Tuesday, March 28th, 2023 20:23:32

Tiered Defence Putting the SAM in Perspective

Updated: April 5, 2017 12:16 pm

Around the late sixties, air threat was mainly prosecuted by the binary power of aircraft and helicopters; both fair-weather machines of first/second generation with such munitions as front guns and unguided bombs and rockets. On the other side, the Vulnerable Areas/Points (VAs/VPs) to be protected by GBADWS were limited and essentially required fair weather protection from the above said threat vehicles, largely executing their end game in the visual domain. The resultant trend was to deploy multiple rings of terminal AD guns around the vulnerabilities to be protected in the ‘point defence’ mode or go for ‘carpet layouts’ (increasing densities of guns) where the VA/VP was that critical. As time rolled, two dimensions of the air threat became increasingly visible. First was the multiplicity of air threat vehicles and the second was the exponential rise in their range and reach. In that, the erstwhile binary pair of aircraft and helicopters was joined by UAVs/UCAVs besides ASMs/Cruise  Missiles/ARMs and more. Also, as time rolled, the technology made possible quantum jump in all-weather capability, longer range, deep strike, precision and stand-off capabilities of the attackers. In short, the sting of severity and lethality in the air  threat vehicles got a paradigm upward shift over time.

Today, the era of the 21st century air combat prosecuted by the FGFAs (sixth generation not far) in growing concert with the dull, dirty and dangerous unmanned machines, (Manned and Un-Manned Teaming /MUM-T), all-weather, all-aspect stealth, nano-driven structurally lighter and stronger airframes with minimal Radar Cross Section (RCS), Common Data Links (CDL) providing seamless connectivity across dissimilar platforms, high survivability in hostile EW environment and armed to the teeth with precision arsenal, capable of taking out the proverbial ‘needle in the haystack’ from increasing stand-off ranges.

The Unenviable Defender

Faced with all the above and more, the air defence warrior has been through huge challenges. His side of the macro-picture developed as in the following paragraphs.

Over time, the sheer numbers of VAs/VPs saw a tremendous exponential rise, as more and more assets came under the ‘attack-able reach’ of constantly re-vamping air threat vehicles. It soon became impossible to protect each one of them in the ‘point defence’ mode. ‘Point defence’ as a concept not only proved impossible because of sheer growth in the number of VAs/VPs, but also, it proved totally ineffective in the face of all-weather, multiple platform, multiple-layer, multiple-arsenal air threat, delivered with needle-like precision at large stand-off ranges in the BVR domain.

The defenders realised that instead of point defence of VPs, the need was to create an area air defence capability on a theatre grid. Such an arrangement must be capable to detect the threat at long ranges and be capable of inflicting punishment through multiple GBAD weapons, in successive range-reach and altitude brackets from long to medium to short and terminal ranges.

From the above felt need, was born the concept of layered-and-tiered defence. The idea was to create a theatre-wide defence through long range, medium range and short range  SAMs, namely the LR (Long Range) SAMs, MR (Medium Range) SAMs and SR (Short Range) SAMs respectively creating overlapping arenas of range and altitude kill zones with seamless switching from one weapon system to other.

  • It also got established, unambiguously, that keeping the current and the futuristic air threat in mind, whatever may be the range and depth of SAMs that may be deployed at higher ranges and altitudes, the end game at the terminal end was most critical and needed to be executed with adequacy of weapons and modernity of arsenal. Also, since all VAs/VPs could not be given point defence, the ones given must be really protected. For this to happen, single weapon (implying guns alone) defence at terminal end was found to be highly inadequate.

The minimum required was a combination of guns and Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS), normally referred to as the gun missile mix.

  • In addition to the above, a special type of VPs that needed to be protected were the mobile mechanised assets operating in the Tactical Battle Area (TBA). These were specific to the field forces. For them, two other GBADWS types came in over time, namely, the AD Gun Missile Self-Propelled or ADGM (SP) and Quick Reaction – SAMs or QR-SAMs.
  • As technology advanced, the base concept of layered and tiered defence, comprising guns and SAMs duly supported by the state-of-the-art sensors and associated BMC-2 systems started to be networked across dissimilar systems evolving as a cumulative punch called the Integrated Air Defence System (IADS).

Clarifying the Reigning Confusion in the SAM Hierarchy

Having briefly placed the evolution story of the layered and tiered defence as a part of IADS in place, it is now possible to clear the cobwebs of confusion in AD SAMs. As constituents of the IADS, the SAM hierarchy are as under:


  • At the terminal end, forming the essential gun-missile mix are the VSHORADS. Man-portable, shoulder-fired (or fireable from a pedestal in combination of one/salvo), the typical ranges of such missiles are in the Range (R) of six to eight kilometres and Altitude (A) coverage of ten to three and a half kilometres.
  • A tri-service case for the procurement of VSHORADs to replace the vintage Igla 1M and Strela 2M system is in progress since 2010 (currently at re-trial stage). Three OEMs are in the fray – Russian (ROE) – Igla-S (NATO SA 24, heat-seeking fire-and-forget, R-6 km, A 4 km), SAAB – RBS70 NG (laser beam rider with integral IFF, R-8 km, A-5 km), MBDA – Mistral (heat-seeking fire-and-forget, R-6 km, A-4 km). A huge quantity of 5,500 to 6,000 missiles worth approx $1.5 billion1 is on order.
  • The delay in finalisation of this procurement case is holding up the realisation of the gun-missile mix combination at the terminal end as explained above.
  • The Diplomat (Asia Defence) quoting an MoD source reported on May 11, 2016, that India is likely to delay the S-400 Missile Defence System to execute other high priority cases namely, Rafale fighters ($8.9 billion), VSHORADs ($1.5 billion) and SRSAM ($1.5 billion). This is a welcome prioritisation as the crying need for VSHORADs cannot be overstated.2


  • Range and reach (implying altitude) wise, Short-Range SAMs (SRSAMs) are the next higher pedestal of GBADWS ahead of VSORADS providing short range area air defence cover as the next layer of defence in the area grid of the IADS.
  • A few things need to be noted about the SRSAM:
  1. Mobility of the system is not a critical “GO”/”NO GO” issue in case of SRSAMs since the assets being provided missile air defence cover by them are generally static or at best semi-mobile. For example, strategic Rear Area VAs/VPs or strategic choke points/bridges and bottlenecks et al.
  2. Another issue in mobility is that this must not be seen as a speed and acceleration matrix alone but as a function of power-to-weight ratio which the system brings. A huge system duly powered could be more mobile that a lighter underpowered system.
  3. SRSAMs generally range between three to fifteen kilometres and have an altitude cover from, say, 30 m to around five kilometres.
  • Akash (R 3 – 25 km, A 30 m – 20 km), Rafael Spyder (R 1 – 18 km, A 30 m – 9 km), SAAB BAMSE (R 3-15 km A 30 m – 5 km), ROE ToR M2K (R 1 – 15 km, A 10m-10km), MBDA VL MICA ( R >15 km, A 10m-9km), Thales VTK Mk1 (R 3-15 km, A 30m-5km) are the frontline SRSAMs, some ranging up, some down from the median perimeters.
  • It is well known that Army AD is in the process of procuring two Regiments of Akash SRSAM. (The author has had the proud privilege of commencing the induction of Akash SRSAM in the Army AD on May 05, 2015).3
  • In addition to the above, two Regiments of SRSAM are also being procured on the “Buy Global” route since April 2010. Three systems are in the competition namely, Rafael, ROE and SAAB with their products as mentioned above. Trials abroad have been completed and the case is at bid-opening stage. The case is multi-vendor and is in progress.4’5


  • In light of the conceptual content enumerated above, the reader will now be in a position to see a clear difference between the SRSAM and the QRSAM. The latter, as indicated above, is primarily meant for providing mobile area air defence cover to mechanised assets in the TBA.
  • Essentially, the QRSAM is different from SRSAM in the following three features:
  1. Comparatively light-weight and highly mobile weapon system capable of keeping pace with the mechanised elements being protected, in time and space.
  2. Capable of carrying out continuous search and tracking of aerial targets on the move.
  3. Capable of delivering fire immediately on halt.
  • The typical ranges of these weapons lie in the region of 20-30 km while the altitude bracket is generally between 30m-6km.
  • Rafael – Spyder, ROE – Pantsyr Gun-Missile System (R Gun 4 km, R Missile – 20 km, A – 30m-6km), besides systems from MBDA and IAI Israel are the reigning QRSAMs on the world stage today.
  • A procurement case for a limited number (not quoted) of QRSAM is moving on the Buy Global route since 2013. ROE and Rafael’s systems have been evaluated in the ‘trials abroad’ mode. Post-trial evaluation is in progress.6 Why such a weapon system is required even if SRSAMs such as Akash and others are available is because the assets to be protected are of a different type which demand weapon characteristics not possessed by SRSAMs.
  • On the indigenous front, BEL has reported good progress on the development of the indigenous QRSAM. Dr Kalaghatgi, Director – R&D, BEL, has reported in the open source on March 30, 2016, that the indigenous QRSAM is well on its way and should be a reality in the next two years. The sensors are currently under development, the truck-mounted QRSAM will have a better reach than Akash. This development, when completed, will address the requirement of QRSAMs. (Numbers not quoted).7
  • The place of QRSAM as a special weapons system for a distinct type of a VP can now be appreciated and distinguished from the SRSAM. In the same breath, the QRSAM’s terminal end younger brother ADGM (SP) can also be put into its place as a close-in weapon that accompanies the mechanised VAs/VPs and provides them AD cover at the terminal end.

MRSAM Tests in Perspective: The MRSAM in the Layered Matrix

Having built the layered and tiered matrix of the IADS thus far, it will be easy to see the place of MRSAM as the upper-end constituent of the grid-based area air defence system. The typical range of this weapon system lies in the range of 70-100 km and altitude bracket resides between 30m–20km.

Development of the MRSAM Case

  • Way back in the late nineties and as a part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) of the DRDO, the Akash was initially seen as the future MRSAM to replace the 1970’s vintage, Kvadrat SAM system (SAM-6) of the Army AD.
  • Since at that point in time, Akash development was facing glitches with associated time and cost overruns, a separate case for the MRSAM for the Army commenced in 2004, which later became bi-service with Indian Air Force (IAF) also joining. The case was moved on a Joint QR (JSQR).
  • The above procurement case did not make much headway due to multiple issues including the QR while the critical operational voids remained unaddressed.
  • When the above was unfolding, the DRDO in 2006, entered into a contract with IAI of Israel to jointly develop a Long Range SAM (LRSAM) for the Indian Navy (R – 500m-100km, A 0-16 km). (Quantum of Missiles and number of ships not quoted).8
  • The above said MRSAM procurement case for the Army and the IAF did not make headway. The Request For Proposal (RFP) issued by the Army in 2008 to five Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), namely, Thales, MBDA, Raytheon, ROE and Rafael had to be withdrawn in 2009 due to single vendor situation.
  • As time passed, first the IAF, then the Army got aligned for their MRSAM requirements on the DRDO-IAI arrangement, then in progress for the Navy’s LRSAM.
  • The contract for the MRSAM for the IAF was signed in 2009, while for the Army, it is in the pipeline for signing in the near future.
  • Currently, the DRDO-IAI Project is suffering time and cost overruns, in that the Naval LRSAMs were to be delivered by 2012, which has still not happened. A delay of four to six years is expected. Also, the IAF procurement is behind schedule by three to four years.

The following points are noteworthy:-

  • MRSAM per se, as the upper-end constituent of the layered and tiered IADS has remained a void ever since the concept has evolved. Consequently, the critical operational voids requiring MRSAM cover have remained unaddressed over the years.
  • The above voids got revised and updated by the Joint Services Study Group on GBADWS in 2009.
  • With the continuous revamping of the air threat, the need to cover these voids on our Northern and Western Borders has been increasing with passage of time.
  • Testing of Naval LRSAM version started from May 2010. Glitches in various parameters of LRSAM performance have been noticed from time to time. These are continuously been addressed in successive firing trials that have taken place in 2015 on November 10, November 26 and December 29.9


A Word about the SAMs Naval LRSAM

  • The Naval LRSAM is actually Barak-8 SAM in the inventory of IAI SAMs. Barak means ‘lightning’ in Hebrew. It has a two-stage smokeless, dual-pulsed rocket motor. The first motor propels the missiles up to the terminal phase when the second motor fires giving extra thrust in the kill game.
  • The missile has an active RF/IIR seeker for the end game providing it independence from ground radar illumination, as well as precision in the end-game.
  • It has thrust vector control providing it high manoeuverability and control during target interception.
  • The phased array Multi-Function Surveillance and Threat Assessment Radar (EL/M-2248 MFSTAR) provides 360-degree coverage on a two-way datalink on S band.
  • The missile is capable of simultaneously engaging multiple targets during saturation attacks.


  • As opposed to LRSAM, the MRSAM has a range of 70 km.
  • While the base characteristics of the system are the same, the RF seeker is reported to be of a generation higher.
  • Besides the above, the configuration of the system is suited to surface deployment in the field.

The Tests

  • Three consecutive launches of the MRSAM took place from ITR; two on June 30, 2016, and one on July 01, 2016.
  • The target (Meggit BTT-3 Banshee PTA) is a manoeuvring air-breathing target which roughly mimics a basic combat aircraft on the attack line.
  • All the three tests were successful as targets were destroyed in direct hits at various altitudes and ranges.

On Significance of the Tests

The significance of the above tests analysed from the overall perspective of the current state of Ground Based Air Defence is as under:

  • The current high rate of obsolescence of the GBADWS is well known (97+%). Concerted efforts are in hand to address the same by following a twin-track approach.
  • On the first track is an endeavour to sustain a nearly obsolete and a high vintage inventory wherein in most cases, the production lines by the OEMs have long closed down and the spares support has since dried up. Notable actions are the state-of-the-art up gradation of the mainstay guns (L 70 and ZU23) and the only existing AD (SP) Schilka weapon system. Besides upgrading a part of existing guns, a “Buy and Make Indian” case for the successor of current AD guns is also progressing. This is at RFP stage.
  • In addition to the above, a series of inductions in the top-of-the-line sensors have since taken place. These include the Low Level Light Weight Radar (LLLWR) for high altitudes and mountainous areas and the 3D Tactical Control Radar as Early Warning and Tactical Control Radar. Also, indigenous efforts are on to provide a degree of automation to the ADBMC2 system and integrate the same across service boundaries.
  • While the efforts on the first track are progressing at some pace, the ones on the second track which involve modernisation through the induction of state-of-the-art GBADWS, is suffering inordinate delays:
  1. The current VSHORAD case which started in October 2010, has been through repeated trials and re-trials. It is hoped that it reaches its finality now as the weapon system is critically needed for that very essential gun-missile mix at the terminal end. The open source information of imposing a delay in S-400 procurement for the higher priority VSHORAD (and others) is a welcome step.
  2. On the SRSAM front while the commencement of induction of Akash has been a most significant development promising a quantum jump in times to come, the SRSAM Global case with RFP in December 2011, needs to be quickly moved towards its fructification given the fact that the complete sequence of trials abroad has been completed. In this context, the decision of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on June 25, 2016, endorsing the multi-vendor procurement is significant.
  3. Similarly, the QRSAM case needs to move on two fronts. Firstly, the “Buy Global” case which started with the RFP in January 2013, must now be finalised given the fact that the trials abroad of the competing OEMs have since been completed.
  4. More importantly, all efforts must be put to get the indigenous product realised. The confidence shown by Director – R&D, BEL, Dr Kalaghatgi of realising the system in two years is welcome. Similarly, the ADGM (SP) case for close-in protection of mechanised VAs/VPs needs to be progressed. The case with the RFP in February 2013 has only reached the trials stage.

For MRSAM, the following points apply:

  • The MRSAM is the inescapable constituent of the layered and tiered matrix of the IADS.
  • The voids addressable by such an area air defence weapon system have remained unaddressed since 2004-2005.
  • The existing SAM-6 inventory of the Kvadrat Weapon System is well past its obsolescence. While that said, it is a professional tribute to the air defence warriors (and maintainers alike) to keep the weapon system operationally alive and ticking till date and achieving the designed SSKP and more, in firings year-on-year. What is true of Kvadrat is also true of the OSA-AK and Strela Weapon System held by the Army AD.
  • The above notwithstanding, the IAF’s MRSAM case has already been delayed by three to four years. The Army, in any case, would look for the quick realisation of its MRSAM post contract on a parallel delivery line alongside the IAF’s MRSAM and Navy’s LRSAM.
  • While the LRSAM tests are in progress since December 2010, MRSAM has had a first firing run on June 30-01 July 2016.

That the above tests have been a hat-trick of success indeed shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel for the air defence warriors in their unenviable quest to resuscitate and keep alive a vintage and obsolete inventory besides taking concrete steps to modernise the force through induction of state-of-the-art weapon systems. That is the significance of the MRSAM tests!


By Lt Gen VK Saxena     

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