Pakistan strengthens low-to-medium altitude air defence

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With an eye towards India, Pakistan’s new investments seek to counter the airborne threat


Pakistan's new LY-80 system. Source: YouTube


Pakistan is developing its ‘defence by denial’ strategy by strengthening its air defence capabilities. 

2017 has already seen the Pakistan Army successfully induct a Chinese made Low-to-Medium Altitude Air Defence System (LOMADS) LY-80. The LY-80 is also known as HQ-16A in China and is a product of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corps (CASC) and can hit targets of an altitude of 400 to 10,000 metres.  

The Pakistan Ministry of Defence Production has revealed that the armed forces ordered six LY-80 defence systems from China for $373m between 2014-2015.  

According to Pakistani Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa, the defence system would increase “response capability to current and emerging air defence threats.”  

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The batteries will be placed under the Pakistan Army Air Defence Command, presently under the command of Lt. General Muhammad Zahid Latif Mirza.  

The air defence system is an improved version of the Russian Buk air defence systems that were acquired by China from Russia. The mobility in the air defence system is achieved by placing the LY-80 into an 8x8 truck in which the command and control is also stationed.  

Every firing battery consists of four vertical launchers each armed with a missile pack containing six launchers. While the Chinese HQ-16s are based on 6x6 high mobility trucks rather than on chassis trucks, the original Buk air defence system was carried in a chassis truck. 

Capable of capable of cold vertical launch, the LY-80 solution comprises a searching radar vehicle, command vehicle, radar tracking and guidance vehicle, launcher unit vehicle, and missile canister.  

The system also comprises equipment capable of technical support that include a missile transportation and loading vehicle, power supply vehicle, maintenance vehicle, and missile test equipment. 

S-band 3-D passive phased array radar with a range of 150km is solid state mounted on the top of the mast for performing automatic friend-or-foe identification, threat judgement, flight path processing and to provide target engagement information for the tracking and guidance radar. The defence system also consists of multiple L-band tracking and guidance Passive Electronically Scanned Array radars, each having a range of 85km capable of detecting six targets and of tracking four. 



The missile has a payload capacity of 70kg and is guided by a semi-active radar homing seeker for tracking and guidance. The missile can destroy aircraft and cruise missiles that are flying at an altitude of 15m to 18km. For combat aircraft, the maximum interception range is 40km, and for cruise missiles, the interception range is 3.5km-12km. The defence system could therefore prove ideal in protecting counter-force targets.   

China has been an all-weather friend to Islamabad and has provided several kinds of sophisticated weapon systems to strengthen Pakistan’s offensive and defensive capabilities, particularly in its effort to match India. 

The LY-80 will become the backbone of Pakistan’s medium range ground to air defence system, in addition to the HQ-7 command-line-of-sight short range ground-to-air defence system. China’s HQ-9 export variant – the FD-2000 – may also be purchased as Pakistan has expressed an interest in buying this 125km range system, though procurement talks have yet to see results. 

Acquiring these air defence capabilities, along with continued use of interceptor fighter aircraft, such as the F-16 and Mirage IIIE (the country’s ‘first line of defence’), will make its ‘defence by denial’ strategy more credible.  

Pakistan has also showed interest in the Russian S-400 air and missile defence system. In 2014, the Pakistan Air Force purchased an initial batch of 3x batteries of LY-80 LOMADS with 8x IBIS-150AD mobile radars which are compatible with Pakistan’s national ‘Raabta’ C4ISR, providing the country with an extended Area Defence Layer to its SPADA-2000 and Crotale systems. 

Reports of Pakistan’s induction of the LY-80 system came just days after India tested a supersonic interceptor. India is working on ballistic missile defence (BMD) and is working on a two-tier air defence system – Pradyumna Air Defence (PAD) and Advanced Air Defence (AAD).  

Pakistan seems to be keeping pace with not only India’s offensive capabilities but also its neighbour’s defensive efforts, maintaining the stability-instability paradox and the overall offence-defence balance in the region.  

As the Pakistani Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, told the Senate, “Pakistan has serious concerns over these developments (India’s BMD capabilities) and will take all necessary measures to augment its defence capabilities.”  

The LY-80 will no doubt strengthen Pakistan’s long-range anti-air warfare capabilities and will form the medium-range layer of the land-based integrated air defence system (IADS). 

Pakistan’s air defence capabilities are well developed and efficient to the extent that they should fill the gap for the ‘lack of strategic depth’ as the SAMs should complement the fighter aircraft in providing a robust deterrence. However, there is little public information on whether Pakistan intends to domestically produce air defence systems in the near future.

Pakistan’s first-use (nuclear) doctrine would become more credible if it develops a credible air defence capability as this would ensure survivability of its second strike capability, thereby strengthening its full spectrum deterrence capability. Survivability of the nuclear arsenal is key to achieving this capability and a strengthened air defence capability in turn provides assurance of survival of the nuclear arsenal.