India's defence capabilities can be significantly enhanced by embracing and advancing decoy technologies

by Vinay Sadham

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has provided several key insights into modern warfare tactics and technology. One such revelation is the strategic use of decoys, a tactic that has proven highly effective in undermining enemy air defences. This is exemplified by Ukraine’s successful use of US-made Miniature Air-Launched Decoys (MALD), which has been pivotal in ensuring the success of their precision strike weapons such as the Storm Shadow missiles. India’s defence capabilities can be significantly enhanced by embracing and advancing decoy technologies. The Indian Air Force must prioritise the development and deployment of sophisticated decoys for several compelling reasons.

Utilising Decoys In Airstrike Missions

Decoys play a crucial role in airstrike missions due to their ability to mimic aircraft and cruise missiles. Before the actual strike force is launched, several decoys are sent ahead, designed to mimic the radar signature and flight patterns of real aircraft, including flying at high altitudes, mimicking the speed, and performing manoeuvres typical of an attacking force. The primary function of the decoys is to engage enemy air defence systems. As the decoys appear on radar, the enemy is forced to respond, often by launching surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). While the enemy is preoccupied with the decoys, the actual strike force follows a different flight path, typically flying at low altitudes to remain below radar coverage. This tactic, known as terrain masking, allows the strike force to approach the target with minimal detection risk. By the time the enemy realises the decoys are not the actual threat, it is often too late to respond effectively to the real attack, significantly increasing the success rate of the mission.

Exploiting Radar Vulnerabilities In SEAD And DEAD Missions

In SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences) and DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defences) missions, radar systems are high-priority targets due to their pivotal role in detecting and tracking aircraft. To evade detection by enemy Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) systems, these radars typically operate in surveillance mode, emitting low-power signals intermittently and utilising sweeping beams to cover expansive areas and detect multiple targets. This broad coverage maximises situational awareness while minimising the risk of detection by adversaries. However, when radar systems detect potential threats, they transition to tracking mode, employing narrow, focused beams directed at specific targets, facilitating precise tracking and identification. This transition from broad surveillance to focused tracking renders radars more vulnerable, as their concentrated emissions reveal their location and operational status.

Decoys play a pivotal role in exploiting this vulnerability. By deploying decoys alongside or ahead of actual strike forces, radar attention is diverted, with the decoys mistaken for legitimate threats. As a result, radars switch to tracking mode, emitting stronger signals that inadvertently reveal their locations. With radar systems engaged by decoys, SEAD teams can precisely target and neutralise them. This may involve the use of anti-radiation missiles or electronic warfare tactics to disrupt radar functionality. By effectively suppressing or destroying enemy air defences, SEAD operations pave the way for successful subsequent missions.

Leveraging Decoys In Missile Strikes

In modern warfare, decoys are pivotal in missile strikes, especially considering that cruise missiles fly at very low altitudes. Decoys can be utilised similarly to in airstrike missions. Another tactic involves launching missiles alongside decoys to confuse SAMs in discriminating between threats and non-threats. Furthermore, they can be employed in the first wave to waste enemy surface-to-air missiles, maximising the success rate of missile strikes on intended targets in the second wave.

In conclusion, leveraging decoys across airstrike, SEAD & DEAD, and cruise missile strike missions using various tactics significantly enhances mission success rates.

Current Developments In India

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has yet to show interest in acquiring such decoys. However, it’s crucial to note that JSR Dynamics Ltd, a private firm in India, is at the forefront of developing Miniature Ground Launched Decoys with a range of up to 300 km. These decoys have potential applications in airstrikes and SEAD & DEAD missions. The Air Force must prioritise developing and procuring longer-range decoys from the domestic defence industry. These advanced decoys will bolster the IAF’s capabilities across various missions, ensuring heightened operational effectiveness and survivability.

(With Reporting by Bharat Shakti)