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The Groundwork to Induct a Long-Range Surface-to-Air Missile

On 06 May 2020, the RAND Corporation published an article outlining several challenges many countries face in their efforts to deploy long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems.[1] The main point of the piece is that the upfront cost of long-range SAMs, such as the S-400, are not indicative of the true cost required to exact enough value out of those systems. Rather, to effectively use long-range SAMs, the end-user must invest in different radar types to cover blind spots, build a secure, high-speed information exchange (i.e., data link) system to share target tracking data, and fine-tune training and processes to eliminate errors.[2]

In other words, the end-user must acquire and acclimate to an eco-system of high-cost assets before even contemplating the induction of a long-range SAM. Otherwise, the end-user will either fail to use the long-range SAM effectively, or worse, risk losing it to enemy fire. In terms of the latter, for example, the enemy can saturate an air defence battery with a large number of cruise missiles.[3] In fact, this is one of the ways Pakistan can potentially work to counteract India’s S-400, and wider air defence network in general.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, one can also argue that Pakistan also built the eco-system it would need to one day employ its own long-range SAM. Indeed, there have also been reports of Pakistan expressing interest in such a system. In 2018, a Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) official told Russian News Agency TASS that the armed forces were studying the feasibility of procuring three or four FD-2000 batteries from China.[4] But Pakistan’s interest in the FD-2000 dates back to the early 2000s, and though it has not followed through on it yet, in the years since it built an eco-system to fully leverage it.

Project Vision: Eliminating Blind Spots, Giving Situational Awareness to All

In 1999, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) started ‘Project Vision,’ an initiative aimed at building one situational awareness picture using land, sea, and air-based assets.

The single ‘Recognized Air and Maritime Picture (RAMP)’ leverages the PAF’s airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft and the army and navy’s land-based radars. The RAMP offers 24/7 coverage of both Pakistani and foreign territory, with the latter reaching some several hundred miles across Pakistan’s borders on both land and sea. The latter varies based on the location of the ship.[5]

In terms of employing a long-range SAM, the RAMP offers several benefits.

First, one of the challenges with deploying a long-range SAM, at least on its own (i.e., without a supporting eco-system of other sensors), is that the Earth’s curvature causes coverage blind spots. An enemy can use these blind spots to stage ground-based attacks and/or low-flying aircraft (e.g., drones) against the SAM.

However, by pooling AEW&C and different surface radars alike, the RAMP provides both over-the-horizon and low-altitude coverage via connectivity to AEW&C and gap filler radars. Pakistan build a relatively large AEW&C fleet through its six Erieye and four Karakorum Eagle systems, and acquired new gap filler radars from China and other sources. Thus, the RAMP eliminates those gaps by allowing the end-user to see the feeds from each segment, i.e., by air (AEW&C), long-range and high-altitude (AN/TPS-77), and a multitude of low-altitude sensors (YLC-18A, SMART-S Mk2, etc).

Second, to even deploy a system such as RAMP, Pakistan would have needed a network built on data link connectivity between sensors. The Pakistan Navy (PN) uses the Naval Information Exchange System (NIXS) to disseminate its combined sensor feed. Thus, a similar system must exist in use with the PAF and Army to enable their respective units to see RAMP (and the PN can use the NIXS). It is worth noting that NIXS is built on a nationwide communications infrastructure (RedLine), so the PN can use it from any location in the country.[6] It would not be surprising if the PAF and Army are using a system based on RedLine.

Third, the training and processes to eliminate human error and boost success-rates can come from short-and-medium-range SAMs, of which Pakistan operates several types, namely the Spada 2000-Plus and LY-80. The PAF and Army are building experience using SAMs in a network-enabled environment, and the PN will join them soon through the LY-80N-equipped Type 054A/P frigate and, potentially, MILGEM. It will be worth seeing if Pakistan undertakes more air defence exercises in the future to fine-tune its training and processes, and to better understand or mitigate potential threats.

Thus, all three of Pakistan’s service arms are developing the experience necessary to use SAMs in network-enabled warfare settings. One of the observations that RAND made was that developing countries might be prone to buying long-range SAMs, but without the expertise or infrastructure to build a credible anti-air warfare (AAW) threat.[7] However, Pakistan has been working in the ‘reverse’ of this trend; rather, it has built the necessary capacity. By no means is frontloading the support element a low-cost endeavour – it likely involved trading off buying long-range SAMs in favour of additional radars and infrastructure.

Acquiring Long-Range SAMs

The frontrunner to any long-range SAM requirement is likely a Chinese system. China is a willing supplier, and it offers solutions that can fit within Pakistan’s fiscal limitations.

The China Precision Machinery Import & Export Corporation (CPMIEC) FD-2000 is the export-grade variant of the HQ-9. It is available in multiple variants, including one with a passive seeker (FT-2000) homing in on radar emission sources (e.g., AEW&C and electronic warfare/jamming aircraft). The FD-2000 offers a range of 125 km, which about three times as much as the LY-80, Pakistan’s longest-range SAM today.

The FD-2000’s seeker is unclear. One source says that the FD-2000 uses a semi-active radar-homing (SARH) seeker.[8] In this case, the missile relies on a target illumination radar to maintain a lock on the target until the missile is close enough to the target and explode. It is an older seeker type, but it may result in lower cost missiles. But it would come at the cost of not fully exploiting Pakistan’s support infrastructure.

To fully leverage the RAMP, an active radar-homing (ARH)-based SAM is best. First, there is no need for a target illuminating radar to maintain a lock (and expose itself to enemy electronic warfare). Second, ARH-based missiles work by relying on mid-course targeting updates from launch up to the point the missile is close enough to the target to rely solely on its own seeker. But this targeting data can come from ground-based as well as airborne radars, including AEW&C. It is unclear if China developed a solution that delivers this capability, but it is something Pakistan can try developing at home. One method could involve having the AEW&C feed the information to the FD-2000’s targeting system on the ground, which can then send that data to the missile by data-link. Ideally, however, the AEW&C would speak to the missile directly.

In the naval scenario, this same method could allow surface ships to identify anti-ship missile threats at a long enough range, and in turn, activate countermeasures (e.g., jamming, close-in-weapon-system, and a medium-to-long-range SAM) to intercept those missiles sooner. Basically, the AEW&C would pick-up these missile threats earlier, and in turn, feed the target data to the ships’ SAMs (either directly or using a local combat management system as a medium). Unfortunately, the LY-80N uses SARH seekers, so the PN will not have this capability with the Type 054A/P, but with the MILGEM, it is possible if the PN selects an ARH-based SAM instead of the LY-80N (be it a new version of the LY-80 or another SAM entirely).

The US is reaching this level of interoperability through its Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) effort – it will use CEC-based solutions to not only employ SAMs, but also offensive munitions, such as its cruise missiles and other stand-off range weapons. In terms of SAMs, India also started testing an analogous set of capabilities through the Barak-8 and MRSAM. The FD-2000 may be Pakistan’s only option, but it should push for an ARM seeker as well as enough access to the electronics to employ its own CEC-like solution.

One dark horse option, especially in the long-term, could be to work with Turkey. The latter is also aware of CEC-like developments, so it is likely that its own in-house long-range SAM projects, such as the HİSAR-U, will contain a CEC counterpart. But in the near-term, Pakistan’s next SAM will likely be Chinese. The key is whether Pakistan will acquire the FD-2000 as-is, or push for specific improvements (e.g., ARH seekers) to future-proof the solution.

[1] Peter A. Wilson and John V. Parachini. “Russian S-400 Surface to Air Missile System: Is It Worth the Sticker Price?” The RAND Blog. RAND Corporation. 06 May 2020. URL:

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Pakistan will strengthen air defense cooperation with China.” Russian News Agency TASS. 29 November 2018. URL:

[5] Alan Warnes. “PAF’s Eagle-eyed view.” Asian Military Review. 29 November 2018. URL:

[6] İbrahim Sünnetci, “A Look at Latest Status of the PN MILGEM Project.” Defence Turkey. Volume 14. Issue 97. 2019: URL:

[7] Peter A. Wilson and John V. Parachini. “Russian S-400 Surface to Air Missile System: Is It Worth the Sticker Price?” The RAND Blog. RAND Corporation. 06 May 2020. URL:

[8] FD-2000 long-range air defense missile system. Army Recognition. URL:

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