DRDO's QRSAM undergoing firing trials which hit a moving unmanned aerial target in 30 secs

Each country designates its own strategic sites for special defence. They range from nuclear power plants to air force bases to Olympic stadiums. And the hardening of defences around strategic sites was especially prominent until around three decades ago.

At that time, attackers using close-range munitions had to approach a given site in order to attack it. Visual contact was often required, and simple air-to-ground munitions would suffice for an attack. Defence systems of that time were similarly simplistic. In a region where the threat of drone swarms and low-altitude cruise missiles is particularly acute, countries are left to re-examine existing air defence technology.

Air force bases might be protected by a anti-aircraft cannon, for example, in order to prevent a direct attack on a runway. That same concept would be applied to any sites deemed critical by a state. In addition to being limited in range, though, such defences required many munitions and high numbers of personnel to man the equipment.

The 1980s and 1990s witnessed a revolution in the world of weaponry. Precision, long-range (standoff) munitions entered the battle arenas, and close-range air defences became largely obsolete. Once attackers no longer needed proximity to their targets, close-range defences could neither hit the longer-range munitions nor their launchers.

But over the past decade, we have seen the addition of GPS-guidance systems to those munitions. The advent of this technology, combined with the overall revolution of the ’80s and ’90s, has heightened the need for states to return to close-range air defences — but in a new configuration.

With the Iron Dome and the Drone Dome defence systems, Israel has pioneered that return because it has had to do so. It is able to effectively defend against very short-range threats. Drone Dome, for example, can detect threats at a distance of 3.5 kilometres. Likewise, India apart from the advanced Akash air defence is also developing a quick-reaction anti-ballistic surface-to-air missile system called Quick Reaction Surface-to-Air Missile (QRSAM). This missile is an all-weather, all-terrain surface-to-air missile equipped with electronic counter measures against jamming by aircraft radars. The missile can be mounted on a truck and is stored in a canister. QRSAM uses solid-fuel propellant and has a range of 25–30 km. The single-staged missile is equipped with a midcourse inertial navigation system with a two-way data link and a DRDO-developed terminal active seeker. The system has the capability to search and track targets on the move.

QRSAM is a compact weapon system and is mobile. It has a fully automated Command and Control System. The missile system comprises two four-walled radars both of which encompass a 360-degree coverage, namely, the Active Array Battery Surveillance Radar and the Active Array Battery Multifunction Radar, apart from the launcher, additional systems are now in the pipeline. Small, affordable interceptor missiles and laser beam defences are the answers to the new categories of close-range threats seen around the world, including gliding bombs, cruise missiles and drones.

Effective new defence systems must now be multidirectional in their detection of incoming threats, a response to the enemy’s ability to turn, steer and evade radar coverage and detection. That coverage must be combined with multiple layers of defence, including defence mechanisms very close to the asset being defended.

The age-old military axiom asserts that lines of defence will always be breached. As such, we must develop the maximum number of opportunities for interception possible.

Short-Longer-range air defence systems, such as the Patriot, Akash, David’s Sling or the S-400 can intercept threats kilometres away. But today, because state enemies can bypass long-range defences, countries must always have the ability to directly intercept the actual munitions.

Without close-defence capabilities forming part of a country’s multilayer defence systems, strategic sites are simply not adequately protected. In the context of multilayer defence development and deployment around strategic sites and sensitive targets, Israel has taken on the role of global leader.

In 2020, short-range air defences are making a comeback, and this time they are set to remain as a permanent fixture.

Our Bureau