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In-House SAM Projects Hint at Pakistan’s Air Defence Goals

In May, GIDS (Global Industrial and Defence Solutions) revealed a number of new projects currently under development in Pakistan, notably two new surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. These are the “LOMADS” and the “E-SHROADS” – the latter also has the designation of “FAAZ-SL.”

GIDS stated that the solutions it revealed in its future roadmap are currently under development and will “soon” join its product portfolio. GIDS did not disclose when these projects started, nor did it offer specific details regarding availability. However, considering GIDS’ primary role of marketing and exporting Pakistani defence products, the reveal of the future roadmap likely carries weight. GIDS is aiming to garner interest in these programs from potential foreign buyers or investors, so these projects are likely substantive, if not viable from a production standpoint. Moreover, these projects are being managed by Pakistan’s larger and more established state-owned-enterprises (SOE), such as NESCOM.

That said, though GIDS is trying to generate interest from the market, each of these projects likely reflects a domestic requirement. Thus, it would not be surprising if the LOMADS and FAAZ-SL are being driven by the future air defence needs of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), for example. For its part, GIDS is simply just a commercial arm; it does not define project requirements or drive them to completion. Rather, the PAF, the Pakistan Army (PA), or Pakistan Navy (PN) define requirements and, in turn, task the likes of the NESCOM, Air Weapons Complex (AWC) and others to handle development.

Basically, while GIDS was given the greenlight to market the LOMADS, these programs were (and still are) driven by the armed forces. Hence, they reflect the direction of Pakistan’s defence procurement plans in the coming years just as much as its defence commercial interests.

A Future Image of Pakistan’s Air Defence Environment?

According to GIDS, the LOMADS will range a range of 7 km to 100 km, and an altitude coverage of 30 m to 20 km. The LOMADS’ missile will have a maximum speed of Mach 5 and, in turn, engage targets flying from Mach 0.1 to Mach 3. Overall, the system will have the capacity to engage 12 targets simultaneously.

Previously, Pakistan had used the term “LOMADS” as the acronym for “low-to-medium-range air defence system.” However, the stated range of the product would take it into the realm of a long-range SAM, such as the HQ-9/P. Traditionally, ‘LOMADS’ would have referred to a 25-60 km-range system, like the LY-80 and Spada 2000-Plus. Thus, this one detail could indicate that the PAF has adjusted how it defines range for its SAMs; moving forward, “long-range” could refer to a SAM with a range of over 100 km.

For the PAF, the LOMADS could be its play to replace the Spada 2000-Plus. In fact, last year, Quwa inferred that the PAF could pursue a new medium-range SAM with an active radar-homing (ARH) seeker. Not only does LOMADS point in that direction, but it adds to it by extending the range of the PAF’s wider air defence environment, and by a substantial margin from the Spada 2000-Plus (which has a range of 25 km).

It is not known if the LOMADS is an original project or, instead, based on an existing off-the-shelf system. Some analysts have noted that the illustration of the LOMADS bears a resemblance to the NORINCO Sky Dragon 50. Likewise, the two systems have similar, if not identical, capabilities, such as maximum altitude coverage and simultaneous engagement. Finally, the deployment configuration is identical across the two systems, i.e., they both use up to six vehicles capable of launching four missiles each.

Arguably, the sole difference between the Sky Dragon 50 and LOMADS is that the latter offers double the range at 100 km. Thus, the LOMADS could be an upgrade or development of the Sky Dragon 50 with more range and, potentially, compatibility with the PAF’s new gap-filler radars. This configuration would provide the PAF with a combined surveillance and anti-air targeting/engagement capability.

Thus, Pakistan could be funding an upgrade project with the aim of manufacturing the resulting system locally and, potentially, building upon it with its own family of SAMs in the future. Interestingly, the missile unit of the Sky Dragon 50 is the DK-10, which can reportedly be configured vertically too. In other words, the LOMADS project could also be an option for the PN for use on its surface vessels in the future.

Conceptually, Pakistan could be treating the LOMADS similar to the way India will use the Barak-8 – i.e., as a mainstay SAM with a range of 70 km to 100 km. This would basically be the workhorse air defence missile deployed on land and from sea. Ideally, Pakistan would keep investing in the Sky Dragon/LOMADS’ rocket technology and, in turn, develop its own next-generation stack that could reach 150 km or more.

Complementing the LOMADS, GIDS also revealed the E-SHORADS/FAAZ-SL. This is a short-range SAM with a range of up to 25 km and maximum altitude of 8 km. One interesting aspect of this system is that it is a direct, land-launched variant of an in-house air-to-air missile (AAM) also under development, the FAAZ-2.

That said, it is unclear if the ‘FAAZ-SL’ uses the FAAZ-2. GIDS states that the FAAZ-2 is a beyond-visual-range (BVR) AAM with a range of 180 km. While one should a range drop off when directly porting an AAM into a SAM, it is unlikely it would fall from 180 km to 25 km. Thus, it is possible that the FAAZ-SL uses an older iteration of the AAM, i.e., the FAAZ-1. Likewise, if one were to use the FAAZ-2 as a SAM, it would generate more range compared to the FAAZ-SL, potentially up to 40-50 km.

Overall, the interesting aspect of this project is that it suggests that the PAF is interested in both producing an AAM in-house and, in turn, using it as flexibly as possible. Quwa suggested that the PAF could pursue a NASAMS type solution. By deploying a missile as both an AAM and a SAM, it can generate the economies-of-scale necessary to make continual production feasible. It also offers a tactical gain in that both the fighter and air defence stocks can rely on a common munitions pool.

Both the LOMADS and FAAZ-SL show that the PAF is taking the future direction of its land-based air defence environment seriously. There has been thought towards both acquiring systems with more range and, as importantly, deriving more effective ways to deploy SAMs (e.g., by using AAMs and mobile launchers).

The war in Ukraine shows that modern air defence environments can play a major role in mitigating enemy air operations. Today, fighter aircraft are not the only air threats – countries also have to contend with an increasing array of stand-off range weapons (SOW), like cruise missiles, and drones.

This requires a shift, especially from a cost and flexibility standpoint. First, Pakistan faces more air threats from a pure quantitative or numerical standpoint (e.g., fighters, helicopters, drones, cruise missiles, gliding bombs, and more). Second, these threats are inherently more complex; for example, cruise missiles could fly at low altitude, leverage terrain-hugging, and use waypoints to obfuscate their route.

Thus, the future air defence environment necessitates SAMs that confer more flexibility. This is where one ‘workhorse’ SAM makes sense as the PAF can use one system to address what it anticipates being the most common anti-air scenario (i.e., up to 100 km in range and up to 20 km in altitude). It will enable the PAF to widely deploy one type of system, thus reducing logistics, maintenance, and training issues.

In tandem, the FAAZ-SL would enable the PAF to rapidly close coverage gaps based on real-time changes in its situational awareness. For example, FAAZ-SL units could reinforce existing air defence coverages, or be used to provide temporary cover, for example during a forward deployment.

Overall, the two SAM platforms would carry the bulk of the PAF’s air defence needs. Thus, the requirement in terms of missile units across both would be significant, thus making local production necessary. The PAF would need a significant number of missiles to reliably counter a large number of air threats. If it relies only on imports, it will run into the same risk of diminishing munitions stores as Ukraine. Standardizing to two or three main missile types makes the production side of the equation more cost-effective.

Finally, the PAF will likely aim to make its future SAMs compatible with its mainstay radars, especially gap-fillers with low-to-medium-range and altitude coverage capabilities. In 2019, the PAF acquired solid-state transmitters for a new radar to replace its aging Siemens MPDRs. By pairing the SAMs with workhorse air surveillance radars (and, in turn, doing away with dedicated fire control radars) enables the PAF to deploy its air defence systems in a more flexible way. It can rapidly adjust the deployment of firing units based on real-time operational needs, not bottlenecks such as custom sensor or command-and-control systems.

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