Concern over large gaps in airspace security

November 30, 2015

The Hindu

What will happen if an enemy nation, or a terrorist organisation, were to fire a missile at an Indian city or a naval ship? The simple answer: There is no guarantee that India’s air defence systems would be able to detect them and launch a counter-attack to shoot it down before it wreaks havoc on targets.

The vulnerability of Indian cities and other strategic assets have been exercising military planners for long. Their efforts to develop a robust air defence network received a major boost with the first successful test of the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), jointly developed by India and Israel, from an Israeli warship on Thursday. The test came just a few days after the November 22 successful interception off Orissa by an Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile of a dummy incoming ballistic missile.

However, officials point out that given the large airspace, there still remain significant gaps in the air defence network and most systems in service, largely old Russian ones, are in urgent need of replacement. While efforts have been on for over a decade to procure new systems or develop them indigenously or in collaboration, most of them have been repeatedly delayed due to time and cost overruns.

Air defence networks are meant to detect, track and shoot down incoming enemy aircraft, missiles or drones. So how does a typical air defence system function? Any incoming hostile target is first detected by long-range radars connected to the SAM system and once the threat is identified and its trajectory determined, the long-range missiles are fired. For instance, if an incoming missile moves in beyond the range of a long-range missile, it is engaged with medium-range missiles. As the last resort if the missile is in close proximity, man-portable systems and shoulder-fired missiles like Igla are fired along with anti-aircraft guns. At the moment, upgrade and replacement programmes are in the pipeline in every single category among the three services.

“Yes we do have an air defence network but there are very serious gaps in them,” a retired senior air force officer, involved in India’s efforts with Israel to develop the LR-SAM for the Navy and medium range SAMs (MR-SAM) for the air force told The Hindu

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