Wednesday, May 29, 2024

India’s Air Defence In The New Age: Preparing For Drones, Jets & Stealth Tech Amid Evolving Threats

By Staff Correspondent

India faces a vast spectrum of aerial threats, from small and slow drones to highly manoeuvrable jets and missiles, which may arise in unconventional or conventional wars and even in peacetime, warns Doctor Dinesh Kumar Pandey, a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Airpower Studies (CAPS), stresses the ever-present danger. Adding to this complexity, he notes, are deceptive electronic countermeasures (ECM) often accompanying these threats.

Under the Union War Book terms, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is responsible for the nation’s comprehensive Air Defence (AD). According to Dr Pandey, this role involves implementing defensive strategies designed to neutralise or eradicate the efficiency of aerial missiles or aircraft used by adversaries. “In times of peace, the IAF is mandated to safeguard Indian airspace through a rigorous system of AD and airspace management,” Dr Pandey explained, “with a 24×7 365 days operational alert status to counter any potential threats or airspace violations.”

Elucidating the intricate nature of AD operations, leading defence analysts outlined the fundamental functions of an AD organisation. These include continuous monitoring and managing the Indian airspace, identifying aerial targets rapidly, intercepting and destroying hostile targets before they can reach vulnerable points or areas, providing radar assistance and close control to allied forces, and extending assistance to aircraft in emergencies or contingencies.

Several analysts emphasised that the IAF devotes substantial resources to this peacetime role, contributing to its high readiness level. This constant state of preparedness allows for a rapid and seamless transition to conflict when required. Furthermore, the air defence must adopt an offensive posture to deter aerial incursions, a need accentuated by the increasing number of threats posed by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

The radar technology at the heart of these operations uses radio waves to detect targets, including aircraft, satellites, guided missiles and drones. With several categories of radars in use, each provides a unique capability within the broader air defence ecosystem. “It’s crucial to understand that radar systems, as much as they are our frontline defence, do come with limitations,” a serving IAF officer who did not wish to be named warns. “These can range from technical failures and inherent design limitations to sensitivity to natural phenomena and maintenance requirements,” the IAF officer added.

Acknowledging these constraints, Dr Pandey advocates for continuous technology upgrades and integrating India’s radars with other sensors, systems and networks to create a comprehensive air picture. Diversification with different types of radars operating on different frequencies, he adds, could further bolster the resilience of the nation’s air defence system.

He also proposes that India revisit its aerial surveillance strategy, noting that recent advancements in digital technology and computing have made the design of highly efficient radar systems more feasible. This would be paramount in tackling the modern threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles, hypersonic weapons, and stealth technology.

Dr Pandey concluded his analysis to a close: “The current AD environment is integral to the IAF’s network-centric warfare strategy. As such, research and development efforts and modernisation of radar system hardware must be meticulously planned and implemented. This continuous evolution and adaptability are critical to ensuring our air defence system’s long-term effectiveness and resilience.”

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