by Dhruv Yadav

The Indian Army has released a Request For Information (RFI) for Very Short Range Air Defence Systems (VSHORADs). The short-range air defence system is a critical aspect of a layered air defence system and is the last line of defence for soldiers on the ground.

A comprehensive air defence system has three layers. These are high-level air defence and medium-level air defence and low-level systems. These very potent systems take on enemy aircraft that are flying at medium to low altitudes and are characterised by very long-range detection systems, which are able to detect even a small fighter aircraft which have a relatively low Radar Cross Section (RCS) from hundreds of km away.

SHORAD: Soldier’s Sword And Shield Against Enemy Air Power

Enemy fighter planes and helicopters fly low over the ground in order to evade detection from long-range systems. Short-range or low-level air defence systems is the soldier’s last line of defence.

The system usually employs Man-Portable Surface To Air Missiles (MANPADS) or a gun system such as the Zu-23mm gun (in service with the Indian Army). There are systems such as the Stryker air defence variant, the Humvee-based Avenger system, the Zu-23 mm gun mount modified to carry MANPADS, the Tungushka and the Pantsir. Most of the systems listed above were designed from scratch to defend armoured columns from their biggest threat: enemy aircraft.

These systems first came to prominence during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. In the hot conditions of Afghanistan these MANPADS were a bane for Russian aircraft. The success of these weapons is said to be one of the biggest reasons for the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The effectiveness of such systems is on full display in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Both sides rely heavily on the system to take on the opposition’s offensive air power mostly near the contact lines. The Turkish-made and Ukraine-operated Bayraktar drones that made headlines during the start of the conflict, had to shed the limelight due to these systems.

Many videos doing the rounds of Ukrainian Igla missiles (the type the army is now trying to replace) shooting down Russian predators such as the Mi-24s, Mi-28s and Ka-52 attack helicopters are on the net. There are also videos of one of the most potent Russian birds of prey such as the Su-25 being downed by these man-portable missiles. The missile is also claimed to have downed Russian cruise missiles. Cruise missiles are designed to fly at low levels right since release to evade enemy air defences.

India’s Quest For VSHORADS

Indian armed forces recently started inducting the Igla-S the latest variant of the missile. This was after a long-drawn process that began in 2010 to replace India’s Igla-M missiles procured in the 1980s. The RFP issued then sought 5,000 missiles and 258 multiple and single launchers of each variety. French MBDA and Swedish SAAB also took part in those trials and made the grade, the Russian system was chosen as it was the L1 bidder.

There were allegations of deviations in the procurement process.

What The Army Wants Now

The army has issued an RFI on behalf of all three services. The army is seeking MANPADS that can not only take on fighters and helicopters but also take out drones, which have a very low heat signature. Most MANPADS use seekers that detect the heat signature of their target. The army, though hasn’t specified which guidance system it prefers. This opens the doors for the Swedish RBS-70 and the British Starstreak missile system which use a laser guidance system. Thales the maker of the Starstreak and Bharat Dynamics Limited have signed a contract to make the missile in India.

The system is to be used across the country from both land and sea. The RFI defines a system that can be used from an altitude of 5,500 meters to coastal areas, from deserts to high-humidity riverine conditions. The missile system is also to effectively take down an adversary’s aerial assets in a temperature zone of -30°C to +45°C in all weather conditions. To top it all, the system that is to be either fired from a shoulder or from a tripod mount should also be robust enough to be para-drop.

India’s own VSHORAD, designed by DRDO, which has cleared successive trials, will also be part of the trials. The home-grown system incorporates many novel technologies such as Reaction Control System that increases the manoeuvrability of the missile. The missile uses an uncooled infrared seeker to guide itself to an unfortunate enemy aircraft. An uncooled seeker would reduce the logistical footprint of the system. Besides the systems listed above manufacturers of Russian Verba, French Mistral and U.S. Stinger missile are expected to respond to the RFI. The RFI also seeks details of simulators and test equipment for the missile.

(With Reporting by