The customary press conference given by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) of the Indian Air Force (IAF) every year prior to Air Force Day (which falls on October 8) by and large targets contemporary issues on the balance-of-airpower in the subcontinent and the more glamorous and glitzy issues regarding the IAF’s on-going force modernisation efforts and future plans. However, issues regarded as ‘esoteric’ by the mainstream media in India are very rarely raised and explored. This was exactly the case on October 3, when not a single question was asked, for instance, about the IAF’s thinking and desired forcer posture regarding theatre missile defence (TMD), or about the fate of the An-32RE tactical transport aircraft upgrade, or about the IAF’s roadmap for the large-scale induction of various types of simulation systems and part-task trainers for both frontline combat/transport aircraft and helicopters, as well as those related to standoff precision-guided munitions (PGM). Nor did the CAS, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, bother to throw any light on such issues through his prepared narrative that was read out by him prior to the question-and-answer session.
Therefore, this is a honest effort by your’s truly to throw some light into the issues concerning the IAF’s desired TMD force posture, and future prospects for inducting into service an IAF-specific version of the LCA (Navy) Mk1 MRCA, along with the Rafale M-MRCA. But first, a few words about how the IAF failed on October 8 to undertake a successful perception management exercise. While the IAF has rightly touted its Su-30MKI heavy-MRCAs as being air-dominance platforms, this fact-of-life was totally missing in the IAF’s giant billboard that was displayed on the parade ground at Hindon on October 8. What was shown through an illustration was a Su-30MKI armed only with R-27R and R-77 BVRAAMs—no R-73Es, no Litening-2 LDP, and no PGMs.
This is inexplicable, given the fact that in successive Aero India and DEFEXPO expos since the previous decade, both HAL and BrahMos Aerospace have repeatedly displayed scale-models of the Su-30MKI armed with both AAMs and PGMs! So what prevents the IAF from showcasing similar exhibits? Your guess is as good as mine.
Though the IAF had decided to acquire TMD assets way back in 1996, it was the MoD-owned DRDO that first got into the act of proposing a homegrown solution, for which it initiated the development of the PAD/PDV family of exo-atmospheric interceptor missiles and AAD family of endo-atmospheric interceptor missiles. For target acquisition-cum-engagement, two EL/M-2080 ‘Green Pine’ active phased-array L-band long-range tracking radars (LRTR) were ordered in late 1998 from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), along with two THALES-built Master-A MFCRs, and a TMD simulation testbed from Israel’s Tadiran Electronic Systems.
The primary threats—both then and now—stemmed from the Pakistan Army’s 80 solid-fuelled single-stage M-11 (Hatf-3/Ghaznavi/CSS-7 Mod 1/DF-11) 280km-range TBMs that were inducted into service on February 22, 2004, and 60 liquid-fuelled single-stage Hatf-5/Ghauri-1/Nodong-1 IRBMs of North Korean origin, was inducted into service on January 8, 2003 under the 47 Missile Group of the Pakistan Army’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC). Presently, the Pakistan Army deploys two Missile Groups each of the Ghauri-1 and Ghaznavi (grouped under two separate Artillery Brigades, these being the Hyderabad-based Missile Brigade South comprising Missile Groups 25, 35 and 40; and the Sargodha-based Missile Brigade North comprising the 14, 28 and 47 Missile Groups).
During hostilities with India, all these missiles will be armed with conventional HE or FAE-based warheads. Each such Missile Group comprises 18 Ghaznavi TELs each with one ready-to-fire missile and two reloads, and 18 Ghauri-1 TELs each with two ready-to-fire missiles and two reloads. A Group can also be divided into three Batteries (with six Ghaznavi TELs and six missiles plus two reloads and six Ghauri-1 TELs with 12 missiles and 24 reloads). Presently, Batteries of the Ghauri-1 and Ghaznavi are deployed at Gujranwala, Okara, Mangla Multan, Jhang, Sonmiani, Quetta and Dera Nawab Shah.
Unfortunately, despite 19 years of R & D effort, the DRDO has to date been unable to even offer a fully functional TMD system, leave alone a networked TMD network. The main problem has been the DRDO’s inability to develop hypersonic interceptor missiles and their internally-mounted Ka-band active phased-array radars for terminal guidance. Only homegrown X-band and Ku-band radar seekers have been designed and tested without demonstrable success.
And that is precisely the reason why, two years ago, when a combined team from IAI and Russia’s JSC Almaz-Antey MSDB made an unsolicited presentation to the IAF on an improved version of the S-400 ‘Triumph’ LR-SAM (a generation ahead of what has been sold to China) that would make use of IAI’s latest EL/M-2090U UHF-band active phased-array LRTR, the IAF began making hectic plans for procuring such a system for TMD within the foreseeable future.
Presently, the S-400 makes use of four different types of supersonic endo-atmospheric interceptor missiles (top speed of 4.8km/second): the 40N6E, the 9M96E2, the 48N6E3 and the 48N6E2, all of which are armed with HE-fragmentation warheads. What Russia has proposed for the IAF are two HYPERSONIC missiles, the exo-atmospheric 77N6-N and the endo-atmospheric 77N6-NI, having top speeds of 7km/second and also being the first SAMs of Russian origin to possess INERT warheads, i.e. warheads that do not contain any explosives and instead, are ‘hittile’, meaning they will destroy inbound TBMs, IRBMs or MRBMs by sheer force of impact.
The most revolutionary element of the 77N6-N and the 77N6-NI hypersonic LR-SAMs will be their on-board nose-mounted, Ka-band millimeter-wave active phased-array radar seekers and their real-time discrimination algorithms required for fire-control and guidance of hit-to-kill interceptors. To this end, the radar seekers have been designed with a rigid mount and narrow beam to provide precise angle metric accuracy. The combination of metric accuracy, wide bandwidth, and high Doppler-resolution capabilities makes them excellent sensors for real-time discrimination, for they can provide extremely accurate identification-processing estimates of motion differences caused by mass imbalances on real and threat-like targets.
The 300-tonne EL/M-2090U ULTRA C-22 LRTR features an array of 22 UHF-band transmit-receive modules (TRM) in a single clustered unit that has been designed so that modules can be easily swapped. Using UHF, rather than the higher frequency bands, has particular application at long ranges since it suffers from less signal loss in the atmosphere. A discriminating innovation of the ELM-2090U is the digitisation of the signals at the TRM-level, which allows more flexibility in beam-forming and shaping. For TMD along a sectoral footprint, IAI has developed the EL/M-2090U’s ULTRA C-6 version, which has six TRM clusters. Each cluster can electronically steer its beam through +/-60 degrees in azimuth and across a 40-degree sector in elevation. In all cases, the array can be mechanically tilted through 30 degrees in elevation to provide a total elevation coverage of 70 degrees. The larger C-22 version comes mounted on a rail assembly that can be mechanically slewed through +/100 degrees to give 320-degree coverage.
As per the IAF’s projections, there exists a requirement for 12 Batteries of the S-400 (each Battery using four TELs each housing four cannister-encased LR-SAMs), plus 12 C-6 LRTRs and two C-22 LRTRs. In other words, as per the IAF’s appreciation, a total of 11 strategic sectors are required to be protected against inbound TBMs, IRBMs and MRBMs.
But does this all mean that the procurement of S-400 LR-SAMs is a foregone conclusion? Absolutely not. Significant questions still remain over the yet-to-be-demonstrated effectiveness of the hypersonic 77N6-N and the 77N6-NI missiles. In addition, a lot will depend on Russia’s ability/inability to ramp up series-production of such missiles over the next five years. Also, exercising the Russian option means that India will have to invest cost-prohibitive financial resources on deploying a network of space-based early-warning satellites, since Russia has diminished capacities in this arena. But most importantly, the US is not sitting by and let Russia and Israel have the cake and eat it as well. Since 2012, the US has been taking keen interest in India’s plans for acquiring exo-atmospheric/endo-atmospheric interceptor missiles, especially after the latter officially decided not to field a new generation of solid-fuelled tactical ballistic missiles—be they conventionally armed or nuclear-capable—for replacing the liquid-fuelled Prithvi-1 NLOS-BSMs of 1990s vintage. What this essentially meant, was that unlike Pakistan, India will not use ballistic missiles of any type that are conventionally armed, since such weapons have zero counter-force/counter-strike value. Pakistan, on the other hand, views conventionally armed ballistic missiles as weapons that can be employed as ‘terror weapons’ against civilian targets like large Indian cities as part of an effort to demoralise the civilian population residing in cities that are either India’s financial hubs, or technological hubs.
Therefore, if Pakistan wants to secure the deterrent value of its strategic WMD arsenals against an Indian TMD shield, it can only do so if it formally adopts a ‘no first-use’ doctrine with universal applicability, at least for its strategic WMD inventory, if not for the short-range TNWs that are presently intended for use only in battlefields within Pakistan. Whether Pakistan will be willing to, or forced into adopting such a posture following the forthcoming meeting between US President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Mohd Nawaz Sharif (slated for October 22), remains to be seen. Prior to this meeting, however, there will be a series of meetings held in Washington DC between the Pakistan Army’s COAS, Gen Raheel Sharif and his SPD Director-General on one hand, and their counterparts from the Pentagon.
If Pakistan decides against adopting the a ‘no first-use’ doctrine, then the US will have two policy options to act upon: firstly, degrade and diminish the credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear WMD assets by offering to supply India with the hypersonic (Mach 8.2) Theater High-Altitude Air-Defence (THAAD) TMD system that has been jointly developed by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon; and secondly, initiate contingency planning along with India, the UK, Afghanistan and possibly Iran, for physically confiscating or destroying Pakistan’s entire arsenal of nuclear WMDs.
It is in this light that one ought to view the symbolism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with the Chairperson of Lockheed Martin, Ms Marillyn Hewson, in New York on September 24, 2015. That India’s national security decision-makers will favour the THAAD over the S-400 is hardly in doubt, since they are already convinced about the superior performance parameters of the US-origin TMD solution. At the military-industrial level too, both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have already established their reputations in India as worthy industrial offsets partners and leading network-centric solutions providers. For instance, the systems integration software for the Indian Navy’s Gurgaon-based, Rs.452 crore state-of-the-art Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC), which was commissioned on November 23, was provided entirely by Raytheon, with the computing servers coming from CISCO. In future, the IMAC will morphe into the ‘nodal fusion centre’ of the Navy’s Rs.1,003 crore National Command Control Communications and Intelligence Network (NC3I).
For the IAF’s countrywide, quick-reaction TMD network too would such a ‘nodal fusion centre’ be required, along with the requirement for networking with the vast array of space-based early warning satellites that the US presently deploys. Therefore, if the IAF opts for the optimum TMD solution that makes use of THAAD, then India for sure will be required to ink the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA), which is the key to securing access to ballistic missile early warning alerts from the US Air Force Space Command’s satellite networks.
Next Thread: How & Why The IAF’s Force Structure Planning Process Went Awry 30 Years Ago