India’s defence ministry had 4 different departments to deal with the military matters of the nation. Recently a 5th department i.e. Department of Military Affairs (DMA) was created under the defence ministry. The DMA will deal with all three wings of armed force-Army, Navy & Air Force and will be headed by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who will act a single point military advisor to the defence minister. The post of CDS was recommended by the Kargil Review Committee in 1999 to bring about synergy in the armed forces. Last year General Bipin Rawat assumed the role of India’s first CDS. As the CDS, General Rawat in his first meeting, took the decision to form Air Defence Command for India.
Air defence means to protect the armed forces and their military assets from any kind of foreign aerial threat. Air defence has 4 subsets commonly referred to as DIID- Detection, Identification, Interception & Destruction. In the first step any form of likely aerial threat from helicopters, aircrafts, unmanned aerial vehicles, glide weapons, missiles etc are detected by means of radars, sensors, observers etc and then from its behaviour it is identified as friendly or hostile and finally for any hostile threats necessary tools and weapons are used to intercept and destroy the threat.
This interception has 3 layers-the outer one consists of combat aircrafts with air to air missiles, the next layer consists of surface to air guided weapons (SAWGs) and the innermost layer consists of anti aircraft artillery guns and weapons. In the current era of hybrid war integration of all kinetic and non kinetic tools of the armed forces has become a necessity for safeguarding a nation against any kind of threat. Use of missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles etc has become a common tactics to launch attacks on personnel of armed forces and to destroy military assets. In such a scenario all nations maintain proper and necessary defence mechanisms and tools to counter aerial threats and protect their sovereign territory against external aggression.
Air Defence Command (ADC) also known as Aerospace Defence System (ADS) is a common integrated air defence shield over land, air & water including the air defence resources of the three wings of the armed forces that will perform the function of identifying form of aerial threat to India and will help to take necessary action in order to counter the same.
Need for a Joint Air Defence System
The post of CDS was created in order to bring about an integration in the 3 wings of armed forces. Besides being the adviser to defence minister, CDS will play a significant role in ensuring optimum utilisation of budget, available resources, will bring about more synergy among the 3 wings, will strive for indigenisation of weapons and equipment and will help in increasing the efficiency of the armed forces.
The decision to create ADS was a step ahead in fulfilling the ideology of bringing about synergy among the services of Indian Military. At present all the 3 services maintain their individual air defence mechanism based on the demands in their respective fields. IAF maintains combat aircrafts and SAWGs, the Indian Navy has its own warships with close-in weapon systems, carrier launched fighter jets providing combat air patrol etc and Indian Army has its own SAWGs, Quick Reaction Surface to Air missiles, anti-aircraft guns, ground based Anti-Air Defence Corps etc. Besides these India also has Ballistic Missile Defence to thwart attacks by means of ballistic missiles. The 3 services have their own surveillance and radar system for detection and threat interception and these surveillance systems have been procured from different sources by the 3 services. This approach of maintaining individual air defence systems has the issue of overlapping in areas where there is presence of more than one wing of military and it also acts as an added burden on the expenditure from defence budget. ADS will help to finetune the system of early warning and will help in better and efficient interception and destruction of threat by integration of air defences of the 3 services. ADS will help in avoiding ‘fratricide’ during critical and heightened security conditions (The incident of accidental shooting down of India’s own Mi-17 helicopter at Budgam by Indian armed forces during the Balakot skirmish between India and Pakistan could have been easily avoided had better synergy existed between the forces).
Some issues have also been seen in matters pertaining to communication systems used for air defence by the forces however, IAF to a large extent has resolved this issue with the creation of Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) and it is working in a coordinated manner with Indian Army’s Akash Teer and Trigun naval system. The creation of a nodal air defence command will generate a comprehensive air picture with inputs from various types of data and voice inputs which will simplify access to data and will increase efficiency of air defence. Integration of equipment, systems, training, cutting out duplication etc. will conserve resources and help in achieving better output by effective utilisation of available budget. Lastly, India’s planned Functional Integration Model will have the advantage of clearly established chain of command for a particular function and will assist in smooth execution of any task. India already has an example of geographical integration model (Andaman and Nicobar Command) and functional integration model (Strategic Forces Command) and the planned model will strengthen the existing models and will bring about further integration.
Challenges in the Proposed Model of ADS
Though India’s approach for establishing ADS is laudable but the formation of ADS is not free from certain challenges. First, ADS will have function over the entire Indian territory including the territorial waters so it will require coordination form all users whether be it military or civil. This will be a complex task as regulating such huge and integrated structure is difficult. Second, at present even though both Navy and Army have their respective air defence systems but the main respondent in case of a aerial threat is IAF and it has the maximum responsibility to deal with aerial threats but the establishment of ADS as per the decision of CDS will mean a tri-service entity will assume major role in dealing with such issues. This will raise the issue of controlling authority i.e. whether the ADS will be controlled by CDS or will its responsibility be handed over to IAF. Third, the 3 wings of the armed forces maintain their own air defence systems which include sensors, radars, communication systems and other equipment. Due to this diversity existing at present it will be quite a challenging task to bring about integration in these systems which require technical process.
Another issue related to these combat support equipments is its controlling i.e. whether entire operational and administrative control of these will be shifted to ADS or will there be division in authority with ADS having either operational or administrative control and the parent service wing retaining the remaining control. In case if entire operational and administrative control is given to ADS then a issue will arise i.e. sub optimal use of multirole capable assets like the combat aircraft, Airborne Warning & Control System, Flight refuelling aircrafts etc and their confinement to only specific roles which will foil the aim to increase effectiveness through integration. And in case if there is division of administrative and operational control then it will lead to conflict of interests and collision among services and will complicate the functioning of these systems.
Lastly, the current model has the major issue of integration in the area of mission execution. In this the question arises about the responsibilities of the mobile elements in use for air defence that need to cross the national boundaries. If the mobile air defence elements that are used for protection of mobile combat elements are put under the purview of ADS then integration of ADS with the force commander of these elements will be difficult and hence complicating its regulation and functioning. With establishment of ADS the functioning of structures like the Joint Air Defence System will need to be modified in order to avoid any clash between the two.
The decision of forming Air Defence System taken by India’s first CDS General Bipin Rawat is a bold move towards bringing about a degree of integration among the 3 wings of the armed forces. General Rawat’s experience as the Chief of Army Staff combined with the unfortunate events like the February 2019-Pulwama attacks on military personnel & the accidental shooting down of Mi-17 helicopter at Budgam by Indian armed forces were the trigger factors for the decision of formation of ADS. The details of integration sought to be achieved have not yet been disclosed and the success or failure of this step will largely depend on the manner in which the ADS is structured. In the current global scenario and considering India’s tense ties with the neighbouring nations of Pakistan and China, it is essential that Indian armed forces act as a highly integrated unit and all the 3 services function in sync so that efficiency of the armed forces is increased and there is overall development of the armed forces in all fields like detection of threat, interception of threat, protection of the nation from any form of external or even internal aggression etc. ADS is test case and it will need proper and professional handling right from its base so that it fulfils its intended aim of effective resource utilisation, enhancement of operational efficiency and enhancement of overall integration among Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force.