Integrated Air Defence Command Indian Context

Sub Title : The challenges and the way forward for the IADC

Issues Details : Vol 14 Issue 2 May – Jun 2020

Author : Lt Gen Ram Pratap, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd)

Page No. : 40

Category : Military Affairs

: June 1, 2020

At present the perception of air defence is different in all three Services. There is a need to identify the commonalities and overlaps and integrate assets of the three Services and assign the responsibility of air defence of the nation to a single commander. The raising of an Integrated Air Defence Command will facilitate this. However, there are challenges which must be appropriately addressed to arrive at a balanced and optimal solution


The year began with a major change at the apex level in the Armed Forces with the appointment of the first ‘Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) on 01 Jan 2020. On his first day in the office, the CDS instructed that an Integrated Air Defence Command (IADC) be created, integrating the air defence resources of all the three Services under one authority, in a time bound manner. On the face of it, it seems to be a simple exercise as this is not for the first time that an Integrated Military Command is being raised in the country. We already have the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC).

The ANC is based on the ‘Geographical Integration’ model, while the SFC is established on the ‘Functional Integration’ model. The IADC would entail operational control of all the air defence resources of the nation by a single entity, this makes the task of setting up the IADC a complex one.

Background and Existing Setup

The history of air defence operations in the Indian context dates back to late 1930s wherein the Army with its air defence guns was responsible for close air defence of critical assets on land including strategic/coastal assets and airfields while the air force used its aircraft to thwart enemy air ingress. Air defence was primarily focussed against offensive actions by enemy aircraft. The concept did not undergo a major change despite the Air Force getting some Surface to Air Missile (SAM) Squadrons in 1970s – 1980s. Air defence guns of the Army continued to be deployed for terminal defence of airfields at the cost of denuding air defence cover to its own critical assets in Tactical Battle Area (TBA). The said employment philosophy continued to be followed during the operations of 1962, 1965, 1971 as also in Operation Vijay and Operation Parakaram. However, with time the nature and types of air threat increased manifold, accordingly the variety of targets to be engaged by Land Based Air Defence Weapons (LBADWs) such as (SAMs) and air defence guns increased substantially.

Until about 1993, there was no single agency responsible for air defence of the nation and each Service had its role clearly demarcated for air defence operations. While air to air combat against all enemy air intrusions, in general, was the domain of the Air Force, the air defence of critical assets was entrusted to the Army, including the terminal defence of Air Force critical assets. For this reason, the Army holds far more LBADWs as compared to Air Force.Notwithstanding the above, in 1993 a clause was inserted in the Union War Book of India which states “The Air Defence of the Country is the responsibility of Indian Air Force”.

The perception of air defence is different in all three Services. The primary concern of Air Force with respect to air defence is limited to protection of its airfields and its critical assets. These airfields are generally located well inside Indian Territory; accordingly, Air Force has deployed multi-tiered air defence to intercept the enemy well before the delivery of payload. This includes interceptor aircraft, variety of SAMs and air defence guns. Though the aircraft and SAMs are air force assets and are controlled by respective Air Force Commands, the deployment of air defence guns at airfields continues to be an Army task. To facilitate its air defence operations, the Air Force has a well-established network of early warning (EW) radars (for medium and high level) supported by a robust communication system with adequate redundancies. Inputs from these radars are collated at the highest level and then disseminated downwards as the Air Force visualises surveillance, air defence weapons and control & reporting as three separate independent verticals of air defence which converge at the top at Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS).

Since the beginning, the LBADWs of the Army were mostly deployed for defence of airfields and strategic assets in depth and coastal assets, as highlighted above. Therefore, the field formations of the Army operating in TBA had limited or no air defence cover. However, with advancement in air power, as also in air defence weapon technologies, it was realised that the air defence of field formations in TBA could be a major battle winning factor and thus it was considered appropriate to have integral air defence resources with the ground forces in TBA as well. The Army has accordingly been equipped with variety of LBADWs to include SAMs, gun-missile systems and guns, with adequate mobility and ruggedisation to perform their operational role in TBA. These LBADWs are an integral part of the field formations and are employed as such.

Unlike the air defence of airfields, the air defence units of the Army operate at the forefront, strung across TBA, with the area of operations extending into enemy territory. As compared to a well-established and secure air defence system at airfields, the air defence operations in TBA are conducted in a difficult environment, dictated by fluidity and unpredictability of operations on ground. There is no tiered air defence and terrain plays a major role. Further, most ingressing aerial threats have to cross over the TBA. Low level air threats from sudden emergence of hostile aerial targets with very limited reaction time is the norm of the day. Accordingly, low level surveillance radars are integral part of an air defence fire unit. Unlike Air Force, the inputs from these radars are collated at the lowest level and sent upward for dissemination / interrogation.

The air defence operations of Navy at sea are way different from Army and Air Force since they are platform centric. Most of the warships have their own air defence weapon systems to include SAMs and guns, while the carriers also have interceptor aircraft. The integration of air defence assets of Navy with Army and Air Force is therefore only limited to the shore based air def assets /resources of Navy.

The present arrangement of air defence operations, a task performed by all three services differently, is therefore not an optimum solution. There is a need to identify the commonalities and overlaps and integrate assets of the three Services and assign the responsibility of air defence of the nation to a single commander. The focus needs to be on enhancing operational effectiveness and efficiency capitalising on the core competency of each Service. There is also a need to nominate a single agency which can perform both the functions of Air Defence and Air Space Control over India.

Challenges: Integrated Air Defence Command

There will be multifarious challenges in creation of the IADC, which will become responsible for the entire air space over Indian Territory including territorial waters. These are enumerated below: –

  • Naval platforms have to exercise operational control over their air defence assets once they are deployed beyond coastal air defence systems, hence, these may have to continue to operate independently in spite of an IADC being there. Similarly, the army will require considerable freedom of action in the TBA.
  • In view of multiple airspace users, control by a single agency is of paramount importance so as to achieve synergy amongst all air space users. The primary concern being that the aerial threat must get neutralized well before delivery of its payload / munitions, whilst ensuring that there is no fratricide. This calls for centralised control. However, quick response, especially in the case of drones/RPAs including those flown by non- state actors from within the Indian territory will require decentralized execution with automated response by LBADWs. This creates a dichotomy as far as the aspect of centralized control is concerned.
  • Control of the entire airspace by the IADC will of necessity include all non-military aerial platforms. Therefore, integration will have to go beyond the three Services and include the MHA and civil aviation.
  • The defence services presently use different communication protocols. There will be a need to harmonise the same as the most vital aspect of integration is the need for a real time, robust network with adequate redundancy. Any delay in passing of control orders and sharing of Recognized Air Situation Picture (RASP) may lead to a catastrophe. This should be shared down to the lowest level. With the focus on interoperability, the C&R architecture must be open ended with emphasis on protocol sharing, a standard norm all over the world today.
  • Different types LBADWs have to be employed to take on different type of targets. This entails an optimum mix of semi- static / mobile, long / short range and cost effective air defence systems. Presently there are voids in our inventory, both due to equipment types and the legacy equipment that we continue to hold. These need to be identified and filled.

Way Forward

To have optimal integration, it should be ensured that all the available resources (surveillance, networks and weapon systems) with the three Services are optimally integrated and utilised to create gap free surveillance and air defence cover grids. Functional integration amongst the three Services seems to be the most pragmatic way of raising IADC in the Indian context. This too should be executed in a phased manner so as to cause minimum turbulence. In addition to the three Services, assets of Coast Guard, MHA and civil aviation and other national assets should also be integrated to IADC to address air defence challenges during peace time. Issues which promote operational integration should be addressed in the initial phase and the rest can follow in subsequent phases (s). The following issues need to be addressed in the initial phase: –

  • Integration. For success of IADC, integration will have to go beyond the three Services. Coast Guard, MHA and civil aviation will have to be integrated in the setup. HQ IADC at the top must be unified with representation of the three Services, the lower level structures at various levels also need to be joint.
  • C&R and Networks. Real time and robust Control and Reporting are the backbone for any efficient air defence system. A common / integrated network for passage of RASP in real time, shared amongst the three Services is the need of the hour. This network should be automated, secure and with adequate redundancy. The first step for the three Services should be to graduate to such a network for functional efficacy of IADC.
  • Flow of Information. RASP should be passed down to the designated LBADWs, to thwart aerial threats. There should be uninterrupted and real time flow of information in the vertical, horizontal and lateral domains in a plug and play mode with adequate redundancy and security. Requisite data links for communications and network operations should be catered for.
  • Resource Integration. For the system to function effectively the resources (RASP, networks, sensors, aircraft, BMD and LBADWs) of all the stakeholders will have to be optimally integrated. Resource allocation and deployment may vary depending on Peace/NWNP or the prevalent operational scenario.
  • IFF (Identification of Friend or Foe). To avoid any fratricide, use of common IFF equipment is imperative. All aerial platforms and LBADWS should have a standard IFF which should be interoperable.
  • Air Defence in TBA. Land forces in TBA and beyond the IB will be witnessing low level threats from varied platforms including Armed Attack Helicopters (AAH). Reliable and functional C & R and communications in the given scenario will be a challenge. Decentralised control will have to be resorted to thwart any aerial threat in absence of appropriate control orders/ RASP. Air defence assets in the range of at least up to 100 km must be dedicatedly integrated in the TBA. Air defence will be most effective when the TBA has its dedicated assets.
  • Operational Affiliation. Operational affiliation with offensive and defensive field formations is of paramount importance for a successful air defence battle in TBA. Joint training and exercises during peace time with affiliated formations is a must to ensure effective air defence in the fog of war.
  • Cross Staffing and Manning. In order to achieve integration and jointness in its true sense the organizational structures under IADC should be adequately represented by members of all the stake holders at appropriate levels. Manning of LBADWs should be as per domain specialization and competencies of the respective Service. The HQ IADC should be purple, unified at the top as a single entity with adequate jointness at lower levels. Other issues, as listed below, may be integrated in a subsequent phase subject to progress of integration on the issues stated above :-
  • Training, Logistics, Repair and Maintenance. The core issue of a common training curriculum / infrastructure and courses will have to be addressed at the earliest. Simultaneously a common logistics and maintenance set up for LBADWs needs to be undertaken.
  • Operational Philosophy. This facet will dictate the type and number of LBADWs that would have to be deployed for effective air defence protection of critical assets. There is a need of developing common processes, procedures and protocols for execution of air defence operations.
  • Procurement and Budgeting. This will flow out of the operational philosophy of IADC. The type of air defence equipment that has to be procured by the three Services, Coast Guard and MHA to ensure maximum protection to critical assets will have to be identified. Further, at some stage budgeting for procurement of air defence equipment should come under IADC. The procurement will have to be prioritized based on the op necessity vis a vis the financial envelope available to IADC

In Conclusion

Implementation of the long overdue IADC should be holistic. We should follow a model which suits us in terms of maximum operational dividends. It would be counterproductive to follow templates of other countries. However, for effective integration the process should be very deliberate, factoring core competencies, limitations and concerns of all the stake holders. It needs to be accomplished with caution in a phased manner without causing any major turbulence in the existing set up. Execution is the key, therefore a clear road map drawn by air defence professionals with deep understanding followed by close monitoring over a sufficiently long period will pay true dividends.