- Air Defence of Pakistan
- Columnist IMRAN SHAH analyses the PAF’s defensive
- In the recent wars, we can
see an identical and regular pattern of air operations starting from
the suppression of air defences and attacks by stealth bombers and
cruise missiles to the final strikes and bombing. We shall try to
analyse these operations.
- We shall study both the air defence ground environment and the
role of air force.
- My previous article on the same topic was more about the
ground-based air defence whereas this article is focusing on air
defence by air force fighter jets and hence the main theme is air
superiority operations. Here
the main focus still remains the threat faced by Pakistan due to
relentless military build up across its eastern border.
- Air Superiority Operations
- Air superiority is the degree of dominance in the battle by the
air forces of one entity over another that permits the conduct of
operations by the former and its related land, sea and air forces at
a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the
opposing air force.
- At the outbreak of hostilities, the first battle shall be for air
superiority and outcome of this battle shall determine the fate of
battle on land and sea. It was the victory (or tough resistance) in
the Battle of the Britain by the Royal Air Force that Operation Sea
Lion had to be cancelled by Germany.
- Lets look at the some aspects of air superiority operations.
- In 1965 and 1971 wars, a large number of Indian Hunters were shot
down by PAF because some of our pilots had the prior experience of
flying the Hunters and thus were ready to face them in the war.
- In the present scenario, PAF needs to do air combat exercises with
Mig-29s of Iranian Air Force or Malaysian Air Force to gain
experience of combat with Mig-29s. Also, air combat exercises can be
done with the Su-27s and Su-30s of the Chinese Air Force (PLA Air
- Similarly, our Mirage-3/5s can be petted against the Mirage-2000s
of the UAE or France to have a solid understanding of the combat
between the two Mirage versions.
Indian Air Force recently did air combat exercises with
French Air Force Mirage 2000-5s and is also arranging air combat
exercises with US Air Force F-15Cs.
Exercises with French Air Force were conducted at Gwalior in
which Indians learned mainly about BVR (Beyond Visual Range) combat
and air-to-air refuelling.
- The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18 Hornets carried out
air combat exercises with the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF)
Mig-29 Fulcrums and the RAAF was forced to upgrade their Hornets.
- Su-30 has the endurance of chasing the hostile fighter up to its
air base as USAF P-51 Mustang fighter did in WW II over Germany. The
P-51 Mustang changed the whole scene of air combat over Europe.
Also the Mirage 2000s, Mig-27s and Jaguars have been fitted
with air-to-air refuelling adapters to be used in conjunction with
- Refuelling capability means that now Indian Air Force can shift
its fighters deep inside India and PAF shall have to conduct deep
strike missions to attack those air bases.
Deep strike mission means a long flight in the hostile
airspace and the apparent need for refuelling or conformal fuel
- How to deal with long endurance, high agility, eight to ten
air-to-air missiles, IRST system and Israeli ECM equipment of the
Su-30 is the task of the Combat Commanders School (CCS) of PAF like
the US Navy, which established Top Gun School during the Vietnam War
to train its pilots against fast and manoeuvrable Soviet fighters.
But dealing the Su-30 with the present capabilities will really be a
hard nut to crack.
- IAF Su-30s and Mig-29s shall try to stay out of 5-6 km envelope of
AIM-9L Sidewinder and the PAF F-16 and F-7P/PG fighters shall try to
close in for a kill with Sidewinders and gunfire. It is then
necessary to escape the first round of BVR (Beyond Visual Range)
missile shots. In a hilly terrain like Kashmir, the BVR missiles can
be avoided by taking the terrain cover and at the same time closing
in on the enemy.
- In the plane areas of Punjab, an effective and intelligent
electronic warfare system can be counter to BVR missiles and SAMs.
The AA-10 Alamo fitted on the Mig-29s may be easy to counter than
the latest AA-12 Adder missiles, which are also being fitted on the
Mig-21s and are also carried by Su-30. The advantage of BVR missiles
is that it puts the opponent in the defensive mood, even if it fails
to achieve a kill. Also the chaff reserves are somewhat expended
- Chaff reserves shall also be required to avoid SAMs and to avoid
BVR missile shots from pursuing fighters at the end of the mission.
At least 50 chaff cartridges should be fitted in the EW system of
the fighters. Velocity
of the chaff decreases rapidly as compared to that of the aircraft
and this relative velocity difference is used in the guidance
algorithms of various missiles. This problem is solved by towed
decoys, which move at the same speed as that of fighter aircraft.
- The threat of BVR missiles primarily comes from the Su-30s,
Mig-29s, Mirage-2000 and upgraded Mig-21s. Mig-23s don't have a good
BVR capability and old Mig-21s, Jaguars and Mig-27s don't have BVR
missile capability. Jaguars, Mig-27s and Mig-23s will be escorted by
Mig-29s and Su-30s. Mig-29s of IAF are primarily meant for air
superiority and air combats of F-16s and F-7s will be with Mig-29
escorts for the most of the time over the Pakistani territory
whereas F-16 and F-7 escorts shall face Su-30s, Mig-29s, Mig-23s,
Mig-21s and Mirage-2000s over the Indian territory. Both Mig-27s and
Mig-23s have variable-geometry wings that sweep back at high speed.
During close air combat, the sweep of the wings shall give an
indication of the speed of these fighters and the interceptor pilot
can use this information in selecting suitable tactics for achieving
- Also the rear quarter visibility (from the cockpit) of Mig-27 and
Mig-23 is not good and, therefore, a surprise attack from the rear
can be successful. Surprise attack requires that the fire control
radar of the interceptor should not appear on the Radar Warning
Receiver of the Migs or locking of target and then firing of missile
should take place in shortest possible time.
- Mig-29s and Su-30s are capable of performing Cobra manoeuvre and
executing tighter turns, which may enable them to shake off a
pursuing jet and then lock on the jet from his 6'O clock. In a
high-speed chase by a PAF fighter, this Cobra manoeuvre may provide
the Mig or Sukhoi pilot the chance for a missile shot, once the
chasing jet passes ahead. Energy fight will be a better option than
angles fight because then the advantage of high turn rates enjoyed
by Indian fighters will not be so effective.
Executing a tighter turn also decreases the speed of aircraft
and the defending pilots can exploit this point.
- In such conditions, the formation tactics can be more effective as
compared to one-versus-one combat. The combined tactics of F-86
Sabres with F-104 Starfighters in the air operations of 1965 is a
good example. Also the tactics used by Israeli Air Force in air
combat with the Russian pilots in 1973 Arab-Israeli War is a good
example. These tactics require the high availability of the fighter
aircraft. For fighting against a technologically superior aggressor,
nothing (or minimum) should be kept in reserve and full potential of
the fighter arm should be employed to inflict heavy losses on the
strike force of the aggressor.
- These tactics were employed without enemy AWACS, thus achieving
the element of surprise. For doing air combat in the presence of
enemy AWACS planes, technological superiority or equality seems to
be the only solution.
- Modern fighter jets rely on the HUD (Head Up Display) for aiming
and firing of weapons and also for navigation. If in the air combat
or during close support, the radar or HUD electronics are damaged,
then it becomes impossible to see the radar lock of the target and
subsequent release of weapons. At least gun and heat-seeking
missiles should be able to be operated even if the HUD symbology
disappears due to some fault or damage. Gun can be fired if there is
some gun sight arrangement as a back up and missiles can be fired by
arrangement as done in F-86 Sabres in 1965 and F-6s in 1971 war.
- An advantage of using these old methods (as back up) is the
surprise because the modern LCOS gun sights are visible on the RWR
of the bogey. F-22 Raptor is designed to achieve surprise because
not only its airframe is stealthy but also its radar is invisible on
the RWR of the bogey due to LPI (Low Probability of Intercept)
- Surveillance by Fighters
- A modern fighter jet can win the battle even if the ground radar
is jammed or destroyed because it carries its own radar. Thus the
pilot of a modern fighter jet has still got one eye if another is
lost. On the other
hand, SAMs and radar-controlled AAA shall become useless once their
radars are jammed or destroyed. A few modern fighters can do the job
of surveillance with their powerful radars out to 100-200 km
(depending on fighter type) until the ground radar is back in
- The jamming and destruction of radars will be a likely scenario in
any possible war and thus only one thing that can keep our flag high
is the modern high-tech fighter aircraft.
- Even if at some place the radar is not powerful enough to scan the
sky out to 300-400 km, the modern fighter can help solve this
problem. The fighters can provide extended coverage by operating at
the extreme range of the ground surveillance radar. If the radar
scans out to 300 km and the fighter out to 100 km, then an area out
to 400 km can be scanned and an early warning system can thus be
established for enhanced security in red alert times.
- In case of Indian Air Force, the long endurance of Su-30 gives
them the freedom to launch attacks on Pakistani targets from
unexpected directions. Only the modern fighters can intercept the
enemy from any direction, at any distance and at any altitude, once
vectored by radar.
- Night Interdictions
- During previous wars, the mobility of ground troops and
transportation of supplies was carried out in darkness at night to
avoid the threat of air attack at daytime. To the pilot of a modern
fighter jet, there is almost no difference in day or night due to
the availability of advanced radar system. Any stationary or moving
object on ground can easily be seen on the radar. Thus a modern
fighter can carry out ground strikes round the clock, severely
limiting the movement of troops.
- In the recent Operation Iraqi Freedom, the mobility of Iraqi
troops was severely limited due to the overwhelming coalition air
power. To counter this
threat of night interdictions, we need modern fighters with a strong
round the clock interception capability. Round the clock capability
is imparted by modern long-range multi-mode radar and advanced IRST
(Infra Red Search and Track) systems. Radar can be used at the start
of interception to know the initial bearing, range, speed and
heading of the enemy jets from a long range and then the pilot
should switch over to IRST system (like OSF system on Rafale or
PIRATE on Eurofighter) on a close range to achieve surprise. The OSF
system of Rafale also features an air-to-air laser range finder.
- Our interdiction fighters can also be caught in surprise inside
India by Indian interceptors using IRST system.
The surprise advantage of the IRST system can be negated if
our fighters are flying with ground radar cover. Ground radar shall
give timely warning of the approaching Indian fighters but this
cover will not be available inside India or at very low level.
- Only AWACS can provide long-range surveillance to our fighters
deep inside the hostile territory and also at low level, while
itself operating in the friendly airspace.
- Surface-to-Air Weapons
- All radar-directed anti-aircraft guns should be able to be
operated manually if the radar control is lost due to failure,
jamming or missile attack. For this purpose, the radar unit should
be placed at a safe distance from the gun. A combined gun/missile
system shall be more effective because if the pilot counters the
missile, the gun will shoot him down.
- If a SAM is fired on a fighter, then the pilot should make such
evasive manoeuvres that also increase its range from the missile
launcher. If the pilot makes tighter turns such that its range to
the missile launcher decreases, then the pilot shall face more
- The criteria for the selection of guided weapons (especially
surface-to-air) should be their guidance system. A guidance system
that is very difficult to jam or fool by counter-measures.
- Before inducting any new air defence system, it must be seen
whether the system is able to handle the cruise missile threat. The
ability of the present air defence systems to deal with cruise
missiles should also be analyzed. The AHEAD round in Oerlikon guns
can be very effective against cruise missiles. The quantity of the
Oerlikon guns should be increased. We can also expect the cruise
missiles to fly at low level in an area covered by air defences but
for the terminal guidance and subsequently hitting the target, the
cruise missile shall attain some height before the final impact on
- Defence against cruise missiles also works against aircraft but is
different from defence against ballistic missiles.
- One thing is crystal clear that the air defence network on ground
can function effectively and safely only if the air force is
supporting it and is there to provide the air cover. The SAMs and
guns cannot bear the whole burden of air attack; it must be shared
by the air force. A
clear example is of Iraq. In Operation Desert Storm, the whole Iraqi
air defence network of Russian SAMs was destroyed by Coalition air
power because Iraqi Air Force was unable to achieve air superiority.
In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the coalition air power was in complete
control of skies and Iraqi Air Force was completely out of the
- Every air defence system has its saturation limit and can't handle
more targets simultaneously than for which it is designed. Thus no
air defence system can stop a storm of hundreds of cruise missiles
or a shower of other air-to-surface missiles. Cruise missiles are
fired mostly from ships, ground launchers and bombers. An efficient
air force can disable or destroy any of these launch platforms.
Ships can be sunk or disabled by joint operation of the air force
fighters and naval submarines. Ground launchers of the missiles can
be destroyed by the joint operation of the air force fighters and
army gunship helicopters. Bombers and their escorts can be shot down
- Today the precision guided standoff weapons have made the task of
air defence more difficult. Air-to-ground weapons can be released on
the target outside the range of defending SAMs and guns. Thus only
an air force can foil the enemy's designs.
- Countering the Anti-Radiation Missile
- First, we discuss the possible methods of countering the threat of
ARM (Anti-Radiation Missile) and methods to keep the air defence
radars and SAM (Surface to Air Missile) sites functional.
- Redundant engagement radars for SAM sites and extra fire control
radars for radar-controlled AAA (Anti-Aircraft Artillery) should be
arranged in most sensitive areas. In case of anti-radiation missile
attack, the first radar will be destroyed. In a strike formation,
the first wave is always of air defence suppression, armed with ARMs.
- The SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences) and EW (Electronic
Warfare) planes shall try to jam or destroy the radars. They may
succeed in destroying the radars, even if the radars are shut down
just before the missile impact. The threat on the RWRs (Radar
Warning Receivers) of the strike formation shall disappear, allowing
them to continue the attack conveniently.
When the SEAD/EW formation is gone and the strike formation
is near to the target and well within the SAM envelope, the back up
radar should be brought into action immediately and a salvo of
missiles should be fired on it. But for the success of this
operation, the surveillance radar should remain intact. It shall be
better if the back-up radar can do both the functions of
surveillance and engagement. If SEAD planes are a part of strike
formation, then after the launch of up to four ARMs, the back up
radar should be brought into action because normally a fighter
carries two ARMs. Even if there are more ARMs available to the
strike formation, they can't be launched from a shorter range.
- The operators of the SAM units should be placed at a safe distance
from the radars. Laser
Warning Receivers (LWRs) should be fitted on the mobile vehicles of
the SAM units. LWR shall tell the crew whether they are under attack
of laser-guided precision munitions.
- Laser Radars (Ladar) can be used for the engagement of threats.
Anti-radiation missiles will also be not much effective
against Ladars. Furthermore, many fighter jets do not have the Laser
Warning Receivers (LWR), so the surprise will be there.
- A possible technique to fool the anti-radiation missile can be to
provide one or more false radar targets at some safe distance from
the actual radar. This distance should be determined by keeping in
view the destruct radius of the warhead of ARM. These false radars
can be extra transmitters that operate on the same frequency and
power as that of actual radar. Once the ARM is launched, the actual
radar can be switched off for some time and the missile shall
destroy the nearby decoy radar. This is especially useful against
Harpy anti-radar drones. Another option can be to keep the actual
radar and all other transmitters switched on, which shall cause
confusion for the missile in choosing the right target.
- All these tactics are sufficient for the current generation of
ARMs like AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) but the
future successor of HARM shall employ multi-senosr guidance, thus
complicating the job of a defender.
- Dealing with Stealth
- The black stealth bombers usually operate at night to avoid visual
detection in daylight. IR-guided SAMs may not be effective against
stealth bombers because of their low-IR signature and radar-guided
SAMs are already ineffective against them. The Kolchuga radar (kind
of passive radar) can be helpful in engaging the stealth bombers.
- The data on the bomber's bearing and range can be obtained from a
passive radar. But if the stealth bomber does not make any radar or
radio emissions and receives target data from another source like
the E-8 Joint STARS (Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System),
then it will create problem for the defenders.
- AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) is usually used for
the detection of airborne targets and Joint STARS for the ground
high-value assets like JSTARS, AWACS and AARs (Air-to-Air Refuellers)
should be the prime targets. The BVR missile capability with modern
fighters is also needed to shoot down these high-value assets, which
usually operate at a safe distance with escorts.
- Stealth bombers use laser-guided and IIR-guided air-to-ground
bombs and missiles. IIR-guided munitions can be confused by
"infra-red decoys" or "infra-red suppression".
Stealth bombers like B-2 Spirit usually carry 2,000lb
laser-guided bombs and these bombs can be delivered from a height of
- Stealth bomber can't be seen on radar but its 2,000lb bomb can be
seen on the radar, once released from the internal weapon bay.
If at the start of the war, one or two small blips appear on
the radar screen from nowhere, then a stealth bomber has delivered
its bombs and thus its tentative location can be calculated.
Interceptors on the combat air patrol should be vectored to this
approximate location. As
infrared emissions can't be suppressed completely, a sensitive IRST
system in the interceptor shall be able to locate the bomber from a
close distance and then a short-range missile with a most sensitive
seeker shall accomplish the impossible mission.
- Also when the stealth bomber opens its internal weapons bay for
the release of weapons, its doors can be detected on the radar
because the bomber is not stealth from the inside.
- Defending the Air Bases
- The stealth bombers, cruise and ballistic missiles can be used to
disable the runways and other facilities of the air bases in the
start of the war. Indian Air Force can also launch missile attacks
on our forward air bases using SS-250 Prithvi ballistic missiles. We
must ensure that our air bases remain operational. The use of
motorway is a good option but at least a temporary camouflaged
refuelling, rearming (only air to air armament) and light
maintenance facility should be established on the motorway for its
effective use in war and exercise days.
- All alternate arrangements should be done and planned for the take
off and landing of warplanes in case the runway is disabled. If the
runway of a particular air base is disabled then air cover from
another nearby air base should be provided till the runway of the
former air base have been repaired.
- For air defence purpose, an area of at least 30 km radius should
be made No Fly Zone around a strategic site. The radius of this area
should be determined by considering the range of standoff
air-to-surface guided missiles and bombs carried by strike
formation. In fact both Mig-27s and Mirage-2000Hs of IAF have been
modified to carry Litening targeting pod, enabling them to stay
outside the target defences.
- Traps should be prepared for the enemy attack aircraft like a
dummy F-16, which shall invite enemy jets into the trap. The dummy
F-16 should be surrounded by a heavily concentrated anti-aircraft
fire, positioned in such a way to ensure the kill. But these guns
should also provide coverage to the surrounding area.
- Mirages and Super-7s
- PAF has inducted a large number of Mirages. Instead of always
going for Mirage-3/5, PAF should have considered the induction of
new or used Mirage F-1s. Mirage
F-1 has superior rate of climb, superior manoeuvrability, greater
range, lower landing speeds and shorter landing and take-off runs
than Mirage-3 or Mirage-5. Mirage
F-1C was fitted with Atar 9K-50 and Mirage F-1E was fitted with M53
engine instead of old Atar engine, giving it a far superior
performance than Mirage-3/5.
- The Super-7 is a joint project with China but still its radar,
powerplant, avionics and weapons shall have to be procured from
other sources. Although design and development of just airframe is
not a big accomplishment, but it is certainly a step towards
valuable experience from this project shall be the integration of
various systems and technologies.
- China is itself procuring hi-tech fighters from Russia and has
acquired Su-27SK and Su-30MK fighters from Russia to counter the
Taiwan's hi-tech F-16C and Mirage 2000-5 fighters.
- Super-7 can be used to replace the oldest Mirage squadrons but it
can't fulfil the requirement of a new fourth generation fighter to
fill the technological gap. Super-7 does not seem to be in the class
of Rafale, Eurofighter, F-16C Block 50+, F/A-18 Super Hornet,
- Mig-29SMT, Su-30MK and Su-35/37 Super Flankers.
- Recently a news item reported that Pakistan might get F-16s.
Even if the USA agrees to deliver F-16s, they should not be
accepted just with AIM-9L/M Sidewinders.
These are missiles that make kills and fighter is just a
platform for releasing them. These
aircraft should be at least F-16C Block 50/52 with AIM-9X
Sidewinders, AIM-120C AMRAAMs, AGM-88C HARMs and AGM-154 (A,B,C)
JSOWs. Other weapons include GBU-15s (with TV and Flir cameras),
AGM-130s, BLU-109s, CBU-87/97s, AGM-65Gs, GBU-24s (Paveway-3
series), Sniper targeting pods and latest ECM equipment.
- The best deal shall be for the F-16C Block 60 with conformal fuel
tanks and internal FLIRS (Forward Looking Infra Red Sensors) for
night attacks. But who shall ensure a smooth supply of spares for
aircraft and its weapon systems?
- Selection and training of fighter pilots
- Only those candidates should be selected for GD(P) who have a
strong fighter flying aptitude.
Enthusiasm for air warfare is more crucial than medical
fitness. Even cadets from the PAF College, Sargodha and Lower Topa
should not be selected without checking their interest in air
warfare. Anyone interested in fighter flying and air warfare shall
search and study any available literature on that topic.
- In this computer age, we also have a lot of realistic flight
simulators available in the market and an interested guy shall
certainly try them and learn a lot from these simulators.
Therefore, real interest in fighter flying can be judged by
assessing the knowledge of a candidate about various fighter planes
(at least of PAF) if not about air operations.
Lackadaisical pilots perform better only in the peacetime.
- Even the recognition of various fighter aircraft is impossible
without interest. Without interest, a pilot would not be able to
recognize fighter planes even after many years of service and with
interest even a youngster would identify various fighters, bombers,
trainers, cargo and passenger planes.
- Fighter pilots must recognize all military aircaft of the world
and this skill is essential for avoiding fratricide in close combat.
Apart from recognition, only an interested person shall know and
remember the performance limits of various fighter aircraft and
characteristics of their weapon systems.
- Advanced training in various air operations like air defence
suppression, interception, interdiction, close air support, escort
and anti-ship missions should be conducted more frequently so that
the ratio of highly skilled pilots (Top Guns) can be increased.
- Night air operations over different terrains like mountains, seas,
deserts, plains and plateaus should also be conducted by the
night-capable squadrons. Night air-to-ground operations can be
conducted only by those fighters that have modern avionics and radar
system with air-to-ground radar modes and terrain-following
- Night interceptions are also important because Indian Air Force
can switch to heavy night operations if it meets tough resistance
from PAF in daytime, so we must be prepared.
- Su-30MKIs, Jaguars, Mirage 2000s and Mig-27s shall be
used for round-the-clock strikes and our F-16s, F-7P/PGs and
upgraded Mirages for round-the-clock interceptions.