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How India’s aerial defence repels attacks

Apr 20, 2024 10:04 AM IST

India's air defence capabilities are under scrutiny after Israel's interception of Iranian missiles. The country is enhancing its arsenal with new systems.

The interception of hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones Iran fired at Israel on April 13 demonstrated the robustness of the latter’s multilayered air defence network, and has also put the spotlight on how well India is prepared to defend itself from aerial threats, the existing weapons in its arsenal, and plans to enhance capabilities with new systems.

The interception of Iranian missiles by Israeli defence network has put a spotlight on how well India is prepared to defend itself. (AP)
The interception of Iranian missiles by Israeli defence network has put a spotlight on how well India is prepared to defend itself. (AP)

The latest flare-up of tensions on Friday saw Israel retaliating against the Iranian attack. Reports said Iran had activated its air defence system to protect itself from the expected retaliatory strike.

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From developing ballistic missile defence (BMD) capabilities to intercept long-range missiles to deploying the S-400 air defence missile systems and fielding medium-range surface-to-air missile (MRSAM) systems developed jointly with Israel to indigenous weapons such as Akash and Samar; the Indian armed forces have a variety of systems capable of destroying aerial threats, including enemy missiles, fighter jets, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles at different ranges, officials aware of the matter said on Friday.

Read Here: Two Air India planes flew over Iran airspace a few hours before Israel attack

The other air defence weapons in the Indian arsenal include the Israeli SpyDer, Soviet-origin systems such as Pechora, OSA-AK, Tunguska, Strela and Shilka, Zu-23-2B anti-aircraft guns, upgraded L-70 anti-aircraft guns (a legacy weapon manufactured by Swedish arms firm Bofors AB), and the Igla MANPADS (man-portable air defence system), the officials said, asking not to be named.

The S-400 is the latest missile system to be acquired by India. It ordered five S-400 missile systems from Russia for 39,000 crore in October 2018. The S-400 comes with a mix of radars and missiles that allow it to knock down threats at various height and range bands, with the maximum range being 400km.

India has made significant advances in developing endo-atmospheric and exo-atmospheric intercept systems to destroy incoming hostile missiles within and outside the atmospheric limits respectively. The two systems have been integrated for a multilayered defence against ballistic missiles. In November 2022, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully tested for the first time a long-range interceptor missile, called AD-1, designed for both exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric interception of ballistic missiles.

The country is developing an indigenous long-range surface-to-air missile system under DRDO’s Project Kusha. It will have a maximum range of 350km, and is expected to be deployed in around five years.

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DRDO has also developed the indigenous very short-range air defence system (VSHORADS). It is a man-portable air defence system that can handle low altitude aerial threats at short ranges.

Recent conflicts and developments, including the Russia-Ukraine war, the Israel-Hamas conflict, the missile and drone attacks in and around the Red Sea, and the April 13 Iranian attack have shown that having a robust air defence architecture is critical, said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), the former director general of the Centre for Air Power Studies.

The air defence weapon systems in the Israeli arsenal include the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Patriot and Arrow. Much of the focus was on the Iron Dome system, first deployed by Israel in 2011 to intercept rocket salvos fired by Hamas and protect its cities. It consists of detection and tracking radars, control stations calculating the likely impact points, and launchers for interceptor missiles to take down the threat.

India has a range of weapons that can create air defence bubbles around vital areas or installations and the deployment of these systems is dynamic based on the threat perception, Chopra said.

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“India is doing well in surface-to-air missiles and radars. But there is a need to accelerate the design, development and production of indigenous air defence systems to cover a country as large as India,” Chopra added. The countries that helped Israel defend against the Iranian attack involving more than 300 missiles and drones included the US, the UK,France and Jordan. The air defence weapon systems in the Israeli arsenal include the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Patriot and Arrow.

India is focused on strengthening its air defence capabilities.

On March 1, in a big push for the ongoing self-reliance drive in the defence manufacturing sector, the defence ministry signed five contracts worth 39,125 crore, including two with Larsen & Toubro for close-in weapon systems (CIWS) worth 7,668.82 crore and high-power radars (HPR) with advanced surveillance features for 5,700 crore to boost air defence capabilities.

CIWS is planned for deployments at various locations across India to protect vital assets from all types of low-flying, low-signature aerial threats, including unmanned aerial vehicles. It consists of air defence guns, tracking radars and search radars linked to a command and control station.

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HPR will replace existing long-range radars of the Indian Air Force with modern active aperture phased array radars with advanced surveillance features. It will enhance the terrestrial air defence capabilities of IAF with integration of sophisticated sensors capable of detection of small radar cross section targets. It will be the first of its kind radar built by the private sector in India.

In early April, the Indian Army began the induction of the indigenous Akashteer system to boost its air defence capabilities. The automated air defence control and reporting system will allow the army’s air defence units to operate in an integrated manner.

The development came almost a year after the defence ministry signed a 1,982-crore contract with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to sharpen the army’s air defence capabilities with the new system.

It will enable the army to monitor low-level airspace over battle areas and effectively control the ground-based air defence weapon systems. It will enhance the operational efficiency and integration of the army’s air defence mechanisms by digitising the entire process.

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