AKASH advanced air defence system are operated by both the Indian Army & Air Force

One Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot was missing in action and a MiG-21 fighter jet was lost, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said this afternoon, a short while after Pakistan claimed to have two Indian pilots in its custody reports India Today. Pakistan Air Force had entered Indian airspace to target military installations along the J&K border.

But the neighbouring nation seems to have undergone a change of account AND COUNT.

Pakistan military spokesperson Asif Ghafoor has now (some seven hours after the first false claim) tweeted: "There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Comd Abhi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics."

This has refreshed memories of the last time an Indian pilot was held captive by Pakistan. The pilot was Group Captain Kambampati Nachiketa. He was the first and only prisoner of war of the 1999 Kargil war.

Kambampati Nachiketa was 26 years old when the Kargil war took place between India and Pakistan in 1999. A flight lieutenant at the time, he was serving in the No. 9 Squadron of the Indian Air Force. The squadron was tasked with protecting the war-hit Batalik sector.

Bowing to scrutiny from international media as well as the United Nations, Pakistan finally released Kambampati Nachiketa eight days later on June 3, 1999. He was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Pakistan and returned home via the Wagah border.

Why Wasn't Surface-To-Air Missile Systems Engaged?

In the current volatile climate of heightened security situation along the border, why hadn't India's military placed its state-of-the-art, Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) and other missile defence systems to protect its airspace? India has several type of SAMs for aerial engagements for specific requirements. But the IAF decided to send fighter jets that are as old as the pyramids with no BVR air-to-air missile capabilities to confront the Pakistani incursions. The MiG-21s are equipped with age old Soviet-era guided air-to-air missiles such as the R-3, R-13M, R-60 and R-73.  IAF may have had their own compulsions to send the MiG-21s into combat.

Here, we take a look into India's Air Defence systems which could have been engaged to repulse PAF attacks on Indian military establishments. Indian forces have a wide array of Air Defence systems capable of providing cover to airspace along the border. The systems are operated by both the Indian Army and Indian Air Force.

Akash SAM:

Akash air defence system is a Low-to-Medium level Medium Range Surface to Air Missile in service with both the Indian Army and Air Force. With maximum speed up to 2.5 Mach and altitude ranging from 0.5 to 18 km with a maximum range of 30 km, it can successfully shoot down enemy drones, helicopters, fighters and even missiles. Guidance is through the ground-based 'Rajendra' radar which can track targets from 80 km and engage from 60 km. It is not vulnerable against Electronic Counter-Measures as the aircraft has to jam the high power 'Rajendra' radar to avoid getting git by Akash. It has clocked in high success rates in recent firing trials and could have been used to thwart the Pakistani advances. A great opportunity lost to prove the efficacy of this advanced system.

2K12 'Kub', S-125 'Pechora', S-200 'Dubna',  9K33 'Osa', 9K35 'Strela-10', 2K22 'Tunguska', ZSU-23-2 & ZSU-23-4 'Shilka':

The above are all Soviet-era SAMs with varied ranges. Some of them are obsolete and would be phased out soon by the Akash, which would assume as the primary air defence system across the nation. But some of these SAMs are very capable and battle proven during different battle scenarios across the world in the past 5 decades.

SPYDER (Surface to Air PYthon and DERby)

Is a low-level, quick-reaction surface-to-air missile system capable of engaging aircraft, helicopters, unmanned air vehicles, drones, and precision-guided munitions. It provides air defence for fixed assets and for point and area defence for mobile forces in combat areas. It employs the use of AAM (Air-to-Air Missiles) like Python and Derby to be fired from ground stations to provide air defence. SPYDER-MR engages targets at a maximum range of 50 km and SPYDER-SR engages targets at 20 km.

Parting Thoughts

It may sound rather ridiculous,daft or downright over-the-top to say the IAF could have dispatched the TEJAS fighters (though not combat proven) for combat which has proven BVR missile firing capabilities. The situation required the deployment of an agile fighter instead of the heavier Su-30MKIs. The TEJAS fighters ought to have been moved from its Sulur air base in Coimbatore to Udhampur or Awantipur AFS in Jammu & Kashmir or if these air bases are found inadequate, they could have stationed the fighters at bases either in Punjab or Haryana before the Surgical Airstrikes as a precautionary and contingency measure.

ADA has conduced several BVR tests of two Israeli based missiles namely, the Derby and Python-5.  It is still early days for the Astra for combat deployment. Though, the Python-5's induction is in limbo the Derby has had several successful trials runs under varied combat conditions. A risky proposition by any standard, IAF nevertheless, could have taken a call to send the TEJAS with the Derby if it wasn't sure of engaging SAMs as counter measures against Pakistani incursions.

All the delays, lethargy, the lack of will and bickering between ADA/HAL and the IAF to complete the TEJAS project is showing up now. Only if the TEJAS was inducted at least 5 years ago the IAF could have fielded this agile fighter against a vastly inferior Pakistani F-16s. However, the only saving grace for India is, if not for the NDA government the TEJAS project would have been in abeyance and not seen the light of day.

by Admin - IDN