MBDA : Meeting the challenges posed by denial of access


This document sets out to propose technical and operational responses to the challenge of denial of access. It makes no claim to be exhaustive—which would in any case be impossible in the short space of a workshop—but it does attempt to contribute some information on important and characteristic situations. It does not discuss deterrence, which is the subject of Workshop 7.
Denial of access by non-state actors

Defensive systems in the maritime environment
Non-state actors in Yemen or in Lebanon have already damaged Saudi or Israeli Navy units by using ground-based anti-ship missiles, or unmanned fast surface vessels carrying heavy explosive charges that home in on the target vessel through to impact.
The French Navy must therefore protect all of its vessels in order to maintain their ability to traverse strategic straits such as Bab-el-Mandeb or Hormuz. Its frigates are protected by systems based on Aster and Mistral missiles. Consequently, the refuelling tankers and the command and projection ships (BPCs) also need to be protected by missiles. The Mistral3 missile, already in service in the Navy, is potentially of interest for these units, with its ability to intercept airborne threats (anti-ship missiles) as well as surface threats (self-guided fast boats) and its easy integration onto ships that are not equipped with sophisticated combat systems.

Defensive systems in the aerial environment
The French Air Force is faced with a similar upsurge in non-state actors, due to the propagation of ground-to-air systems, from the very short range man-portable missiles produced by many countries through to medium-range missiles that can intercept aircraft flying at high altitude. The latter missiles are less widespread, but can nonetheless be found in the possession of uncontrolled forces, as demonstrated by the destruction of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing as it was cruising at 33,000 feet over Ukraine.
France must therefore, each time a new Rafale standard is defined, continually improve the aircraft’s self-defence system capabilities, in particular those of its Missile Launch Detection system (MLDS), which alerts the aircraft to incoming missile threats.

Offensive systems
These are identical to the systems that need to be used against state powers, and are described in the following paragraph.
Denial of access by state powers

The continental powers (China, Russia, Iran…) are putting in place “denial of access bubbles” with the aim of controlling strategic air and sea zones of huge size (at least several hundred thousand square km). For the aerial environment, these bubbles depend on ground-to-air defences such as the S-300 PMU2 or S-400, with ranges of up to 400 km against large aircraft. For the maritime environment, they frequently rely on ramjet anti-ships like the Onyx (exported by Russia under the name Yakhont) with ranges comparable to the aerial component of the bubble and which—flying at over 800 m/s—are difficult for the target ship’s defences to intercept unless they have Aster class air defence missiles.

Crisis management
The prime example of the use of denial of access in times of crisis is Russia’s deployment of a bubble around Tartus in Syria. France, to preserve its force projection capability, and thus its credibility as a stakeholder in the resolution of major crises affecting the global order, cannot allow itself to be subjected to these attempts to deny access. France has the strategic and military tool of choice for this type of situation, namely an ability to act at a distance (from outside the denial of access bubble) based on cruise missiles that can be used by the political powers acting in their sovereign capacity, from the collection of target data through to the impact of the missile on its target. For greater operational flexibility, France has acquired the airborne SCALP/EG missile, deployed from Rafales based on land or on the Charles de Gaulle, as well as the naval cruise missile (MdCN), deployed from its Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and FREMM frigates. The vital need to maintain this capability at full strength is addressed by the “Future Cruise / Anti-Ship Weapon” (FC/ASW) programme, for which the concept studies were launched in mid-2017 in collaboration with the UK as part of the Lancaster House Treaty.

High-intensity conflict
In a high-intensity conflict, it is necessary to deal with multiple targets located inside the hostile “denial of access bubble”. For reasons of cost, this cannot be done exclusively with weapons fired from outside the bubble; the bubble must therefore be neutralised by our forces. France must possess this neutralisation capability if the country is to maintain its rank as a major power. This entails providing lasting support for its ability to destroy very long-range ground-to-air defences such as today’s S-300 PMU2 or S-400 systems by means of cruise missiles (SCALP/EG and MdCN, to be followed by the FC/ASW and modernised MdCN). Once these key defences have been eliminated, our aircraft can conduct their battlefield target bombing missions (against mobile or relocatable targets, as well as against fixed and hardened ones) using appropriate air-to-ground weapons. However, not every ground-to-air defence will be annihilated. Enemy ground targets are protected by mobile short- and medium-range ground-to-air systems that can reveal themselves at the last moment when alerted by the enemy’s network of sensors. The best protection against such threats is to extend the distance between firer and target.
That is exactly what the new SmartGlider family of guided missiles is designed to do. The finely engineered aerodynamics and integrated guidance and navigation function of these complete-round gliding missiles, with their folding wings, enable them to achieve ranges of over 100 km, putting the launch aircraft out of reach of mobile ground-to-air defences.
Their compact form factor (2 metres long and weighing 120 kg) means that 12 to 18 SmartGlider Lights can be carried under a single Rafale. A patrol of 4 Rafales can therefore deploy in the order of fifty of these weapons, to saturate and eliminate enemy air defences, considerably reinforcing the Rafale’s air-to-ground capabilities in addition to its kit weapons and cruise missiles.