Short and sharp
Flexible, fast-to-deploy, and comparatively inexpensive, short-range systems form an essential part of any nation’s ground-based air defence (GBAD) strategy.
Long-range ground-based air defence systems are some of the most powerful pieces of defence technology in the world today.
Capable of shooting down aerial threats from a large distance, they provide armed forces with a major deterrent against enemy aircraft, drones and missiles. Few fighter jet pilots would confidently climb into the cockpit knowing their flightpath will place them within reach of long-range GBAD.
And so, it’s natural that when armed forces begin examining potential GBAD solutions, some leap to the conclusion that a long-range system is all they need. Why invest in systems with shorter ranges, they ask, when a long-range system can provide all the coverage needed?
The truth is that this kind of logic is highly flawed.
For all the strengths of long-range systems, it’s impossible for them to be effective across the full range of combat situations. High-performing short-range solutions, such as our RBS 70 NG, bring a variety of benefits unavailable to long-range GBAD, helping armed forced to create a layered, truly comprehensive air defence system.
So, where do long-range systems fall down? How can a good short-range system help fill the gaps? And why should short-range GBAD be considered an essential part of any nation’s air defence strategies?
Short-range GBAD makes financial sense
One key shortfall of long-range GBAD solutions is price. Simply put, they are extremely expensive. A launcher for a typical long-range system can easily run to USD 6 million, with individual missiles coming in at USD 5 to 6 million. Given the accuracy and lethality that such systems provide, that kind of investment makes perfect sense if you’re only trying to take down USD 80 million jet fighters.
However, warfare is rapidly changing. The West’s enemies are making increasing use of light, agile and inexpensive drones, both for surveillance purposes and as weapons laden with munitions. For a relatively small investment, a hostile force can send hundreds of armed drones into a combat zone, wreaking havoc. Just consider the experience in Ukraine in 2014 when Russian forces used drones in combination with long-range fires to achieve devastating results against the Ukrainian army. Or the outcome of the more recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where Azerbaijani forces won the day by using drones as both weapons and surveillance tools. In such circumstances, shooting down each and every drone with a USD 5 million long-range missile would very quickly become unsustainably expensive.
This is where more economical short-range solutions, like the RBS 70 NG system, can be invaluable. Capable of taking down aircraft, drones and missiles from up to nine kilometres away, the RBS 70-system is fully man portable and ready to fire within 45 seconds. A far more affordable price for both the weapon and its missiles means that troops need not hesitate before engaging a single drone or an entire drone squadron. Nuisance drones and decoy drones along with real threats can all be dispatched instantly. At the same time, the RBS 70 NG remains equally lethal to sophisticated modern jet aircraft.
Short-range GBAD can mean more coverage
The high cost of long-range systems also limits their ability to be widely distributed. A typical long-range system is effective only up to a range of 70 or 80 kilometres. And yet large countries have millions of square kilometres to cover. Even the wealthiest of nations could not afford to achieve full coverage through long-range systems.
Here again, an outstanding short-range system like our RBS 70 NG offers a solution. The lower price per unit and per missile allows for the RBS 70 NG to be widely distributed among a nation’s armed forces. It can be rolled out at the section, squad and even team level, putting the power to bring down an aircraft in the hands of small, mobile fire teams. This allows GBAD capability to be rapidly rolled out in areas under threat.
Saab’s short-range system is not radar dependent
Long-range GBAD systems rely on radar to find, identify and track targets. The problem is that the makers of modern jet aircraft anticipate radar-guided missiles and equip their planes with highly effective countermeasures. Jamming technologies can be used to confuse and disorient the missiles fired by long-range systems, allowing aircraft to pass by unharmed.
Our RBS 70 NG short-range system is different. Unlike the vast majority of GBAD missiles on the market, it relies on ground-based laser guidance to lock onto targets. A laser beam emitted from the firing point locks onto the target and follows it, creating a clear path for the missile to follow. This all means that once a target is acquired, no amount of radar jamming or dispersion of flares (aimed at thermal guidance measures) will interfere with its lock. This makes the system highly lethal, forcing aircraft to avoid flying within its nine kilometres operating range or facing the real threat of being destroyed. That creates an incredibly strong deterrent.
Short-range GBAD can be deployed faster
In order to cover larger distances, long-range missiles need to carry extra fuel and this adds to their bulk. Long-range launchers, in turn, also need to be larger to accommodate not only the extra weight of the missiles but radar and an advanced communication, coordination, command and control system. When such long-range system need to be redeployed, a major logistical exercise is required. Trains may be needed to help transport units over large distances. And upon arrival it may take several hours before the system is up and running and able to engage aerial threats.
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The problem with this lack of agility is that modern combat scenarios are fast moving. Changes in enemy strategy, the loss of a battalion, or the arrival of new intelligence can all require assets to be moved rapidly to provide extra cover. If they are protecting assets that are being moved, ground-based air systems need to be able to keep pace and that often means travelling in excess of 60 kilometres an hour. Cumbersome long-range systems will struggle to do so.
Short-range GBAD systems tend to be far more flexible and faster to deploy. In the case of the RBS 70 NG, a two-man team can carry and fire the system. They can travel in a vehicle, if desired, or walk on foot into difficult terrain. Once in position, it takes just 45 seconds to prepare the weapon and have it ready to target and bring down an aircraft, drone or missile. That speed of deployment and uncertainty over the location of the system creates major headaches for pilots facing an opposition equipped with the RBS 70 NG. It also creates the opportunity for convoys of equipment and troops to travel to their destinations without being molested by aerial threats.
Short range GBAD is hard to detect
A battery of long-range GBAD launchers is hard to hide. The bulk of long-range systems and their dependence on transport infrastructure to move into place is one of their biggest Achilles heels. They can be spotted using traditional satellite imagery and are even more vulnerable given the recent explosion in sensor technology. Small surveillance drones are now commonly being used to crawl combat zones looking for assets that can be destroyed using remote fires. Long-range GBAD solutions, with their long redeployment times, can be sitting ducks in such scenarios.
The nimbleness and portability of short-range systems like the RBS 70 NG are a major strength. They are extremely difficult to spot using satellite imagery can move to a new location at a moment’s notice.
Short range fill the gaps under 1000 metres
One of the major hurdles that long-range GBAD systems face is the curvature of the earth. Over long distances of many tens of kilometres, the curvature of the planet creates a shadow zone for aircraft hoping to avoid detection by radar. By flying under, say, 1,000 metres, a fighter jet may be able to completely avoid being targeted by a long-range GBAD battery 50 kilometres away.
Short-range systems can fill this gap. When used in combination with long-range systems, short-range GBAD can eliminate the benefits of slipping into the radar shadow. An enemy aircraft that flies low when an RBS 70 NG is within nine kilometres stands an excellent chance of being destroyed.
Set and forget capability
Affordability, stealth and flexibility mean that short-range GBAD can be put in place long before it is needed. Fire units can be encamped around, for example, key power generation or water management infrastructure, in advance of an anticipated invasion occurring. If and when a threat materialises, the system can be up and running in seconds. This makes it far more responsive and powerful against aerial threats than even a fighter jet squadron.
MANPAD systems can go anywhere
Not all terrain can be accessed by rail or road. National borders may take in areas of dense forests or other types of hard to access wilderness. This makes them inaccessible to long-range systems, creating a defensive gap. A key advantage of short range systems such as RBS 70 NG is man portability. If a location can be reach on foot, by bike or other light motor vehicle, a GBAD system can be set up there.
This is equally advantageous in urban combat zones. The RBS 70 NG can be carried up through a building to a rooftop to attain an excellent firing position to take down aerial threats.
Key RBS 70 NG features
In addition to the characteristics detailed above, our RBS 70 NG system brings together a range of features to enable high-quality short-range air defence. Missiles fired by the system are capable of achieving Mach 2 and the solution is effective at altitudes of up to 5000 metres. Reloading time once a missile has destroyed its target is less than five seconds.
The RBS 70 NG comes with a range of features aimed at enhancing the operator experience. Integrated, high-resolution thermal imaging allow for night and day capabilities, while advanced cueing allows for improved reaction times and target acquisition. An auto-tracker assists the operator during engagement and increases hit probability. Meanwhile, built-in video recording allows after-action review.
RBS 70 NG missiles can be operated independently in stand-alone mode. Alternatively, they can be linked with a surveillance radar and configured with other firing units to form an anti-aircraft battery. The RBS 70 NG sight unit can also be alternately applied in remotely controlled and vehicle applications. The modular design of the NG sight and the vehicle platform allows for integration into an almost unlimited number of vehicle types and for network integration and remote
In summary, national armed forces looking to defend against aerial threats should not limit their search to long range GBAD solutions. Short-range solutions such as the RBS 70 NG come with a range of complementary benefits including agility, affordability and fast deployment. They should automatically be included in any comprehensive air defence strategy.
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Since the first military aircraft took to the skies, air attack has been one of the most powerful strategies for dominating opponents on the ground. The term ground-based air defence (GBAD) refers to a systems aimed at neutralising or diminishing the aerial threat posed by manned aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), smaller drones and missiles. As distinct from air-based air defence, GBAD systems are operated from the surface of the earth or from ships located in marine environments.