It is most refreshing to learn that Russia, which is India’s most time tested ally, has begun delivering the S-400 air defence system to India. This also came ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi for an annual summit on December 5-6, 2021. Dmitry Shugaev who is the Director of Russia’s Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation told the Russian State run Sputnik news service that the delivery of the S-400 systems to India is going on as planned. He also said without giving further details that, “The supplies of the S-400 air defence system to India have started and are proceeding on schedule.”
It must be mentioned here that a Russian official said in Dubai recently that delivery of the S-400 air defence system, five of which were brought by India from Russia in 2018 for nearly US$5.5 billion has begun and is going on as per scheduled time line. The first unit is expected to be operational by the end of the year. It must be noted that several teams of the Indian Air Force personnel have been trained in Russia to operate the air defence system that will be used to protect key cities, strategic installations and sensitive stretches of the country’s borders.
It is worth noting that the Russian officials have said that the deliveries of all the systems are expected to be completed within five years of the signing of the contract. In other words, the contract was signed in 2018 and so the deliveries of the system are expected to be complete by 2023. It is a no-brainer that the IAF is expected to induct the first unit of S-400 systems when India is locked in a border standoff with China, which has deployed two S-400 at Hotan airbase in Xinjiang and Nyingchi airbase in Tibet.
It is also heartening to see that the Indian PM has sent a very strong signal that India will not buckle under US pressure or threat of sanctions under any circumstances and would go ahead with the S-400 deal with Russia to ensure that it has a strong defence against China which already has S-400. It is no wonder that the US State Department spokesperson has said that there will be no “blanket” waiver for India, indicating that even if the S-400 deal is not sanctioned, other “significant” military and nuclear transactions could still trigger sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). This clearly shows that US still views India as a “potential threat” even though both countries have started enjoying good ties and all the “theatrics” which it does “publicly” is just for “public consumption” and nothing else!
To put things in perspective, Roman Babushkin who is Deputy Russian Ambassador to India minced just no words to say candidly that, “The S-400 decision is a very strong example of how advanced our defence and strategic partnership is, and how strong Indian sovereignty is, to choose its international partners, especially when it comes to issues of national interest and national security.” He also called the US CAATSA sanctions law “an illegal tool for unlawful competition”, adding that the S-400 project does not target the US in any way. Why when India does not target US still it keeps on threatening India of sanctions? There is a lot that US has to answer on this! India under stewardship of PM has taken the right decision to go ahead with the deal and not succumb under unrelenting US pressure on it!
It may be recalled that it was in 2018 that the US sanctioned China as China placed its orders in March 2014 the delivery started in 2018 and in 2020 it sanctioned Turkey for buying the S-400 and placed defence entities and officials under financial and visa bans. How can US equate India which is the largest democratic country in the world with countries like China and Turkey where dictatorship prevails and democracy is relegated to the background? It may be recalled that it was again US whom UK consulted before partitioning India which was a Hindu majority country in 1947 as both US and UK are Christian majority country and US too endorsed UK’s “divide and rule” policy which alone explains why it never takes strong action against terror outfits based in Pakistan directed against India only!
Be it noted, S-400 is considered to be one of the most advanced, efficient and potent air defence systems in the world which has the capability to protect against almost all sorts of aerial attacks including drones, missiles, rockets and even fighter jets. The S-400 system is intended to act as a shield over a particular area and is a long-range surface-to-air missile system. Named SA-21 Growler by NATO and developed by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau, S-400 can engage intruding aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.
In hindsight, it must be mentioned that Russia has been developing S-400 since 1993 and testing began in 1999-2000 and Russia deployed it in 2007. A recent article in US Air Force’s Journal for Indo-Pacific Command stated unambiguously that, “It has surfaced as an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) asset designed to protect military, political and economic assets from aerial attacks.” The system comes equipped with four types of missiles: short-range up to 40 km; medium-range upto 120 km; long-range 48N6 going as far as 250 km and very long range 40N6E up to 400 km and a flight altitude of 180 km. It can simultaneously track up to 160 objects in a 600 km range and target 72 objects in a 400 km range.
It cannot be glossed over that S-400 can be deployed within five minutes compared to 25 minutes for US Patriot (PAC-3). It has a speed of 4.8 km/s compared to 1.38km/s of US Patriot and what also merits mentioning and also noting is that it is cheaper too with a per battery cost of approximately US $500 million, compared to the Patriot’s US $1 billion. So it is definitely better than US Patriot!
We ought to be aware that in Dubai, the Director of Russia’s Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation – Dmitry Shugaev said very plainly that, “Russia has started supplying S-400 air defence system to India and the first division will be delivered by the end of 2021.” It must be mentioned here that India is slated to receive the first of the five units it bought by the end of the year. It must be also mentioned that India has placed an order for five units in October 2018. Initially, the delivery was to begin within 24 months but has been delayed for several reasons. It must be also recalled that the government clearly told Parliament in July 2019 coinciding with the time when India paid Russia around US $ 800 million as the first tranche that the final deliveries of all units are likely to be done by April 2023.
Truth be told, S-400 air defence system detects an aerial threat approaching the air defence bubble (the area it has to protect), calculates the trajectory of the threat and fires missile to counter it. It also ought to be mentioned that it has long-range surveillance radars that serve the significant and relevant purpose of sending information to the communal vehicle. What follows next is that on identifying the target, the command vehicle orders a missile launch.
Needless to say, we all know how the Iron Dome was recently used so usefully by the Israel to protect against incoming rockets from Gaza. It cannot be lightly dismissed that it is only S-400 that has the capacity and wherewithal to protect a much larger area from threats that are much farther. So there can be no gainsaying that India needed it most as India is surrounded by hostile neighbours like China and Pakistan!
How can anyone dismiss this lightly that the S-400 can constrain the adversary’s air operations even within their own airspace? How can anyone dismiss this lightly that this capability is “unmatched by typical Western systems offered up as analogues”? As of now, we see that India has certainly dodged the US sanctions on the purchase of S-400 missiles but for how long is the moot question and it has no easy answers to it as it all depends on the US as to how it acts in the coming days ahead!
To be sure, Ruslan Pukhov who is a member of the Russian Defence Ministry’s public advisory board said quite categorically that, “It looks like Washington turned a blind eye for now since Indian support in the Asia-Pacific region is extremely important for the US.” He also forthrightly said that, “India sent a strong message to the US that it would not tolerate American sanctions.” It also cannot be glossed over that India is a part of the Quad group with the US, Japan and Australia that is shaping up as a strongest bulwark against China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
It is really good to observe that the S-400 is regarded as the world’s premier long-range missile system with the strong capability to shoot down enemy aircraft at ranges up to 400 kilometres. We all had seen how the China had deployed the S-400 along the Line of Actual Control during the high voltage confrontation that it had with India in last two years! But now India too has this S-400 due to the big-ticket defence deals between both the countries in 2018 and so China’s advantage on this count now certainly stands fully neutralized which is most heart fulfilling to see!
Simply put, Mikhail Podvyamikov who is Deputy General Director of Almaz Antey who is the manufacturer of the S-400 system said forthrightly that, “The S-400 is the most state-of-the-art air defence system in the world. Taking into account that Russia too has high altitude areas, the equipment has been operated in such environment. At altitudes of over 3000 m, it will be able to provide 100% protection against missiles and other air borne targets.” It would not be too far-fetched to say that given the ability of the system to take down targets from a distance of over 400 km, S-400 would technically be able to cover most major Chinese airbases in Tibet that are directed towards Eastern Ladakh and have seen increased fighter jet activity over the past year. It also must be noted that on the ability of the system to deal with newer threats like loitering munition and short-range drones, its manufacturers said that it is capable of taking down these targets but the user has to decide whether using expensive missiles is feasible.
Podvyamikov also said that, “There is a 100% guarantee that it is capable of engaging any airborne targets, including loitering munition. On the other hand, using these missiles against cheap airborne targets will be very expensive. Therefore, a multilevel, diverse defence system that can engage such targets has proved efficient.” He also added that the S-400 has an open architecture that enables adding of more components to meet future threats as well.
Air Marshal (retired) Anil Chopra who is the Director General of the Centre for Air Power Studies said quite lucidly that, “The induction of the S-400 systems will enhance IAF’s air defence capabilities. The mix of radars and missiles that will come with the S-400 will cover various height and range bands. It will bring an important capability upgrade with an air defence bubble of 400 km. Of the five defence systems ordered, four are likely to be deployed against aerial threats from China and Pakistan. One system could be used to defend vital industrial facilities.”S-400 will now undoubtedly boost India’s air defence system!