Sunday, April 3, 2016

Air Defense Weaponry Choices

This is a discussion and also an analysis about the usage of air defense in a national sovereignty's airspace.

A common debate often encountered here is "Which is the better choice to defend a nation's airspace? Fighters or Missiles?". Of course, in an idea world, the answer is obvious. BOTH! But unfortunately, in the real world of tight budgets were it's either one or the other, it's worthwhile to take a closer look at the pros and cons of each choice and decide on which to put a priority on when acquiring new assets.
Here, let's try to give a brief but hopefully concise overview of how it applies to the local context. Note that the views expressed here are purely the personal opinions of the author. Reader discretion is advised.

Photo: SAAB Gripen Block E.
Overall, the keyword is mobility and coverage. In other words, how much territory you can cover with a given system. In practice, It's always best to invest in multiple systems for overlapping coverage. However, if that's not feasible for any reason, then one should aim for the most flexible solution one can afford.
When compared, it should be obvious that faced against the threat of enemy air attack or intrusion, the best counter is another aircraft that can directly intercept and engage any aircraft the enemy can send. The old adage "Send a thief to catch a thief" applies here. While Ground Based Air Defense Systems (GBADS) do have their own advantages, they come with several drawbacks as well.
1. A GBAD, even a vehicle mounted 'Mobile' system shown here, is by themselves a largely static installation. They can only be deployed from limited areas and are hence best suited to defending predefined locations like a permanent military base.
2. For the above reason, the fact that their deployment locations are largely unchanged and predictable, the enemy can, and often do, avoid known or suspected locations of missile launchers.
3. For a large country like the Philippines, Indonesia or even Russia, it's a real question of if you buy a battery of SAM's, were do you deploy them to achieve maximum coverage of strategic locations?
4. Missile systems, while cheaper then fighters, are still a significant investment. Can you afford to buy enough units to cover ALL strategic locations that require coverage?
5. Because of the limited area that a GBADS can cover, plus the fact that the enemy can easily avoid them should their location be known, it means a GBAD actually have to wait for it's target to approach it before they can engage it. If the target is out of it's engagement range, then the GBADS can't do anything against it.
6. Directly related to the last point, unlike a fighter, a GBADS can't pursue it's target for long. A missile's maximum range is always less then the fighter it's engaging.
7. Unlike a fighter which carries a human pilot who can engage his rival manually by sight for a gun kill should his radar be jammed or missiles be decoyed, if the targeting radar be jammed on a GBADS, the operator often can't take over manually because the target would be out of sight considering the typical engagement range of such systems.
8. By their very nature, GBADS have a very limited area of cover. Any threat outside of it's engagement envelope would be free to deal whatever damage to the defenders. Unlike a fighter, it can't be redeployed on the fly to intercept unexpected targets.

Overall, a fleet of fighters are a more flexible investment then a GBADS. GBADS are a complementary extra layer of defense thats nice to have if you have it but should not be taken as an absolute line of defense by themselves.

From the viewpoints of Tan Tian Cai to Defense of the R.P Facebook page. Acknowledge for posting in The Pitzviews.


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