Aerial Weapons - Quick and Lethal
Vol 10 Issue 4 Sep - Oct 2016
Air Power has indeed travelled a long way from being a mere novelty to being the delivery system for the most potent weaponry
Monday, October 3, 2016
The great Chinese thinker and Strategist General Sun Tzu stated in the military treatise ‘Art of War’ that “The military values victories; it does not value prolonged warfare”. There is a full chapter devoted to weapons and attack. Quick and lethal weapons are germane to military victory. All modern militaries require state-of-the-art arms and ammunition to ensure decisive results in war. Reports of acute shortage of weapons with the Indian Army have often surfaced in public domain. Despite continuous improvements in Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP), procurements remain slow. Armaments have a finite shelf life and also obsolescence sets in quickly. Any weapon platform is no good without potent armaments. Acquisition and replacement need early planning. India has two nuclear powers as its neighbours with both of which it has serious boundary disputes. With the air power becoming dominant means of prosecution of war in the 21st century there is a need for closer look at aerial weapons.
Aerial Weapons Evolve
Ancient Indian manuscripts write about Vimana the Aerospace craft and make references to gods who fought battles in the sky using air-vehicles equipped with deadly weapons. Indra’s Dart used a circular reflector that produced a ‘shaft of light’ which, when focused on any target, immediately consumed it, somewhat akin to modern day laser weapons. Austrians reportedly were the first to use airborne balloons for limited bombing in 1849, but the period between the two World Wars saw massive increase in aerial armament loads and capabilities. Aircraft thus effectively replaced the artillery as the preferred long range weapon of choice. The ‘Battle of Britain’, ‘Pearl harbour’ and the destruction of Germany industrial might were classical aerial victories and turned the tide of the war. Soon the naval forces were also heavily dependent on air power. Air-dropped torpedoes sank many enemy ships. Air-to-Air Combat and Air-to-Surface/Sub-surface attack evolved and great improvement took place in aiming, guidance and precision technologies. Also the weapon lethality increased exponentially. Finally, an air dropped weapon, the atomic bomb, brought end to WW II. From being a mere novelty, Air Power had truly come of age.
The Cold War Years
In 1950s the air-to-air missiles evolved and started pushing the air battle Beyond Visual Range (BVR). Vietnam was the first testing campaign. The advent of helicopter and its being armed brought another dimension to air weaponry, especially anti-tank and anti-personnel. Precision weapons with sub-metre accuracies greatly reduced the tonnage to be dropped to achieve effect-based-results. Cruise missiles, and later the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) helped fight a network controlled distant war. Wars in Falklands, Kosovo and Iraq were won mostly from the air. Critical Mirage-2000 Laser Guided Bomb (LGB) strikes in Kargil turned the tide of the war in 1999. Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are essentially all air wars and precision imagery of the same are now seen by ordinary citizens on TV screens. Successful aerial wars brought a sea-change in the minds of political and military leadership.
Air Engagement Weaponry
Air-to-Air Missiles with up to 30 km range, initially called ‘Dog-fight’ or close-combat missiles, are now referred as ‘Within Visual Range’ (WVR). WVR are mostly heat-seeking while, BVR are mostly radar controlled. Some long range missiles also use inertial guidance. Mid 1950s, saw development of American AIM series Sidewinder missiles and the Soviet ‘K’ series K-13. BVRs were inducted in mid 1960s. Raytheon is one of the biggest missile producers and its AIM-9L (1977) was the first all aspect WVR missile that could sense aircraft heat from front quarters. The missile seeker of the more modern MBDA AIM-120 ASRAAM can distinguish the target heat from the counter measure flares. Israeli Rafael Advanced Defence Systems’ Python-5 is an electro-optical missile which does not require a heat source and so is more effective against low heat source aircraft like propeller driven UAVs among others. BVR missiles today have ranges beyond 200 km.
India got the first generation K-13 along with the MiG-21and was later replaced by Molniya R-60. Matra Magic R 550 and Super R 530D came with Mirage 2000. IAF got the fourth generation Russian Vympel R-73, R-27 and fifth generation R-77 RVVAE missiles along with MiG-21 Upgrade ‘Bison’ and SU-30 MKI. The French MBDA MICA, dual head (IR & EM), is part of the Mirage-2000 upgrade project and of the Rafale weapon package. 400 are being bought. Rafale can carry up to six MICA missiles. Mirage 2000 upgrade will also bring 384 British MBDA AIM-132 ASRAAM dogfight missiles which have also been selected for Jaguar over wing station. The MiG-29 upgrade allows carriage of R-77 missile. Rafael Advanced Systems Python-5 of Israel has been selected as the secondary close combat heat seeking missile for the LCA Tejas after R-73.American AIM-9X Sidewinder, Israeli Python 5, Chinese PL-12, India’s Astra (110 km), and American AIM-120 AMRAAM (180 km) are the state of art new missiles. India has already cleared indigenous Astra long range BVR air-to-air missile on SU-30 MKI. Ramjet propelled AAMs will enable future medium-range missiles to maintain higher average speed across their engagement envelope. Fifth generation electro-optical missiles are ideal against low-heat targets such as UAVs and cruise missiles.
Lethal and Accurate Air-to-Surface Weapons
Precision of delivery can be considered the single most important development for surface attack. It is not only more economical to destroy the target, but also reduces unwanted collateral damage. A SU-30 MKI with Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) can have more effect on a target than a squadron of old MiG-21s with free-fall ‘Dumb’ bombs. PGM or the ‘Smart’ bombs or missiles are directed to the target through wire, radio, radar, optical or laser control. Electro optical systems have a TV/IR camera for guidance. Laser guided bombs or missiles home on to the target that has been illuminated by a laser beam from the air or ground. Stick bombs like BAP-100 for linear targets, runway piercing bomb like Durandal, cluster bombs for area targets, rocket propelled bunker buster with heavy warhead, Bombs with Laser/TV/GPS precision kits, Standoff bombs, FAE or Napalm class of bombs, massive ordnance air-blast bombs are all in use. IAF’s Mirage-2000 Laser-bomb attacks over 15,000 feet high Tiger-hill during Kargil war of 1999 was a game changer for the war. IAF’s Mirage 2000, MiG-27 and Jaguar carry the Israeli RAFAEL ‘LITENING’ targeting Pod that combines multiple sensors at low cost. It has FLIR, a TV camera, and laser designator. The American Paveway series are the most famous laser bombs, and Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are the main laser bomb manufacturers. Infra-Red (IR) guidance weapons work well where the target stands out due heat contrast. Raytheon Maverick and Israeli Elbit Opher are IR Drop-and-forget bombs. Lockheed Martin Hellfire II anti-tank missile is guided by the millimetre-wave radar aboard Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow. India’s acquisition of 22 Apache AH-64Ds would include over 1,350 Hellfire missiles and 245 Raytheon Stinger missiles, 12 Lockheed/Northrop Grumman APG-78 fire control radars and 23 Lockheed modernised target acquisition designation sight/pilot night vision sensors. LCH will be fitted with indigenous anti-tank missile Helina. Indian Navy’s Boeing P-8I Neptune carries the AGM-84L Harpoon Block II missiles and Mk 54 lightweight Torpedoes. Sea Harriers that retired this year were armed with Rafael Derby BVR missile. MiG 29 K can carry Kh-31 A and Kh-35 anti-shipping missiles and a host of air-to-air missiles including Astra, Rafael Python 5 and futuristic Novator K-100. This gives more options for acquisition.
To circumvent poor visibility, satellite-guided (GPS) weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW) were developed by Boeing along with the US Air Force (USAF). The newer variants are hybrid laser-GPS combination. Raytheon has developed the enhanced Paveway family which can be deployed both against moving and stationary targets. The French Sagem AASM is a European version of JDAM with 50 km stand-off firing range and is used on Dassault Rafale. Raytheon’s AGM-154, Rafael’s SPICE, Lockheed’s AGM-158, Boeing’s SLAM-ER, MBDA’s Storm Shadow and Taurus, are the other latest weapons. The market for PGMs is close to US$ 3.0 billion a year. LT-2 is a Chinese laser guidance kit for a 500 kg bomb also supplied to Pakistan and LT-3 is a JDAM like GPS-cum-Laser guidance kit. China is also working on Glide bombs. India’s DRDO lab ADE is developed the 1000 lb ‘Sudarshan’ glide LGB currently with 9 km range. The same is planned to be extended to 50 km. IAF currently holds Rafael Advanced Defence Systems ‘Spice’ and Israel aerospace Industries (IAI) Griffen LGBs.
Air-to-surface missiles have propulsion and score over bombs in longer stand-off ranges and speed of impact, but often have lighter warhead. Air launched Tomahawk cruise missile, the anti-ship or land-attack Harpoon missiles are good examples. India had earlier operated MBDA’s AS-30 missiles and BAe Sea Eagle anti-shipping missiles. IAF acquired 24 harpoon Block II missiles for its maritime strike Jaguars in December 2010.Rafale has options of the modular Hammer air-to-surface PGM system and AM-39 Exocet sea-skimming missile. Russian air-to-surface missiles carried on SU-30 MKI include Kh-59 ME TV guided standoff missile with 115 km ranges, Kh-59MK active radar homing anti-ship missile (285 km), Kh-31 anti-radar missile (30 km) and Kh-29 laser guided missile (30 km). India’s DRDO is developing ‘Nag’ anti-tank missile. Its air-launched Indo-Russian cruise missile BrahMos has already been tested from a SU-30 MKI. Once the AESA Radar comes with Su-30 MKI upgrade, it will be a potent combination. BrahMos II would be a Mach 7 Hypersonic Cruise Missile being developed in collaboration with Russia. China has many, mostly reverse engineered Russian missiles and supports Pakistan’s Babur missile program.
The Unfolding Aerial Weapons
MBDA Meteor (Over 200 km) will be integrated on French Rafale by 2018. India is looking at possibly integrating the MBDA Brimstone ground attack missile and the long-range Meteor air-to-air missile on the Su-30 MKIs. Novator K-100 is a Russian air-to-air missile designed as an AWACS killer with a range up to 200 km. Since 2004 India and Russia has evolved a deal to produce it for IAF’s SU-30 MKI fighters. Another version with range up to 400 km is being mentioned. Around 40 missiles are reportedly planned. Indo-Russian FGFA will have six internal and six weapon hard points on wings, and will predominantly be armed with DRDO’s Astra BVR missile and BrahMos cruise missiles. Various Russian BVR missiles could also be used. DRDO is also developing the nuclear capable Nirbhay cruise missile. Helicopter launched Nag (HeliNa), DRDO’s anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) is under testing.
In the coming years, the development of Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) will give much higher magnitude of precision and cross the realm of science fiction. Very narrow beams of Lasers, microwave radiation, particle beams would destroy or damage guidance systems or trigger warheads. These could simultaneously attack many targets. USA, Russia are doing most of the research work and Chinese have of late invested heavily too. With most countries moving towards network centric operations, communication nodes could be targets through directed energy. The Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) program is a US military program to mount a high energy laser weapon on an aircraft, initially the AC-130 gunship. This near 100 kilowatt system with 7,000 kg weight will have tactical range of 20 kilometres. Advanced versions of AIM-9X and Vympel R-73, called Quick Manoeuvre Air-to-Air Missile with much higher agility are under development. Hyper-Velocity Air-to-Air missile will be multi-stage kinetic energy weapon with speeds in excess of Mach 5. DARPA is developing a Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) to improve the survivability. High-power thermo-baric missiles are basically Fuel Air Explosive (FAE) that creates intense high temperatures. The KAB 500 OD bomb with the IAF is a FAE bomb. Russians have versions up to 1500 kg with lethal zone of 500 metres. Ministry of Defence’s 15-year “Technology Perspective and Roadmap” 2010, includes development of Anti-satellite weapons “for electronic or physical destruction of satellites in both LEO (2,000-km altitude above earth’s surface) and the higher geosynchronous orbit”. India is already developing an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle that can be integrated with the missile to engage satellites. DRDO is working on a slew of Directed Energy Weapons, along with space security, cyber-security, and hypersonic vehicles/missiles as focus areas in the next 15 years.
Five aerial weapons that one day could change the face of modern warfare rely on the most advanced technology in the world; these hyper-advanced projectiles may out manoeuvre, outrun, and outmatch foes around the globe. The ‘Mach-5 Cruise Missile’ X-51 moves so fast that it doesn’t even need an explosive warhead and its kinetic energy will shred through targets. Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) is a distracting weapons-jamming dynamo. MALD is 150 kg jet-powered pack that cruises for up to 800 km, inviting enemy defenders to unload their guns and missiles at it. Meanwhile, anti-radiation missiles sneak around to destroy the enemy air defences as they’re busily killing the MALDs. “Hyper Speed Bunker Buster” is a rocket-fuelled bunker buster punches through the earth to obliterate anything underneath it. It trades of Size for speed. The hyper speed bunker busters use kinetic velocity. “Triple-Target Terminator Missile” in development by DARPA and missile-maker Raytheon is meant as a high-speed, long-range missile that can engage cruise-missiles and air-defence targets. “Pocket-Sized” Precision Nukes will essentially be tactical nuclear bombs with JDAM accuracy. America’s main nuclear gravity bomb B 61 will get a GPS upgrade. Higher accuracy means explosive power can be scaled down for the same effect.
Stark Options before India
Intensive weapon research is going on. India is part of the most threatened regions of the world and needs to watch weapon developments closely. It has to catch up on backlog of weapon purchases and get stocking levels for a possible two-front war. With very few players in the market, technologies are closely guarded. No one parts with them. DRDO has to get its act right. Beg, borrow, steal, or just convert the theoretical research into formidable deliverable end products if India is to achieve its aspirations of a global player. Government needs to hold the bull by the horns, allot adequate funds and position dynamic result-oriented professional managers who in turn need to pursue this vital mission to its full accomplishment.