Three Decades of Status Quo
Army Air Defence (AAD) is holding systems of varying vintage ranging from 49-year-old (L70 gun) to the youngest being 17-year-old (Tangushka). However, majority of the remaining guns and missiles are more than two decades old. Considering the vintage, the
Army Air Defence (AAD) is holding systems of varying vintage ranging from 49-year-old (L70 gun) to the youngest being 17-year-old (Tangushka).
ARMY AIR DEFENCE (AAD) is an important component of modern warfare. The air threat is developing at a very fast rate with better aeronautics, avionics and armament. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have added another dimension to the threat which started with reconnaissance and surveillance, and has manifested into armed platforms. The employment of cruise and ballistic missiles make adversaries’ airpower formidable. The security environment in India’s neighbourhood is always on a dangerous threshold and a short fuse, amply clear by the recent incident on the line of control (LoC) in spite of the ceasefire being in force; thus it is necessary to modernise the Army on a regular basis.
Current AD Scenario
AAD is holding systems of varying vintage ranging from 49-year-old (L70 gun) to the youngest being 17-year-old (Tangushka). However, majority of the remaining guns and missiles are more than two decades old. The technology, especially in the field of ammunition, missiles, sensors and active seekers has advanced very rapidly, thus it is necessary to upgrade and replace the existing AD weapon systems at least every 15-20 years, so that they remain current. Apart from the aspect of obsolescence, there is a factor of shelf life of ammunition and missiles which effects their lethality, accuracy and safety. Considering the vintage, the current AAD picture is rather dismal when reviewed system by system.
L/70 Gun system: L/70 is the mainstay of AAD and has been the warhorse of AAD since 1964. It was to be replaced but there is no progress. The Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) development effort also kept its replacement at a limb for about two decades. Not many gun systems are currently available but a possible choice was Skyshield of Rheinmetall AD but unfortunately the company has been blacklisted by India. Thus there is no hope even in the distant future for a successor system. Even if a gun is shortlisted, it may take at least five years for the delivery to start. Notionally, if 10 regiments have to be provided with the new guns then at the rate of one regiment per year, it will take 10 years to equip all the 10 regiments provided there is no spill over. That takes it to 2028 and if the gun remains current for even three decades, the time frame will be 2058. It is most unlikely that the current guns and ammunition will be able to counter the airpower of 2058. Fortunately, the introduction of radio fuse has increased the lethality of L70 manifold, but it is scaled at only 25 per cent of the total authorisation. It will thus be cost effective to increase the scaling to at least 50 per cent which will increase lethality. It may also be prudent to live with the present system if no replacement is possible in a reasonable time frame and the gun is replaced with a suitable missile system in the future. L70 is also being upgraded with electric power lay and electro-optical sighting system. The electro-optical sighting system is superfluous as it already has fire control radar which is much superior to the proposed system.
23mm Twin gun: This is a fair weather gun system which is more than three decades old. However, its rate of firing is very good (2,000 rounds per minute). It is suitable for mobile role and employment in the mountains. It is being upgraded with a power lay and electro-optical sighting system which will enhance its capability manifold and also provide it with night-firing capability. The upgradation should be implemented at the earliest.
Apart from the aspect of obsolescence, there is a factor of shelf life of ammunition and missiles which effects their lethality, accuracy and safety
Schilka System: It is a highly mobile system for supporting armour formations and is in service since the early 1970s. Its successor was Tangushka, one regiment of which was procured, but there were many twist and turns for buying additional mounts. The result is that the AAD is stuck with limited equipment which is obsolete and difficult to maintain. The upgradation has been carried out with a new more powerful engine, digital computer, better electro-optical sighting system and a new fire control radar. The four barrel 23mm gun with a rate of fire of 3,400 rounds per minute has been retained and there is a provision for firing shoulderfired missiles. The process should be speeded up for equipping selected regiments with the upgraded mounts. Meanwhile, possibilities should be explored for induction of a better system through ‘Make and Buy’ or ‘joint venture’ route.
Quick Reaction SAM (QRSAM) system: The current system is OSA-AK which is a highly mobile system for the air defence of armour formations. This system is more than 20 years old and needs to be replaced. DRDO’s effort to develop Trishul system did not succeed and a RFP has been issued twice. Hopefully, the current RFP will be taken to its logical conclusion.
Medium-Range SAM (MRSAM) system: Kvadrat is the current system which is more than 35 years old and has the technology of early 1960s, thus a RFP has been issued but later on withdrawn due to poor response. As DRDO’s Akash has not been found suitable for mobile role, a few regiments of Akash have been contracted for semi-static role. Meanwhile, DRDO has signed a MoU with Israel for the joint development of a missile system of about 70 km. It is meant for Army, Navy and the Air Force. Meanwhile, in the interim phase, the AAD may explore the possibility of importing a few regiments of Patriot Advance Capability-3 (PAC-3) from the US through the FMS route. PAC-3 is the obvious choice as it is war proven; has hit-to-kill technology; can engage aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, cruise and tactical ballistic missiles. It is also deployed with many nations including the US.
Shoulder-fired surface-to-air (SAM)
systems: The current system is Igla which is also in service with the Indian Navy and the Air Force. A tri-service request for proposal (RFP) was issued and comparative trials have been carried out. It is understood that many systems were tried out including Saab’s RBS70-NG. The results are awaited.
During the last two Republic Day parades, there has been no AAD equipment on display as there is nothing new to show—a telling comment on the modernisation of AAD.
Tangushka self-propelled air defense system
Patriot Advance Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile