP’s): Can you give out the current and the future pattern of air threat globally and how do you relate it to the South Asian Region?

Lt General V.K. Saxena (DGAAD): We are passing through exciting times, wherein the severity and the lethality of the air threat is fast revamping, both qualitatively as well as quantitatively. In the current capability domain, two dimensions of the air threat stand out most conspicuously when compared to the erstwhile. The first of this is the ‘multiplicity of aerial threat vehicles’. In sharp contrast to the erstwhile binary arsenal of aircraft and helicopters as threat platforms, today we have multiple players; viz. the UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles), attack helicopters, ARMs (anti-radiation-missiles), cruise missiles, SSMs (surface-to-surface missiles) and more, each vying with the other in terms of its lethality. The second dimension relates to revamping of the arsenal, implying the munitions. Gone are the days of bombs and rockets, mostly unguided, playing out in the visual domain of terminal air defence (AD) weapons; today there is a slew of precision-guided munitions, capable of lethal strikes at long stand-off ranges with submetric accuracy. These are joined by the emerging technological wonders in the form of smart and intelligent munitions, capable of loitering over the battlefield to seek and destroy their targets, much like the ‘hawks in wait’ pouncing on unsuspecting birds of prey. So much so, that the ammunition itself has become a threat vehicle.

As to the futuristic air threat, a couple of trends are becoming visible. The first of these is the emergence of multiple kill options for threat vehicles, that is to say, that apart from the conventional hard kill with missiles, rockets, guns and PGMs (precision-guided munitions), the soft kill options in terms of laser or EW attack on the EM (electro magnetic) muscle of ground-based AD weapon systems (GBADWS) are rapidly becoming possible. Besides this, the threat vehicles are becoming stealthier, as front-line nations are in tough competition to do one better each day in this field. Most visibly of course is a phenomenon wherein the entire threat continuum seems to have been hijacked by the ‘unmanned revolution’. Aircraft manufacturers are coming out with unmanned version of their machines. UAVs are becoming ‘insects-in-swarms’, uncontrollable by contemporary means, and there is much talk of MUMT – the manned and unmanned teaming. The nano-kids in the form of carbon nanoparticles are providing increasing survivability to air threat vehicles. In addition, a great amount of development is taking place in AD BMC2 AD Battle Management Command and Control) system. As I said, we are passing through exciting times.

SP’s: What are the plans at national level to counter the above air threat and what role does the AAD play in executing the national AD plan?

Surface-to-air missile Akash test-fired from the ITR Balasore

DGAAD: While the responsibility of providing air defence (AD) to the national air space is that of the Air Force, the same is executed by all the three Services in the respective domains of their core competencies. Accordingly, the AD means consist of aircrafts, GBADWS and naval AD resources, both on shore and on high seas. In this trio, the AAD provides the ground-based arsenal consisting of guns and VSHORADS (very short range AD system) in the visual domain, coupled with an entire hierarchy of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), starting from short range (SRSAM) to medium (MRSAM). In this way, the AAD is a major component of the trio of AD arsenal dedicated to defeat the aerial threat from our potential adversaries.

SP’s: Does it include AD for homeland security?

DGAAD: The AAD resources are deployed based on the perception of appreciated air threat to our vulnerable areas and vulnerable points. Due to security reasons, it is not possible to elucidate whether AAD resources are deployed or not deployed for homeland security duties.

SP’s: Majority of the AAD equipment is becoming obsolete/obsolescent e.g. the 40mm L-70 gun is more than 40 years old. Same is true of some of the missile systems. What are your plans to modernise the AAD weapon system?

DGAAD: AAD is following a well planned and a well thought out policy of growth. This policy is progressing along two identifiable tracks, namely upgradation and modernisation. Besides upgradation of major weapon systems, all out efforts are being made to sustain the old and vintage inventory through extensive in-service maintenance and overhaul.

On the other track of modernisation, there is a plan in place to induct new and modern GBADWS. In essence I would say, Army AD is on the cusp of a major modernisation drive.

SP’s: What is the progress on AAD management system (termed as AD Control and Reporting)?

DGAAD: We are fully alive to the fact that an AD Battle Management System, conventionally referred to as the AD Control and Reporting (AD C&R) System is the lifeline of the AD battle. In fact, so much is dependent on it for surveillance of airspace, to identification of aerial objects, to their recognition as friend or foe, followed by creation of Recognised Air Situation Picture (RASP) based on Multi Sensor Tracking (MST), threat prioritisation, weapon selection, threat designation and minute-to-minute control of the AD battle, that a less than perfect AD C and R system will make the best of GBADWS only ‘sub-optimal players’.

With the above understanding, constant efforts are being made to continuously re-vamp the existing AD C and R System. The major features include the transition from net radio/land line to SATCOM domain and bring in a fair degree of automation in threat processing, target data transmission over a hierarchy of AD C and R nodes, as also, the dynamic control of an AD battle. The modernisation of AD C and R on the above lines is progressing well in the AAD environment.

SP’s: What is the status of Akash SAM system?

DGAAD: It is not possible to give you the exact status, suffice to say that the same is progressing well.

SP’s: Do you consider the gun systems relevant in the current and future air threat scenarios?

DGAAD: I do not belong to that school of Subject Matter Experts who propagate, that the days of AD guns are numbered. The fact is that I belong to the opposite school which propagates that not only in the current threat scenario, but also in the futuristic scenario, the AD guns will remain very much relevant. Their unjammable deterrence in the visual domain is the most effective last line of defence in the continuum of layered and tiered, integrated AD System. Not only that, the guns are proving to be ideal kill weapons against the modern day threat vehicles like UAVs, UCAVs and attack helicopters, as also effective in the counter rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) mode.

Driven by the above thoughts, no gun manufacturer the world over has discarded or made his product obsolete. Also, all calibres are alive. There is no standard calibre. While the large calibres of Oto Melara and Russian designs are priding themselves in that ‘big punch’ (large quantum of warhead) delivered accurately, the 20mm weapons at the other end of the continuum, are basing their effectiveness on the higher and higher rates of fire (Gattling included). In between, the technology is playing the game of feeding round-to-round intelligence in each projectile (instant muzzle velocity and resultant time of flight) to defeat smart (stealthy) targets, including the UAVs and UCAVs.

SP’s: What are your plans for indigenisation of AD Weapon Systems?

DGAAD: Indigenisation of GBADWS is the constant endeavour of our country in general and DRDO and DPSUs in particular. The beginning has already been made in putting in place indigenous upgrades of GBADWS. Successes are being achieved in making a variety of radars for AAD and putting in place state-of-the-art C and R system.

SP’s: UAVs including armed ones are becoming a real threat. Can you suggest means to counter them?

DGAAD: I have recently written an article titled ‘UAVs-UCAVs All the Way—What the Technology Has for the AD Warrior’. I feel that the best option to take out the UAV lies in the soft-kill domain by either using the ‘Killer Laser Rays’ or debilitating the SATCOM link between the UAV and its Ground Control Station (GCS). In this field, new and exciting options are emerging to address the UAV through hacking, phishing or through a variety of cyber attacks. In the hard kill domain, starting from small arms, terminal AD guns and VSHORADS are considered suitable options to bring down an UAV. In fact, all SAM producers claim that their SRSAMs and QRSAMs (VL-Mica, BAMSE, TOR, Pantsyr etc.) are effective against UAVs/ UCAVs. In an extreme option, precedent exists to launch manned aircrafts against UAVs. Kinetic kill solutions are also available, wherein, a low-cost kill body is put on a collision course to kill a UAV causing catastrophic damage due to the impact, examples are Peregrine Eagle and Cougar.

SP’s: How is realistic training imparted so that personnel of AAD can carry out their operational role effectively?

DGAAD: Imparting realistic training is one of my key result areas. The same is being ruthlessly followed not only in our premier training establishments namely, the Army AD College and Army AD Centre, but also in units and formations. Some key thoughts in imparting realistic training are as under:

  • Training must be realistic and relate to the actual field conditions, challenges, scarcities and unpredictablities.
  • Training must be inclusive whereas AAD is seen as a part of the entire fighting machine and not as an isolated vertical.
  • The emphasis must be to train the trainers so that quality trainers trained extensively can proliferate the training ethics in the larger domain.
  • Every effort must be made to continuously explore, as to how the cutting edge of technology in the domain can be adapted to enhance the quality in the current training regime.
  • Every effort must be made to exploit the power of simulators and simulation technologies in saving precious operational hours of combat equipment.
  • Innovation and out-of-the-box thinking must always be welcomed.