Challenges to air defence systems | Sunday Observer

Challenges to air defence systems

8 August, 2021

An up-to-date, systematic and comprehensive air defence system should be a sine qua non reality in any country; no matter whether they are experiencing the bitterness of a war or enjoying the true spirit of peacetime.

It is widely known that for a considerable period, unmanned aircraft systems have been used in combat operations, their ubiquitous deployment in a wide range of reconnaissance, surveillance and strike tasks as noted by military aviation experts was able to be noticed notably during the past two decades.

It is also understood that the development and the use of the unmanned aircraft systems is strengthened by the dynamic development and proliferation of the emerging technologies where the same has given rise to their availability not only to the giant military powers but also to the relatively smaller countries as well as the non-state actors.

At present, it is an undisputed fact that the unmanned aerial vehicles have got the potential of providing a wide and vast Spectrum of platforms, possessing endurance of different types, altitude and flight speed or being multi-role or optimized for some specific tasks. Most interesting, it is noted that a considerable number of countries have already substituted manned aviation notably with unmanned aircraft systems which are relatively cheaper and smaller.

Meanwhile, the combat capabilities of light infantry in some countries have risen due to the weaponization of small unmanned aircraft systems. And also, owing to the very same reason, it was also able to provide the non-state actors with a new offensive weapon.

In the world context, the potential of unmanned aircraft systems to conduct not only tactical but also strategic attacks has been demonstrated by the employment of unmanned aircraft systems in Syria by the ISIS and anti-government forces as well as the attacks on the Saudi Arabian oil refinery facilities.


As pointed out by military aviation experts, the potential challenges, encountered by the air defence, resulting from the effective and skillful utilization of unmanned swarms as part of an air as well as that of missile attacks by a state opponent or the attacks by non-state actors on highly sensitive and critical infrastructure elements was highlighted by the swarm attack, launched against the terminal.

The effectiveness of the unmanned aircraft systems in destroying the ground based defences in Libya, Syria and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been proved by the unmanned aircraft systems. In that light, it is quite notable that the direct threat to the air defences, posed by the unmanned aircraft systems has been clearly highlighted by the conflicts that erupted recently. The trend observed during the recent years could be treated as a harbinger of challenges, engulfed with the air defences that are expected to dominate the coming decade.

Researchers have also observed some exciting and amazing instances, demonstrating the effectiveness of the attacks by the unmanned aircraft systems. Meanwhile, it could also be argued that it is simply a mere preview of what would occur in the very nearest future.

It could further be argued that the proliferation of unmanned aircraft systems as well as that of the democratization of the access to this very specific and significant capability illustrates the fact that the drones may be considered as a weapon of choice for a broader range of both state and non-state actors.

In the meantime, it is also criticized that since the currently available air defence systems are optimized generally for conventional manned air threats, defending against the attacks by the drones has been rather problematic. Defending against the attacks on the targets with strategic significance has been fruitfully handled by the unmanned aircraft systems which bear testimony to their potential in the event of the suppression of the enemy defences as well as that of the handlings of the targets within the battlefield.


At the same juncture, swarming could also be considered as standard tactics in the employment of drones where they have the capacity of adding another layer of complexity to the process of air defence against them. Meanwhile, researchers declare that the vulnerabilities of the existing air defences against the attacks done by the drones have been exposed by the unmanned aircraft systems.

The conflicts that devastated the peaceful living of some countries in the recent past demonstrate a considerable number of instances of successfully executed attacks against ground based air defences, the air bases, air surveillance and control systems may also get attacked by the unmanned aircraft systems.

This particular fact strengthens the prominence of the survivability of the air defence systems against this specific emerging threat as well as that of the unmanned aircraft system’s potential role in the cohort of counter air operations.

Provided that the conventional threat of manned aircrafts and missile attacks persistently exist in their present form, a considerable degree of current air defences will remain relevant. However, additional surveillance assets as well as that of the effectors, committed to arrest the threats of unmanned aircraft systems will be required by the air defence systems in the near future.

Since the costs of prospective small unmanned aircraft systems will be rather low, it would be crucial for the affordability of anti-drone defence. The researchers declare that with the ever growing potential to launch drone attacks from within a certain territory which is protected by an air defence system, it is highlighted that there involves a tremendous requirement to reinforce point and terminal air defences that combine the hard as well as that of the soft techniques to address the threats, posed by the drones.

As further noted by the researchers, the eruption of the confrontation between air defences and the unmanned aircraft systems has apparently during the recent decades given favour to the attacking side. However, no doubt remains that the air defences will have the capacity and ability to get adapted and adjusted to the situation, shifting the balance back to an equilibrium, while becoming more efficient and effective against the attacks by the drones and similarly becoming more capable of being less vulnerable to their attacks.