Air defence is one of the important factors for national security of a country. In a world where even terrorist organizations have lethal missiles, rouge countries with nuclear missiles an effective air defence system becomes a necessity. When it comes to airspace defence, the main focus is on ground based air defence systems. In this blog I will discuss India's air-defence program and its future.

In 2020, after General Bipin Rawat took the charge as first Chief of Defence Stuff ( CDS ) of Indian armed forces there are major strategic changes in India’s armed forces strategies and policies. India is preparing for hybrid warfare. India’s Air Defence Command ( ADD ) will be a tri-service organization consisting of elements from both army, navy and air force. Currently, it is in the planning phase and can be delayed due to Covid-19 pandemic.

But beside proxy war against Pakistan based terror groups, currently, India is battling against Pakistan in a fifth generation, non-kinetic non-contact warfare. It’s basically a propaganda driven information warfare. Social media is now used as a weapon. Unfortunately most of the times the so-called educated ( semi-secular ‘libarendu’ ) people do not confirm proper facts from reliable sources and just believe any social media post and forward the news. This may seem a small improper act, but imagine, if collectively billions of people share the same fake news, then not only looks real but also it could cause huge damage to the nation ( If you want to make a false statement true speak it thousand times ).

I shall try to discuss it in detail in another blog. Currently, let’s focus on air defence system. At first, I shall discuss why India needs a multilayer air defence system.

Why does India need a multilayer air defence system ?

To understand this we need to first understand what kind of threats are we facing now? We can divide the threats in four categories. Those are :

  1. Ballistic missiles
  2. Cruise missiles
  3. Aircrafts/ Fighter jets/ UCAV/ UAV
  4. Micro UAV

The first three systems can carry huge amounts of both conventional as well as nuclear warheads, but they are completely different systems. A ballistic missile can travel higher distances in a very short time as it goes above the atmosphere and comes back with gravity assistance; although, this affects its maneuverability. Ballistic systems are not very accurate but it can cause huge damage, whereas, a cruise system remains inside the atmosphere and can be used as both tactical as well as strategic weapon as they are very accurate.

On the other hand fighter jets/ UCAV/ UAV are very agile; high maneuverability and stealth makes them hard to intercept by surface to air missiles which are developed to intercept ballistic missiles. Micro UAV is a new kind of threat. It came to notice that micro uavs are used as both domestic and cross border international crimes and terrorism.

As the threats are different, the air defence system to nutralise them are also different. Because there is no air defence system in the world which can neutralize every threat with 100 % success. Generally for a good air defence system the probability of interception is around 90 - 99 %. That’s why we need a multilayer air defence system for different categories.

Multi-layer air defence system

Although it is said that India is going to use a four layer air defence system, I personally do not think that it will just consist of four layers. It will be more than a four layer system and more complex than it looks. First, let's look at the the major four layer air defense system, then I shall discuss other systems and what will be future of Indian air defence system.

Layer 1 :

For the first layer short range surface-to-air missile defence system is needed. The surface to air missile should be agile and fast, that is reaction time should be very less and should have the capability to detect, track and engage multiple targets at the same time. For the protection of this layer, India is working on three systems. Theses are :

  1. NASAMS II : The National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System - II ( NASAMS - II ) is jointly developed by Raytheon and Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace. This is a medium-to-long range air defence system. A NASAMS - II battery consists of eight AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel F1 Sentinel ( X band ) high-resolution 3D pencil beam surveillance radar, one fire control centre, one electro-optical camera vehicle ( MSP500 ), one Tactical Control Cell ( TCC ) vehicle and twelve missile launchers each one carrying six AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles.

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    NASAMS II air defence system ( courtesy : )

    The system has an expected maximum horizontal range of 15 - 25 km depending on the AMRAAM missile type and can engage 72 targets simultaneously. The primary role of the system is to defend the airspace against a variety of threats like fighter jets, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles ( UAV ) commonly known as drones and cruise missiles. I am unable to find the maximum vertical range and minimum effetive range of the system.

    This system is used by seven countries currently including USA. NASAMS - II is deployed to defend White House. This system will be used to defend Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore like cities in India.

  2. SPYDER : SPYDER or Surface-to-Air Python and Derby is a short and medium range air defence system developed jointly by Rafael advanced defence system ltd. and Isreali Aerospace Industry ( IAI ). There are four variants of this system available - SPYDER SR ( Short Range ), SPYDER ER ( Extended Range ), SPYDER MR ( Medium Range ) and SPYDER LR ( Long Range ). India already uses this air defence system, but it is not available on public platform which version is used by India. According to me India uses either both SPYDER SR/ER and SPYDER MR or SPYDER SR/ER system.

    One SPYDER battery includes one truck mounted Command and Control Unit ( CCU ), 3-6 missile firing unit ( MFU ) with embedded toplite EO sensor, a Missile Supply Vehicle ( MSV ) and a Field Service Vehicle ( FSV ). SPYDER SR/ER uses Elta EL/M 2106 ATAR 3D surveillance radar with the CCU. On the other hand, SPYDER MR/LR uses IAI/Elta MF STAR surveillance radar in a separate truck which can combine information from the surveillance radar with upper tier CCUs within a 100 km range.

    This system can intercept a wide variety of targets like fighter aircraft, helicopters, UAVs/drones, Precision-Guided Munitions ( PGM ), artillery, cruise missiles etc. It uses two different missiles for short range interception PYTHON 5 dual waveband imaging infra - red ( IIR ) missiles and for medium range interception Beyond Visual Range ( BVR ) I - DERBY missiles are used.

    The SPYDER SR / ER 360 degree slunt launching provides low level quick reaction lock-on-before and lock-on-after interception. The SPYDER SR has a range of 15+ km whereas SPYDER MR has a range of 35+ km.

  3. QR-SAM : QR-SAM or Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile system, developed by Defence Research & Development Laboratory ( DRDL ), is an all weather short range quick reaction air defence system. This system is still under development and not much details are available on public platforms till now.

    It is a canister based missile defence system so requires less maintenance, as per the reports released, each battery consist of one regiment level surveillance radar with a range of 90 km, one battery surveillance radar with a range of 120 km, one multifunction radar to track and lock the threat with a range of 80 km and four truck mounted missile systems each of them carrying six canistered missiles. These radars are mounted on a truck and can carry out surveillance on move. The quick reaction missile can be fired from a truck or armoured vehicle as soon as the vehicle stops moving.

    This missile defence system is a supplement of Israeli SPYDER system. This is a highly mobile, all weather, all terrain air defence system mainly designed to protect regiments on the move. This can be used as both the first layer and last layer of defence. Although, it is mainly designed for Indian Army, DRDO is working on developing both Air force and Navy version to neutralize low altitude cruise and sea skimming missile threats. It is expected to be inducted in service in Indian Army in 2021.

Layer 2 :

Now comes the second layer of defence. We can call it a medium to intermediate range air defence system. Here two well known missile defence systems will be used. First one is Akash airdenence and another is MR-SAM/ BARAK air defence system. The range of layer 2 is considered to be 25 - 100 km approximately.

  1. Akash : Akash is a very famous medium range air defence system used by both Indian Army and Indian Air Force developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation ( DRDO ). Each battery consists of one truck mounted Rajendra PESA- Battery Level Radar ( BLR ) and four self propelled Launchers each carrying three missiles.

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    Akash air defence system

    I will not talk about this system in detail, because it will be replaced by an upgraded Akash - NG ( Next Generation ) system. Currently not much details are out about Akash - NG on public platforms, but it is expected to secure 40-60 km mid tier airspace and will be equipped with latest navigation & guidance systems with latest AESA radar.

    Current Akash system has 88 % Single Shot Kill Probability ( SSKP ) which means if a single missile is fired towards a threat, there is 88 % probability that it will hit the target. But Akash - NG will have a SSKP of 98 %. There is a chance that Artificial Intelligence ( AI ) will be used in Akash-NG systems to make it more effective and efficient.

  2. MR-SAM / BARAK : MR-SAM or Medium Range Surface to Air Missile defence system is an army version of BARAK-8 naval air defence system. I shall talk about this system in datil later in this blog.

Layer 3 :

The third layer will be primarily defended by the famous Russian S-400 air defence system. S-400 is considered as the best air defence system in the world of its category. With S-400 India is also working on XR-SAM missile defence system. Let’s discuss these systems in detail.

  1. S-400 : The S-400 Triumf, NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler is a mobile, all weather, all terrain, surface-to-air ( SAM ) missile system designed by Russia's Almaz Central Design Bureau. It is capable of engaging aircraft, UAVs, cruise missiles, and has a terminal ballistic missile defense capability. It is thought to be the best air defence system in the world till date.

    India has signed a ₹40,000 INR ( $US 5.43 billion ) deal with Russia to procure five batteries of S-400 system. Each battery of S-400 consists of a 55K6E mobile Command and Control Post ( CCP ) on Ural-532301, a 91N6E Big Bird acquisition and battle management radar, a 92N6E Grave Stone engagement and fire control radar, upto twelve launchers each carrying four missiles of different kinds, an optional 96L6E all altitude 3D acquisition radar and a mobile mast system.

    The S-400 system has a maximum horizontal range of 400 km and maximum altitude range is 30 km ( according to some sources 35 km ). Its radars can detect threats upto 600 km and can intercept aircrafts upto 250 km and cruise missiles upto 120 km. Its anti-stealth zone ( where fifth gen stealth aircrafts loses its stealthiness ) starts at a distance of 150 km approximately. It is thought to be the only air-defence system that can engage almost all kinds of threats successfully

  2. XR-SAM : XR-SAM or Extended Range Surface-to-Air Missile will be an alternative to the S-400 system as India is trying to be self-reliant in developing and manufacturing cutting-edge air-defence systems.

    “The IAF has projected a requirement to induct Long Range Surface to Air Missile System to neutralise Aircraft at Extended Ranges of 250km, Sea Skimming Anti-Ship Missiles, AWACS at ranges of 350km, stealth fighters and ballistic missile in the terminal stage. The entire system shall be designed for transportability. IAF has accepted the configuration,” said DRDO on its official website.

Layer 4 :

The final layer will consist of India’s own ballistic missile defence system. India has successfully developed a two tier ballistic missile defence system capable of engaging Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles ( IRBM ) with a range of 5000 kms. The missile defence system consists of many elements; but out of them four major elements are Prithvi Air Defence ( PAD ) missile, Advanced Air Defence ( AAD ) missile, Swordfish Radar and satellite for missile detection. I will discuss the first three systems here.

  • Prithvi Air Defence ( PAD ) : The Prithvi missiles are a two stage missile capable of incepting exo-atmospheric ballistic missiles at a maximum altitude of 80-100 kms. The first stage is a Solid fuelled motor while the second stage is Liquid fuelled. For its guidance system it uses an inertial navigation system with mid-course updates from Long Range Tracking Radar ( LRTR ) and active radar homing in the terminal phase.

  • Advance Air Defence ( AAD ) : The AAD missile is an interceptor missile capable of engaging ballistic missiles in the endo-atmospheric region at a maximum altitude of 30 kms. It supports inertial navigation system ( INS ), mid-course updates from ground-based radar and active radar homing in the terminal phase. According to former DRDO chief Dr V K Saraswat, "Our studies have indicated that this AAD will be able to handle a cruise missile intercept", stated in an interview.

  • Swordfish Radar : One of the most important components of Indian Ballistic Missile Defence program is Swordfish Long Range Tracking Radar ( LRTR ). It is an Active Electronically Scanned Array ( AESA ) radar that can detect a threat at a distance upto 2000 kms and can track a target at a distance upto 600 kms. I shall not go into much details about it as DRDO is working on upgrading the radar.

These are the four major layers of the air defence system. But there are other elements that are very important to discuss. Now, I shall discuss about those systems one by one and it will make clear why India needs one single tri-service air defence command.

  • ASAT Missile : In 2019 India successfully tested an anti-satellite missile by destroying a satellite at an altitude of 300 kms above sea level with a hit-to-kill vehicle. According to DRDO scientists although it looks like a Prithvi Defence Vehicle ( PDV ), it is a completely new missile with new technologies and it intercept a satellite at an maximum alttude upto 1000 km above sea level. Although it is an anti-space weapon, it gives India the ability to intercept Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles ( ICBM ) and intermediate range missiles at its terminal and ascending phase. This technology demonstrator will be a game changer in the future.

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    Indian anti-satellite missile ( Mission Shakti )

  • BARAK : Barak-8 is a long-range anti-air and anti-missile naval defence system being developed jointly by Israel Aerospace Industries ( IAI ) and the Defence Research & Development Organisation ( DRDO ) of India. It is one of the best naval air defence systems available in the market. Its land based version is also available which is known as MR-SAM as discussed earlier. Here we will talk about its naval version which is operational.

    BARAK-8 is capable of intercepting sea-skimming supersonic anti-ship missiles with great accuracy as well as high altitude targets. It is also capable of intercepting aircrafts, UAVs and even ballistic missiles. Its features include vertical launcher with 360 degree coverage, two way data-link with active Radio Frequency ( RF ) seeker for low RCS target, dual pulse smokeless propulsion system with a multiple target engagement capability.

    The Barak 8 has a length of about 4.5 meters, a diameter of 0.225 meters at missile body, and 0.54 meters at the booster stage, a wingspan of 0.94 meters and weighs 275 kg including a 60 kg warhead which detonates at proximity. The missile has a maximum speed of Mach 2 with a maximum operational range of 70 km. There is an upgraded version of the BARAK system known as BARAK-ER which has a range of 150 km. It can be used as both point as well as area defence system.

  • VSOHRAD : VSHORAD or Very Short Range Air Defence system is a man portable very short and quick reaction air defence system used by Indian Army. India has chosen Russian IGLA-S system fielded by Rosoboronexport. VSOHRAD system is used to engage targets like tactical aircraft, helicopters, UAVs and cruise missiles in visible range. It will be the last line of defence for battle troops.

  • Air Defence Guns : Although air-defence guns are old technology but they are still effective and reliable point defence system. There are several air defence guns used by the three armed forces as well as coast guards like Indian Army uses 9K22 Tunguska, ZSU-23-4M 'Shilka' self propelled anti-aircraft artillery, ZSU-23-2 and Bofors 40 mm anti aircraft artillery guns.

    For navy AK-203 and recently AK-603 are being used. India is also in touch with Russia to develop a truck mounted version of AK-603 weapon system for Indian Army. These air defence guns are used for multiple purposes including offensive purposes and act as the last layer of defence.

  • KALI : KALI or Kilo Ampere Linear Injector is a very secret weapon of India developed by DRDO and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre ( BARC ). It is a directed energy weapon. Unlike laser weapon it is "Single Shot Pulsed Gigawatt Electron Accelerators".

    KALI – 5000 system is designed to produce electron pulses of about 100 ns with an energy of about 1 MeV, current 40 kA and a power of 40 GW. This Relativistic Electron Beams ( REB ) thus generated will be used for the generation of High Power Microwaves ( HPM ) & Flash X Rays ( FXR ). The Microwave radiations emitted by the KALI-5000 are in the 3–5 GHz Range.

    Directed energy weapons, like laser weapons, will replace all short range missile defence systems, short range offensive systems as well as surface to air systems including anti-space weapons. Kali is not a laser weapon, it directs a high energy electromagnetic wave pulse that destroys all electronic circuits in its path.

    Although, Government of India has refused to give any information to media about it, it is thought to be better than laser weapons. According to scientists, the KALI is a much more effective weapon compared to a laser weapons because a laser weapon will bore holes to destroy other missiles, which will take time. The KALI completely destroys missiles and satellites, but without drilling holes, which is much faster.


These are the systems which India is trying to use. Although I am unable to discuss all the systems because that will make this blog huge ( although already it became a huge one ) and information about all the systems are not available on public platforms. As I said earlier that, although, the media is saying that, India is developing its four layer air defence shield, it will not be a four layer air defence shield. Now you know why. It will consist of more layers and it will be more complex.

For successful air defence, the coordination between three armed forces as well as civil aircraft authority is very important. The tri-service Air Defence Command will integrate all the resources available with the army, navy and air force and form a very effective and efficient air defence shield on India. Jai Hind !!

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