Defence Industry

Russian S-400 Air Defence System: Game Changer in India-Russia Relations
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Issue Courtesy: CLAWS | Date : 18 Jun , 2018


India’s decision to move forward with a procurement of the Russian S-400 Triumf air and missile defence system, despite possible U.S. sanctions against Moscow came at a time when the bonhomie between India-US is on the rise. The Indian Defence minister’s announcement clearly highlights that India under no circumstance is making a choice between the US and Russia rather ensuring a strategic proximity between the major players.

S-400 Air Defence System

Russian S-400 triumf air is Russia’s most advanced air-defence system. It is a mobile, surface to air-missile system. S-400 has been termed as a “real game changer.”[i] The reason is the multiple intercept missiles that S-400 can fire. It is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles across 60 km radius. By comparison the US Patriot system supports only one interceptor missile with a range of 96 km. Each S-400 comprises of tracking and search RADAR systems, eight launchers and 112 guided missiles and command and support vehicles.[ii] The RADARs have been designed to defeat modern stealth aircraft such as F-22 and the F-35.[iii] These systems are capable of engaging UAVs, aircraft and cruise missiles[iv] Currently, the Russian air defence is being stationed throughout western and eastern Russia and also at various locations that are strategically important to Russia. These locations include Syria (to protect Russian and Syrian air and naval units), the Russian enclave in Kaliningrad, recently annexed Crimean territory and in Tartus.[v] Interestingly, China was one of the first global buyers of the S-400 missile system.[vi]

Why is S-400 Air Defence System important for India?

The S-400 missile system could become a crucial part of India’s Defence equipment while providing myriad strategic advantages to the country as enumerated,- Firstly, the missile’s reach of 400 km would bring all the Pakistani air bases under the target range bases. Additionally, Chinese assets in Tibet would also be within the system’s striking range.[vii]Secondly, it has the capability to locate targets 600 km away and can destroy them at a range of 400 km.[viii] Thirdly the missile defence system could engage 72 targets simultaneously and can also keep track on another 160 targets.[ix] Largely, the S-400’s ability to take down targets at the slow speed of 17 km per hour and quick deployment makes it more attractive. Thus, any opponents’ combat assets, fighters with low flying tactics or the Pakistani Air Force’s deployment of early warning aircraft would think twice before the evasion of S-400 as there would be a persistent fear of being shot down in the first stage of the battle itself.

Diplomatically, the deal would aid in reinforcing India-Russia ties to some extent. Often India-Russia relations have been viewed as anachronistic.[x] Certainly, India has traditionally been dependent on the Soviet Union for defence equipments. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, both states have been looking for alternative partners in the emerging global order. Lately, New Delhi has been widening its sphere of acquisition by negotiating deals with countries like the US and Israel. This move of striking defence deals with other nations also articulates India’s need to diversify its defence equipment. This process of diversification has impacted the India-Russia relations to some extent, considering the fact that defence agreement formed the fulcrum of the relationship, the S-400 deal could be seen as a reinforcing mechanism in the current juncture.[xi]

India’s growing bonhomie with the USA and simultaneously Russia’s growing proximity with China has been a topic of debates and deliberations among many scholars. Major contention regarding the S-400 deal has been the USA’s CAATSA (Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) Act. This Act mandates the US administrations to “punish entities engaging in a significant transaction with…. The Defence or intelligence sectors” of Russia.[xii]The legislation was signed into law by President Donald Trump in August 2017 and was enforced on January 2018. The law seeks to “punish Russia for its interfering activities in Ukraine and Syria and meddling in the 2016 US polls.”[xiii] Though the US reports have identified that it intends to work at close quarters with India and would also aid the country to identify and avoid engaging in potentially sanctionable activity. As of now, approximately 60% of India’s defence inventory is Russian made.[xiv] The US does acknowledge that India in no way will jeopardize its partnership with Russia as it may create unacceptable risk to India’s national security matrix.


Much of the present India-Russia relations is the legacy of India’s Cold War era relationship with the Soviet Union. However, the changing geopolitical dimension across the world has recalibrated the current relationship status of India-Russia. Moreover, India’s move to diversify its defence equipment by engaging with different countries does not necessarily mean that it has forgotten its all-time partner- Russia. There might be smaller glitches or periodic stagnation in the relations between India-Russia. Nevertheless, for India Russia holds a pertinent position in India’s strategic sphere. Until drastic changes occur, Russia will continue to be India’s old friend in a transforming new system. Thus, the S-400 deal can be seen as a rejuvenating factor in the India-Russia relations.


[i] Stephen Bryen, “Russia’s S-400 Is Way More Dangerous Than You Think,” The National Interest, January 18, 2018, see accessed on 8 June 2018.

[ii] Dipanjan Roy chaudhury, “India, Russia close to deal for S-400 air defence systems,” The Economic times, March 24 2018, see accessed on June 8, 2018.

[iii] n.i.

[iv] “S-400 triumf,” MissileThreat, April 5, 2017, See accessed on June 8, 2018.

[v] Daniel cebul, “India to US: Sanctions won’t stop Russian air-Defence system purchase,” DefenceNews, June 8, 2018, see on June 8, 2018.

[vi] n.ii.

[vii] “India closer to getting game-changer Russian S-400 Triumf missile,” Business Today,  see on June 8, 2018.

[viii] Manu Pabby, “What makes S-400 air defence system a game-changer against Pakistan,” The Print, March 26 2018, see on June 8, 2018.


[x]Shubham Ghosh, “Modi-Putin meeting in Sochi on May 21: Why India-Russia relations have stagnated,” see on June 8, 2018.


[xii] Yashwant Raj, “US closely watching India’s plan to buy S-400 air defence system from Russia,” Hindustan Times, April 01, 2018, on June 8, 2018.


[xiv] n. viii.


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Kritika Roy

Researcher at CLAWS.

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