Challenges to air defence | Sunday Observer

Challenges to air defence

5 September, 2021

An up-to-date, systematic and comprehensive air defence system should be a sine qa 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 of time, albeit 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 researchers was able to be noticed during the past two decades. It is also understood that the development and the utilisation 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.

It is undisputed 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 optimised for some specific tasks. A considerable number of countries have already substituted the manned aviation with unmanned aircraft systems which are relatively cheaper and smaller.

New offensive weapon

Meanwhile, the combat capabilities of light infantry in some countries have risen due to the weaponisation of small unmanned aircraft systems. Also, owing to the same reason, it was also able to provide the non-state actors with a new offensive weapon. Moreover, the potential of the unmanned aircraft systems in conducting not only the tactical but also the strategic attacks has been demonstrated by the employment of the unmanned aircraft systems in Syria by ISIS and the anti-Government forces as well as that of the attacks on the Saudi Arabian oil refinery facilities. As noted by the researchers on military aviation, the potential challenges, encountered by the air defence, resulting from the effective and skillful utilisation of unmanned swarms as part of an air as well as that of missile attacks by a state opponent or the attacks by the non-state actors on highly sensitive and critical infrastructure elements got highlighted by the swarm attack, launched against the terminal.

The effectiveness of the unmanned aircraft systems in the event of destructing the ground based defences in Libya, Syria and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been proven by the unmanned aircraft systems. It is notable that the direct threat to the air defences, posed by the unmanned aircraft systems has been highlighted by the conflicts that have erupted recently.

Either 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 observed some exciting and amazing instances, demonstrating the effectiveness of the attacks by the unmanned aircraft systems. It could also be argued that it is simply a mere preview of as to what would occur in the nearest future. It could further be argued that the proliferation of unmanned aircraft systems as well as that of the democratisation of access to this 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.

Suppression of enemy defences

It is also criticised that since the currently available air defence systems are optimised 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 handling of the targets within the battlefield.

Swarming could also be considered as standard tactics in the employment of drones where they have got the capacity of adding another layer of complexity to the process of air defence against them.

Meanwhile, the researchers said that the vulnerabilities of the air defences against the attacks made by the drones have been exposed by the unmanned aircraft systems. Albeit 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 strengthens the prominence of the survivability of the air defence systems against this 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 aircraft and missile attacks persistently exists 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.

Hard and soft techniques

The researchers said that with the 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 soft techniques to address the threats, posed by the drones.

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 capability of getting 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.