Balancing Fiscal Realities and Technological Imperatives: Pakistan’s Air Defence Ambition

The progression of the Comprehensive Layered Integrated Air Defence highlights the Pakistan Army's view of air defence as a vital component of its strategic foresight, meriting increased allocation of resources

By Girish Linganna

Opinion

In January, the Pakistan Army carried out a drill to evaluate its air defence capabilities. The exercise, which was publicised by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR)—the media wing of Pakistan’s armed forces—involved the firing tests of a range of their surface-to-air missile systems. These systems, which include the “HIMADS,” “LOMADS,” “E-SHORAD,” and “SHORAD,” were all put through their paces to assess their operational performance.

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These surface-to-air missiles collectively establish the Pakistan Army’s “Comprehensive Layered Integrated Air Defence” (CLIAD) network. The CLIAD initiative is the culmination of a ten-year effort by the Pakistan Army to develop a robust and layered ground-based air defence framework.

This system allows for an effective allocation and control of missile resources throughout the military structure, ranging from the Corps to the Brigade level. This development marks a notable advancement from the previous reliance on mostly man-portable air defence systems like the ANZA series that were predominantly in use until the 2010s.

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This strategic move was motivated by the need to counteract increasing threats from adversary close air support (CAS) operations, and airborne attacks targeting armoured units, infantry, and artillery. It also aimed at enhancing the maneuverability of ground forces, reducing their dependence on the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) for engaging and neutralising hostile aircraft, as well as conducting strikes at extended ranges. To achieve greater self-reliance in long-range engagement, the Army is actively working on developing its own capabilities in standoff weapons (SOW) through its artillery divisions.

The purpose of this assessment is to examine the surface-to-air missile systems encompassed within the CLIAD framework and to understand how the Pakistani  Army plans to utilise this infrastructure to bolster its tactical operations and secure its resources and installations in the future.

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The CLIAD initiative is the culmination of a ten-year effort by the Pakistan Army to develop a robust and layered ground-based air defence framework.

Surface-to-Air Missile Systems of the Pakistan Army

  • HIMADS : The Pakistan Army’s High-to-Medium Air Defence System (HIMADS) features the long-range surface-to-air missile known as HQ-9/P. This system, which became operational in 2021, boasts a maximum engagement distance of 125 kilometres and is reported by the Army to be capable of intercepting both aircraft and cruise missiles. However, the effectiveness against cruise missiles is likely more constrained, with an anticipated engagement range of less than 25 kilometres.

For guidance, the HQ-9/P is expected to employ an inertial navigation system (INS) that is augmented by a datalink-connected targeting radar and an active radar-homing (ARH) seeker for terminal guidance. The HT-233 phased-array fire control radar is utilised for directing the missile system.

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Guidance Technology Explained:The missile uses an internal guidance system, receives mid-course updates from a radar link, and has its own radar for precise targeting as it closes in on the target.

  • LOMAD : The Pakistan Army’s Low-to-Medium Air Defence System, abbreviated as LOMAD, appears to be composed of the LY-80 and its possible enhanced version, the LY-80EV surface-to-air missiles. The LY-80 was integrated into service in 2017, offering a reported engagement reach of 40 kilometres. Details about the LY-80EV are more obscure, but it is speculated to be the upgraded version of the HQ-16 system, which was unveiled in 2016 and is believed to have an extended range capability of up to 70 kilometres.

The LY-80 missile system operates using a semi-active radar-homing (SARH) guidance method, which means it relies on a ground-based radar to illuminate the target until the missile makes contact. The guidance system specifics for the LY-80EV remain uncertain, including whether it adopts an active radar-homing (ARH) mechanism akin to the HQ-9/P, although this is within the realm of possibility.

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The Pakistan Army’s High-to-Medium Air Defence System (HIMADS) features the long-range surface-to-air missile known as HQ-9/P. This system, which became operational in 2021, boasts a maximum engagement distance of 125 kilometres and is reported by the Army to be capable of intercepting both aircraft and cruise missiles

In terms of detection and tracking capabilities, the LY-80 and possibly the LY-80EV utilise the IBIS-150 radar, which is an S-band passive electronically-scanned array (PESA) with a detection range of up to 150 kilometres. Additionally, they are supported by fire control radars operating in the L-band, each capable of tracking targets up to 85 kilometres away.

Guiding Missiles: Semi-Active vs. Active Radar: Semi-active radar-homing requires a ground radar to guide the missile, while active radar-homing means the missile has its own radar to find and track the target independently.

Radar Brands and Range: The IBIS-150, a powerful radar brand, scans vast skies for threats up to 150 kilometres away. Meanwhile, specialised brand radars precisely target and guide missiles to hit objects within 85 kilometres.

  • ESHORAD : The Extended Short-Range Air Defence System, abbreviated as ESHORAD, is believed to include the FM-90 missile system, capable of engaging targets up to 15 kilometres away. The FM-90 employs a command guidance approach and is mainly intended to counter low-altitude threats such as aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), and possibly incoming missiles or munitions.

Command Guidance Simplified:With command guidance, the missile is directed by ground controllers who send it signals to steer towards the target, rather than the missile seeking the target on its own.

  • SHORAD : The Pakistan Army’s Short-Range Air Defence System (SHORAD) is presumed to encompass the ANZA-Mk2. This man-portable air defence system (MANPADS) utilises infrared (IR) technology to lock onto and track targets, with an effective range reaching 5 kilometres. Additionally, the military might deploy the Saab RBS-70 NG, which is a laser-guided surface-to-air missile system capable of engaging targets up to 9 kilometres away.

For its short-range air defence requirements, the Army employs a variety of systems including the vintage RBS-70 with a reach of 9 kilometres, the FN-6 and FN-16 each extending up to 6 kilometres, and the ANZA-3 and ANZA-2, both with a range of 5 kilometres.

ESHORAD, is believed to include the FM-90 missile system, capable of engaging targets up to 15 kilometres away. The FM-90 employs a command guidance approach and is mainly intended to counter low-altitude threats such as aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), and possibly incoming missiles or munitions.

Infrared (IR) technology : detects heat to track and home in on targets, such as the heat from an aircraft’s engines.

Laser-guided surface-to-air missile system :  is like using a laser pointer as a precise guide for the missile to follow and hit its aerial target.

Prospective Deployment and Application

The extent to which the Army’s CLIAD system is integrated with the PAF’s ground-based air defence systems (GBADS) remains uncertain. However, there seems to be a distinct separation in the operational ranges handled by the Army and PAF. For instance, the PAF’s advanced SAM systems, namely the HQ-9BE and HQ-16FE, are designed to engage targets at distances of 260 kilometres and 160 kilometres, respectively, surpassing the Army’s SAM operational ranges. Therefore, it’s likely that aerial threats at higher ranges and altitudes fall under the PAF’s jurisdiction, allowing both the Army and Navy to focus on developing their defence capabilities within a certain range limit.

The PAF may play a key role in safeguarding Pakistan’s airspace on a strategic scale, undertaking tasks from defending the nation’s borders to intercepting ballistic missiles. Within this framework, the Army and Navy would concentrate on protecting their ground and naval forces, respectively.

In this arrangement, the Army has established its ground-based air defence systems primarily to safeguard its operations and assets, such as troops, tanks, and artillery. The main aerial hazards would stem from Indian Close Air Support (CAS) elements, including attack helicopters and the IAF’s Jaguar aircraft. The integration of the HQ-9/P suggests that the Army is looking to independently counter these threats without relying on PAF resources. Consequently, a joint effort where PAF aircraft would directly protect Army units while also conducting ground attack operations against Indian Army targets seems improbable.

The PAF may play a key role in safeguarding Pakistan’s airspace on a strategic scale, undertaking tasks from defending the nation’s borders to intercepting ballistic missiles. Within this framework, the Army and Navy would concentrate on protecting their ground and naval forces, respectively

Within this scenario, there are two primary avenues for the Army’s ground-based air defence systems (GBADS)  development to advance.

Initially, there’s a need to secure a system capable of countering the risk posed by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including swarm drones, loitering munitions, and Medium Altitude Long Endurance ( MALE ) combat drones. Such a system must be adaptable and capable of tackling numerous aerial threats at the same time.

The Army could be backing the creation of a Counter-Unmanned Aerial System (C-UAS). Currently, a local C-UAS is under development. Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS) has indicated that this system utilises “cognitive SDR” technology to disrupt radio signals and satellite navigation (SATNAV) communications. In parallel with the PAF, the Army might also consider integrating a directed-energy weapon as a solid countermeasure to enhance the indigenous C-UAS capabilities.

Smart Jamming Tech:”Cognitive SDR” technology acts like a smart jammer, blocking or confusing the communication and GPS signals that drones need to navigate, much like noise cancelling headphones block unwanted sound.

Secondly, the Army could be in the process of securing more sophisticated short to medium-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). It’s interesting to point out that the future lineup of SAMs presented by Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS) shares terminology with current Army SAMs, specifically the terms ‘LOMADS’ and ‘ESHORADS.’ These systems may be in the pipeline for future Army use and could potentially serve as successors to the older missile systems.

Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS) : is a Pakistani state-owned defence contractor and military corporation. It specialises in the research, development, production, and export of a wide range of defence and warfare products, including missile systems, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and various electronic and surveillance equipment. GIDS is one of the key players in Pakistan’s defence industry, contributing to the modernisation and enhancement of the country’s military capabilities.

While there’s no guarantee that these domestic SAM initiatives will come to fruition, they do provide insight into the Pakistan Army’s (PA) future air defence strategy. Should local production efforts fall short, the Army might turn to readily available systems, including the HQ-16FE, already in PAF service, or the FK-1000, among other options

GIDS’ ‘LOMADS’ system offers a capability that spans distances between 7 and 100 kilometres, with an altitude coverage from 30 metres to 20 kilometres. The ‘ESHORAD’ system developed by GIDS aims to utilise technology from the domestic ‘FAAZ’ air-to-air missile (AAM) project, delivering a reach of 20 to 25 kilometres and an operational ceiling between 6 and 8 kilometres. Notably, this new ESHORAD variant is designed for rapid deployment, being vehicle-mounted on a 4×4 platform, similar to the FM-90 system. Additionally, Harobanx is in the process of creating a SHORAD system with a 10-kilometre range, specifically tailored to counter UAV threats through an economical missile option.

Harobanx : is a company involved in the development and production of defence systems, particularly known for creating short-range air defence (SHORAD) systems designed to intercept and neutralise aerial threats like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) using cost-effective missile technology.

While there’s no guarantee that these domestic SAM initiatives will come to fruition, they do provide insight into the Pakistan Army’s (PA) future air defence strategy. Should local production efforts fall short, the Army might turn to readily available systems, including the HQ-16FE, already in PAF service, or the FK-1000, among other options. Nevertheless, progress in the ESHORADS and LOMADS domains could inspire the Army to enhance its High to Medium Air Defence Systems (HIMADS), potentially achieving a range and altitude capability beyond 150-200 kilometres.

 Additionally, the development of new radar systems with superior ECCM, as well as enhanced detection and targeting features, is critical. Notably, Pakistan is also working on two indigenous air defence radar systems, with one based on X-band and the other on S-band frequencies

Should the Army decide to independently manage its aerial defence, a significant upgrade to its SAM collection would be essential. This comes in light of adversaries such as India, which are expected to deploy advanced countermeasures including SEAD/DEAD (suppression of enemy air defence/destruction of enemy air defence)
tactics using anti-radiation missiles (ARM) to challenge both the Army’s and PAF’s ground-based air defences. The incorporation of SAMs featuring the latest in guidance and seeker technologies will be crucial. Additionally, the development of new radar systems with superior ECCM, as well as enhanced detection and targeting features, is critical. Notably, Pakistan is also working on two indigenous air defence radar systems, with one based on X-band and the other on S-band frequencies.

India’s SEAD/DEAD :  capabilities include the use of the Russian-origin Sukhoi Su-30MKI equipped with electronic warfare systems, the indigenously developed DRDO Anti-Radiation Missile (Rudram) to target enemy radars, and the integration of Israeli SPICE smart bombs for precise destruction of air defence assets. These platforms and munitions form the core of India’s approach to suppressing and destroying enemy air defences.

The progression of the CLIAD highlights the Pakistan Army’s view of air defence as a vital component of its strategic foresight, meriting increased allocation of resources.

-The writer is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach out to him at: girishlinganna@gmail.com