UK Air Defence – A Forgotten Capability Gap

Synopsis – UK Air Defence Capability Gap

Following on from the 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) DefenceSynergia (DS) made representations to the House of Commons Defence Committee pointing out the disparity between the Government’s worthy aspirations for UK defence up to and beyond 2020 and the budget time-line being proposed to implement the plan. DS accepted that Her Majesty’s Government was genuinely attempting to be strategically cohesive but within seriously constrained fiduciary limits – the result was an inevitable mismatch between honest desire and the delivery of Capability to meet the acknowledged threats.

Whilst DS highlighted a number of Capability gaps with the House of Commons Defence Committee, what DS did not address in detail on 10th December 2015 was a concern shared by many analysts – that the United Kingdom Integrated Air Defence (UKIAD), especially in regard to anti-missile defences, has a glaring Capability Gap. The resurgence of overt aggression from States such as Russia and North Korea, aggressive territorial expansion by China, increasing belligerence from Iran towards its neighbours, and terrorism, has already led to a number of air threat risk increase scenarios. The continuing emergence of evermore capable medium and long range supersonic and hypersonic standoff, cruise and ballistic missile systems and technology that is accurate and dual capable – nuclear/conventional – is a growing threat.

On the plus side, DS recognises the force-multiplier effect advantages that Tactical Data Links give to wide area surveillance and ability to react to threats in real time rather than have everything flying at the same time. Link 16 data transfer gives our airborne AD forces the ability to operate in radio silence and still have complete situational awareness from surveillance assets like Sentry E-3D. Hence airborne AD in depth, over long ranges, which once needed high numbers of combat assets in the air, requires fewer today.

However, there must be an irreducible number of fighters for assured effectiveness and former air commanders are on record as saying that this line has already been crossed – the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm are below critical mass effect. Nevertheless, whatever the agreed fighter and ground to air systems Order of Battle, if the missile stocks and their re-supply from stock or manufacture cannot accurately be calculated using meaningful Rates of Effort the available numbers of combat platforms may become academic. Having AD weapons that could only engage high-speed threats at short or medium range is not effective against the waste arsenal of very long-range threats today.

Beyond air fighter, air-to-air weapons inventory, ground radar and airborne control systems the efficacy of UK air defence must be judged against the emerging and extant threats mentioned earlier. Instead the UK has not had a medium range anti-aircraft/missile defence system since the demise of ‘Bloodhound’ in the late 1980’s, relying upon shorter range Rapier and man portable ground to air systems on land and a plethora of short to medium range anti-aircraft/missile systems at sea. In the latter case, MOD has cancelled Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) that, like Link 16, would have provided the RN with an additional force multiplier. The air defence gap, which has, to some degree, always existed, is growing. Therefore, the NSS/SDSR commitment to spend £178 billion over the next decade on equipment and equipment support should include an extensive re-design, upgrade and provision of a truly effective and credible UK Air Defence Capability to counter State and non-State air threats to the UK, overseas sites and interests, and deployed forces.

DS is proposing that a layered Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) approach is required. One with extensive, mobile and attack resilient surveillance and command and control assets, controlling and directing a wide inventory of numerous short, medium and long-range gun, missile, laser and other air defence weapons, with overlapping coverage from adjacent radar and air threat engagement systems. And, whilst the resulting UK Air Defence Doctrine and System will require a major input from the Air Staffs, for the system to be effective and have full utility, it must be integrated across the Maritime, Land, Air, Space and Cyber environments. To ensure ‘seamless’ operation across the air defence spectrum, THE DOCTRINE MUST BE JOINT.

DefenceSynergia Paper February 2016 UK Air Defence – A Forgotten Capability Gap.

Following on from the 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) DefenceSynergia (DS) made representations to the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) pointing out what we perceived was the disparity between the Government’s worthy aspirations for UK defence up to and beyond 2020 and the budget time-line being proposed to implement the plan. In doing so DS was attempting to be pragmatic, accepting that Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) was genuinely attempting to be strategically cohesive but within seriously constrained fiduciary limits. The end result, therefore, was an inevitable mismatch between honest desire (the rhetoric) and the actual delivery of capability to meet the acknowledged threats.

What DS did not address with the HCDC on 10th December 2015 was an area of defence policy that has concerned many analysts for some years and that has largely been ignored by successive governments over nearly 3 decades. United Kingdom (UK) Integrated Air Defence System (IADS), especially in regard to anti-missile defences, has been in decline for decades. This we now address in this short paper on what we call ‘UK Air Defence – A Forgotten Capability Gap’.

Background

As early as World War I, but more so in World War II, the UK recognised the need for, and deployed, an extensive Air Defence (AD) capability to protect the UK mainland, deployed bases and deployed mobile forces from rapidly evolving air-to-ground and ground-to-ground air attack threats: bombers, rocket-armed aircraft, eventually the V1. With the exception of the V2, a ballistic missile, which was beyond 1940’s era AD technology, this capability provided the whole spectrum of detect, identify, track, engage and destroy elements necessary to keep the UK and deployed interests and Forces safe. Command and Control centres, Chain Home, airborne and ship-borne radar, Royal Observer Corps, searchlights, barrage balloons, noise detection/locator devices, anti-aircraft guns, aircraft and armed ships all contributed to the extensive Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) RAF Command (airborne air defence) and aligned Army Anti-Aircraft Command (ground based air defence) (Note 1).

The UK maintained a continuing and multi-layered and short-to-long range effective air, ground and maritime based Air Defence capability during the Cold War, focused more on missile weapons: airborne combat aircraft-borne air-to-air weapons to counter Soviet long-range bombers with 500km stand-off weapons; Bloodhound missiles with a 120mile range to engage air targets well off the UK coast and at range of deployed forces; and land-based and ship-borne missiles to engage air threats closer in and as point defence capabilities. Yet, despite the United States of America (USA) and Soviet Union (USSR now Russia) making progress in the area of anti-ballistic missile and anti-low flying missile defences throughout the Cold War, the UK’s solution remained purely passive. Little has changed today, with the ‘strategic deterrent’ providing our ultimate doctrine against nuclear attack but what of the threat of conventional ballistic missile attack, long-range stand-off missiles, cruise missiles, hijacked aircraft, and unmanned arm systems?

The Threat Today

One of the greatest threats to any country is from the air, as this has become the preferred attack vector for State-on-State conflict (initial shock and awe air interdiction phases, or long-range air/stand-off attack with no-boots on the ground commitment), and the more capable non-State aggressors (9/11 attack on the World trade Centre). An air threat can be delivered from the air, the surface or sub-surface by manned and unmanned systems. Bombs, torpedoes, depth charges, air missiles, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, lasers and even whole aircraft used as a weapon can deliver devastating effect from the skies.

There are currently two main air threats to the UK: State and non-State.

Air Threats from States

The National Security Strategy and Security and Defence Strategy Review 2015 states that:
“Para 3.3
Four particular challenges are likely to drive UK security priorities for the coming decade. They have both immediate and longer-term implications:
i. The increasing threat posed by terrorism, extremism and instability.
ii. The resurgence of state-based threats; and intensifying wider state competition.
iii. The impact of technology, especially cyber threats, and wider technological developments.
iv. The erosion of the rules-based international order, making it harder to build consensus and tackle global threats.”

“Para 4.14
There is currently no immediate direct military threat to the UK mainland. But, with increasing frequency, our responses are tested by aircraft, including Russian aircraft, near our airspace, and maritime activity near our territorial waters. The Royal Air Force protects our airspace and is ready at all times to intercept rogue aircraft.“

All these threats can be delivered via the air to the UK:

i. Terrorists and extremists have already shown their ingenuity of using our air transport system as a weapon: the 11th Sep 2001 attack on the Twin Towers; various failed and foiled plots to explode aircraft over populated areas; the use of UAVs to deliver hazardous materials; and the skill and knowledge to innovatively combine easily available and innocuous technologies procurable on the internet into an air weapon, or air delivered weapon.

ii. The resurgence of overt aggression from States such as Russia and North Korea, aggressive territorial expansion by China, and increasing belligerence from Iran towards its neighbours, has already led to a number of air threat risk increase scenarios.

• Russia’s increasingly aggressive flights into NATO airspace, with aircraft capable of launching long-range stand-off weapons, to test Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) response and airspace integrity resolve. Russia’s naval launched cruise missile attacks into Syria, and its dangerous combat flight tactics and anti-aircraft system deployments in Syria has resulted in many near-misses. NATO aircraft have been ‘locked on’ to, and a Russian combat aircraft has been shot-down by Turkey within its ‘invaded’ airspace. Russia has an extensive spectrum of medium to long-range sea, land and air weapons it could deploy against UK homeland, overseas sites, and UK deployed forces, with many of these sold to wider potential UK enemies. These include R-XX and RT-XX families of tactical, theatre and ballistic land, sea and air-launched missiles, AS-X family of air-launched cruise and anti-shipping missiles, and SS-N-XX family of ship and submarine launched missiles.

• North Korea continues to act aggressively around its borders and continues to strive to develop Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) whilst its rhetoric of air/missile attack against its perceived enemies remains vocal. It also has a significant arsenal of air threat weapons: Rodong family and KN-XX series medium to long range ballistic missiles; C602/802, Kh and Silkworm anti-ship missiles; and a range of Russian, Iranian and Chinese provided medium to long-range air to ground/surface weapons.

• China has been on an aggressive military expansion road map for some time and has developed many air delivered medium to long-range ground and surface attack weapons, including: DF-XX, JL-XX and WU-14 families of ballistic missiles; DH-XX, CJ-XX, YJ-XX and FL-XX series of surface-to-surface and air-to-surface cruise missiles; and its DF-21 ‘carrier killer’ anti-ship ballistic missile.

• Iranian Shahab, Sejjil and Ghadr series ballistic missiles, Silkworm and SS-N-X series anti-ship missiles, Kh-55 long-range cruise missiles, and others, are all an air threat to UK forces in the Middle East, Gulf of Persia and Indian Ocean areas.

• Other counties such as Pakistan, India and Argentina also have been expanding, or have been attempting to expand, their medium to long-range families of surface and air-launched threat systems.

iii. The rapidly emerging and easily procured UAV technology opens up a whole new air threat vector for both State and non-State aggressors. Traditional AD surveillance and engagement systems cannot detect, let alone destroy, some UASs and the ease with which they can be weaponised poses a very serious AD threat to the UK, deployed sites and Forces. Whilst the UK MOD is investigating anti-drone technology, until effective and integrated UAV detection and engagement Capability is deployed, this is a growing air threat risk.

iv. The rise of unconventional aggressors such as AQ, Daesh, Boko Haram, et al, States (Russia) adopting ‘plausible deniability’ hybrid warfare tactics, or other ‘irrational and uninhibited actors’ emerging to do harm, has seen many normal conventions and international rules of warfare placed on hold, or ignored by those wishing to inflict mass destruction and ignore international conventions of armed conflict. The Rules of Engagement (ROE) for tackling such opponents needs to be reviewed. Engaging in a life and death conflict with an opponent who conforms to no rules will lead to one-sided engagements that may prove very costly in operational and morale terms.

The UK Air Defence Capability Today Out To 2020

Since the withdrawal from service of the Bloodhound missile system in the 1980s, the UK’s Air Defence posture has diminished to mainly a homeland benign airspace policing and point defence posture for deployed forces. The UK no longer has a comprehensive, integrated, or robustly layered short to long-range Air Defence capability, nor a credible or enduring operational capacity. DS recognises the force-multiplier effect advantages that Tactical Data Links offer with wide area surveillance and ability to react to threats in real time rather than have everything flying at once. Link 16 data transfer gives our AD forces the ability to operate radio silent and still have complete situational awareness from surveillance assets like E-3D Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AWACS). Hence AD in depth over long ranges, which once needed high numbers of airborne assets, requires fewer today. However, fewer assets can only be in fewer locations, and engage a limited number of targets. Unfortunately, MOD has cancelled Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) for the Royal Navy which, like Link 16, would have provided the fleet with a major force multiplier, in this case by offering fleet wide surveillance and a common air picture linked to multiple and optimal firing solutions for its limited fleet AD assets.

Nevertheless, there must be an irreducible number of weapons platforms for assured effectiveness and former RN and RAF commanders are on record as saying that this line has already been crossed – FAA and RAF AD numbers below critical mass. By the same token, whatever the fighter or surface to air systems Order of Battle, if the missile stocks and their re-supply from storage, maintenance or manufacture cannot accurately be calculated to guarantee availability to meet Rates of Effort in combat the available numbers of combat platforms may become academic. Having limited range and coverage does not provide a robust or effective AD Capability, it provides critical point defence at best.

Air Defence of UK controlled airspace and force protection today depends heavily on:

• mutual detection, warning and command and control cooperation with other NATO members supplementing UK ASACS ( note 2) and Air Defence radar coverage (Cold War threat orientated);

• a small fleet of unarmed UK/NATO dual tasked airborne Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems aircraft and fleet helicopter borne systems;

• a small number of Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) combat aircraft from a small Air Defence combat aircraft fleet armed with short to medium-range air-to-air missiles (AIM 120, AIM 132, Meteor – maximum range 190nm);

• no ground-based medium to long-range Surface to Air Weapons;

• a very small inventory of short to medium range ship-borne surface to air weapons (Sea Viper, Sea Wolf, Phalanx, DS30B 30mm gun, GAM BO 20 mm gun);

• a dwindling inventory of land-based short-range/point defence Air Defence missile systems (Rapier, Starstreak – maximum range 4.5nm) and no Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA).

Future Low-Altitude Air Defence System (FLAADS) is the MOD program to introduce a common element approach to short-range surface-based air defence: FLAADS (M) at sea, and FLAADS (L) on land. CAMM is the missile – sometimes designated “CAMM-M” (also Sea Ceptor) and “CAMM-L”. ASACS control of UK Airspace links to US provided Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radar system (no linked weapons systems). The UK ASACS controls QRA, air-tanker and AWACS aircraft deployed to secure UK airspace against incursion or suspicious civil aircraft activity. ASACS control is extended to deployed forces via the deployment of 1 Air Control Centre (1 ACC) (no linked weapons systems). Local Air Defence and Counter indirect Fire systems (C-IDF – Giraffe/MAMBA/COBRA radars and Phalanx guns) can be integrated with deployed 1ACC, AD and local ATC controllers when necessary. The UK ASACS Force has limited, if any, links to other UK ASACS centres at overseas fixed locations. UK ASACS centres can coordinate with maritime deployed AD assets, but has limited routine or doctrinal coordination with GBAD units (Rapier) since this Capability was handed to the British Army. UK ASACS AD coordination for special events, such as the Olympics and G8/G20 events, are provide as required.

Other Nation Air Defence Capabilities

Other nations have a wide range of layered and integrated air defence systems comprising a wide range of ground, maritime and airborne radar systems, short, medium and long-range surface/ground based air defence gun and missile systems, and a wide range of airborne combat systems with short, medium and long-range air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. Their AD radar systems number in the many dozens to hundreds in contrast with UK’s 20-30 medium to long-range AD capable radars. Many counties have hundreds, if not thousands, of dispersed and integrated medium to long-range AAA and GBAD gun and missile systems, as opposed to the UK’s rather miniscule inventory of AD missile weapon systems.

The AD Capability Gap Requires A Comprehensive System-of-Systems Solution

The UK seems to have been lulled into a false sense of air superiority during its operations in the Balkans and Middle East against opponents with little, or no, air attack or air threat capabilities. The almost, conflict-losing, loss and damage of many Royal Navy (RN) ships and FAA/RAF aircraft during the Falklands Campaign, inflicted by very determined but technologically limited forces operating at the extremes of range and air threat capability, also seems to be a distant memory to be forgotten. Should the UK, or its deployed forces, encounter any semi-capable opposition that could direct air attacks against it, the few, widely dispersed and operationally constrained AD threat assets may be easily overwhelmed. This may subject UK forces and sites to potentially debilitating air threat and attack, similar to that imposed by western Forces on the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and currently Syria.

The UK has no current credible air defence Capability against determined aircraft attacks, missiles, Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), nor Theatre Ballistic Missile (TBM) weapons targeted against UK interests by aggressive States, State-sponsored or extremist unconventional opponents. [Albeit research is being carried out into the possibility of RN Sampson Radar and Sea Viper (with Aster 30 Block 2) system developing in such a role.] As more sophisticated and capable air attack weapons are captured and procured by unconventional forces, the air threat to UK civil and military sites and forces will inevitably increase and result in mass casualties, if theses weapons cannot be promptly detected, intercepted and destroyed. A 8nm range FLAAD/Rapier is no defence against a low and fast moving target, or multiple targets, only seen at the last minute, nor a UAV, cruise missile or TBM. A swarm of multi-directional air weapon attack systems against a destroyer or aircraft carrier group may well overwhelm the current planned AD and anti-ship missile defences being procured for the RN. The Queen Elizabeth Class carrier will have short range rapid fire weapons only and must rely upon the protection of Frigate and Destroyer escorts to engage medium range missile threats. The AD of our Strike Carrier Group needs to be significantly enhanced in the context of anti-ship and anti-carrier air threats today, let alone in the next 20 years.

The threat of extremist inspired airborne attack from civil aircraft, ground or sea launched weapons, or even an explosive or hazardous material-loaded UAV is ever present and evermore likely as the threat from unconventional and hybrid vectors increases. As these threats can emanate from anywhere at any time, effective AD weapons capability needs to be instantly available to cover likely threat areas 24/7. Air threats can be both externally and internally deployed (home-grown extremist) air threats. Relying on intelligence indicators and warnings to deploy limited and rarely exercised AD assets is ineffective and is a dangerous UK Air Defence strategy. Taking 24 hrs or longer to deploy an Air Defence-capable Fleet Ready Escort (FLE) to cover the North Sea approaches from Norway or the Arctic in response to a sudden Russian airborne or sea-launched air threat to say, RAF Lossiemouth, is not an effective Capability or credible Air Defence posture. Taking days to deploy a Rapier Battery to cover a vulnerable critical national infrastructure, or high-profile event, and not being able to communicate and doctrinally and operationally operate under the UK ASACS control centre, is not a ‘layered’ Capability.

Conclusion – A Renaissance in UK Air Defence Doctrine is Required

In Joint Warfare Publication 3-63 (Joint Air Defence) (note 3), the MOD states it aspires to/has a ‘layered air defence approach’ – this is not a credible Capability statement given the paucity of current UK AD Command and Control arrangements, AD radars, AD aircraft and ground and surface AD weapons systems and missiles in the UK inventory. This is, in fact, a critical Capability gap, and a Capability delusion if not addressed, that anyone with a minimum of military knowledge, especially our enemies, will know.

The UK requires a renaissance in its strategy and active planning with regard to its Air Defence doctrine, Capabilities and weapons systems, including the governance of all UK Air Defence capability provision and execution to protect UK assets, interests, and deployed personnel at home and abroad. Studying the layered, high performance, and integrated Air Defence capabilities of others, including Russia and China, or even Great Britain’s WWII Air Defence ORBAT and systems, would be a logical place to commence the review leading to provision of effective, credible and essential layered and integrated UK Air Defence Capability.

NSS and SDSR 2015 (note4) para 4.37 commits – “To support the delivery of this strategy, our defence policy sets the Armed Forces eight missions. Routinely, they will defend and contribute to the security and resilience of the UK and Overseas Territories. This includes deterring attacks; defending our airspace, territorial waters and cyber space; countering terrorism at home and abroad; supporting the UK civil authorities in strengthening resilience; and protecting our people overseas.“

Therefore, the NSS/SDSR Para 4.34 commitment to “spend £178 billion over the next decade on equipment and equipment support” should include an extensive re-design, upgrade and provision of a truly effective and credible Integrated UK Air Defence Capability to counter State and non-State air threats to the UK, overseas sites and interests, and deployed forces. A layered AD Capability should be able to see and reach out to strategic range (out to 500nm) ICBM and TBM engagement, very long-range to deter and engage stand-off missiles and cruise missiles (150nm – 250nm); long range (75nm to 150nm) with multiple engagement options; medium range (10nm to 75nm) with increasing layers of weapons; short-range (3 to 10nm) for point defence; and very short range (<3nm) for last ditch asset defence.

The DS solution is for a layered Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) (note 5) approach based on extensive, mobile and attack resilient surveillance and command and control assets, controlling and directing a wide inventory of numerous short, medium and long-range gun, missile, laser and other air defence weapons, with overlapping coverage from adjacent radar and air threat engagement systems. In the case of the Royal Navy, MOD must revisit the cancelled Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) programme which, given the low ORBAT for AD equipped escort ships and embarked F35B aircraft, would provide the RN with critically needed force multiplier effect – additional to any ‘Link 16’ modified platforms. Upgrading AD, especially longer range weapons systems, should be a priority for our Carrier Strike Group assets. RN Sampson Radar and Sea Viper (with Aster 30 Block 1 BMD) (note 6) system development would also seem to offer a European/UK solution to counter Ballistic Missiles with exoatmospheric capability. The current Aster 15 and 30 variants, employed by the RN, could be land based on mobile platforms.

Whilst the resulting UK Air Defence Doctrine and System will require a major input from the Air Staffs, for the system to be effective and have full utility it must be integrated across the Maritime, Land, Air, Space and Cyber environments. Therefore, to allow for ‘seamless’ operation across the defence spectrum – THE DOCTRINE MUST BE JOINT.

DefenceSynergia 1 February 2016

1 Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Defence_of_Great_Britain
2 Air Surveillance and Control System – http://www.raf.mod.uk/rafboulmer/aboutus/asacsfc.cfm
3 JWP 3-63, Joint Air Defence, 2nd Edition – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/joint-warfare-publication-3-63-joint-air-defence-second-edition
4 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, published 23 Nov 2015 – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-security-strategy-and-strategic-defence-and-security-review-2015
5 Integrated Air Defence System – http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Integrated_air_defense_system

6 IHS Janes 360 Aster 30 Block 1 BMD – http://www.janes.com/article/57248/france-launches-upgrade-of-aster-30-missile-s-bmd-capabilities