Peacetime air hreat escalating

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The availability of high technology components nowadays allows almost anybody to construct an aerial vehicle with potentially devastating effects, the South African Joint Air Defence Symposium (SAJADS) has heard. Swiss Air Force Colonel Fabian Ochsner told the conference in Pretoria model airplane enthusiasts are building ever-more sophisticated platforms which can be equipped with navigational systems allowing remote operation.

Ochsner, the Swiss Air Force’s Chief Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) AOC, said the emergence of the small, uninhabited aerial vehicles and the availability of cheap high technology components, which allow even the designing of very low cost cruise missiles have raised a big questions mark over “high tech – high cost” missile based GBAD systems because of their poor cost-to-kill factor against such threats.

As an example he cites New Zealand native and model aircraft enthusiast Bruce Simpson who developed a low cost cruise missile which costs less than US$5000, fly at 800km/h, reach up to 100km with a 10kg payload and have a 10m CEP (circular error of probability) on target. “The size of these new threat air vehicles was decreasing rapidly in terms of physical dimensions, radar cross section and infra- red/ visual signatures. This threat ‘downsizing’ posed an increasing challenge to missile based GBAD technology and affordability,” Ochsner.

Since the late nineties, another factor of the aerial threat has become apparent, Ochsner adds. This is the threat to expeditionary forces from mortars and rockets launched by insurgent organisations. “This threat has been dubbed Rockets, Artillery and Mortar (RAM) and has quickly become one of the main issues in the lower airspace domain,” he says in a paper he delivered at SAJADS. “One of the new missions for GBADs is the protections of Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in operations like ISAF2 in Afghanistan. The threat covered is mainly rockets and mortars.”

Other new activities for GBAD systems are the enforcement of no-fly zones which are erected to
protect events with thousands of people in very small places like a soccer stadium. Events like
the Olympic Games, FIFA Football Championships or G8 Summits need protection and possible enforcement of no-fly zones.

Ochsner notes that in all these missions the intent to fire air defence weapons comes with considerable safety implications. “Firstly, the regular civilian air traffic has to be guaranteed safety. In order to guarantee such safety, only systems with strictly ballistic trajectories can be used. This allows prediction, prior to firing the weapon, of the flight path and all collateral effects, such as air traffic or sensitive areas on the ground.
“Given the possibility of assessing collateral effects before the weapons is fired, RoEs [rules of engagement] can be applied very strictly. These RoEs can as well contain that the decision to engage can be transferred to a senior level of political or military leadership. This puts a special requirement to the command and control systems as they have to be capable to relay the information in near real time to the decision maker. The information required should be sufficient to make a decision, so a simple radar picture with a blip showing an unknown object will hardly be enough.

The use of GBAD in a peacetime environment is a relatively new development, the Swiss colonel observed. “It was back in the year 2002 when the Canadian Forces for the first time deployed an Air Defence Anti Tank System (ADATS) to provide Low Level Air Defence in support of the G8 Summit at Kananaskis, Alberta. The Canadian DOD stated that following the terrorist attacks of September 11 the previous year “the security concerns surrounding the hosting of the G8 Summit increased dramatically. In addition to the security challenges posed by the forested and mountainous terrain surrounding the Kananaskis site, there was a new threat to consider. The anarchist was no longer the primary concern for the security forces. The terrorist threat, ranging from the lone sniper to bombs to weapons of mass destruction — with an equally wide range of delivery means —was clearly beyond the capability of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and local law enforcement
agencies.” The CF was now going to be a key partner in the effort to secure the G8 site from
both ground and airborne threats.

For air-defenders, this in turn has started a shift in the long established use of in service air defence
systems in force-on-force operation towards alternative uses below the threshold of war and furthermore, traditional expeditionary forces, like the Canadian Forces, to be deployed in homeland
defence operations. The reason to deploy GBAD units at that time was to provide a solid local air
picture right on top and around the conference venue.

The use of the ADATS System to engage air targets was not foreseen due to the lack of systems to enable the National Command Authority to come to a timely shoot-down decision, through the Chief of Defence Staff and down the line of command to the single system. The ADATS Systems were not armed with live ammunition. After this initial deployment, there are a number of other publicly known instances where GBAD Systems were to be deployed to provide security during events in the respective homelands, including during the soccer World Cup in South Africa last year.