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S-400 missile defence system and India-Russia Arms deal – Explained

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Defence minister Rajnath Singh, who left for Moscow on a three-day trip on Monday morning, will also press Russia for air transportation of the spares and related equipment — for Sukhoi-30MKI and MiG-29 fighters, T-90S main battle tanks and Kilo-class submarines — instead of the time-consuming route through shipping, sources said. “The visit will give me an opportunity to hold talks on ways to further deepen the India-Russia defence and strategic partnership. I shall also be attending the 75th Victory Day Parade in Moscow (on June 24),” Singh said.

India is set to ask Russia to fast-track contracted weapon systems as well as urgently rush critical spares for its fighter planes, main battle tanks and submarines amid the ongoing troop confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.

The S-400 deliveries were originally scheduled to begin from October 2020 and end by April 2023. But the delay in payments due to India working out a mechanism to get around the threat of financial sanctions by the US, under its CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanction Act) law, and some other issues has pushed back the start of deliveries to end-2021.

On 15 October 2016, during the BRICS Summit, India and Russia signed an Inter-governmental Agreement (IGA) for the supply of five S-400 regiments. The US$5.43 billion deal (₹40,000 crores) was formally signed on 5 October 2018, ignoring the threat of US sanctions. The deliveries are expected to commence by the end of 2020 and brought into service in October 2020. The United States threatened India with sanctions over India’s decision to buy the S-400 missile defence system from Russia.

A missile defence system is intended to act as a shield against incoming ballistic missiles. The Russian-built S-400 Triumf — identified by NATO as the SA-21 Growler — is the world’s most dangerous operationally deployed modern long-range surface-to-air missile system, and is considered much more effective than the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system developed by the US. The S-400 is a mobile system that integrates a multifunction radar, autonomous detection and targeting systems, anti-aircraft missile systems, launchers, and a command and control centre. It can be deployed within five minutes and is capable of firing three types of missiles to create a layered defence. It can engage all types of aerial targets including aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and ballistic and cruise missiles within a range of 400 km, at an altitude up to 30 km. It can simultaneously track 100 airborne targets, including super fighters such as the US-built F-35, and engage six of them at the same time. The S-400 was made operational in 2007 and is responsible for defending Moscow. It was deployed in Syria in 2015 to guard Russian and Syrian naval and air assets. Units have also been stationed in the Crimean peninsula.

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S400 missile system will boost India's military capabilities ...

It is important for India to have the capability to thwart missile attacks from the two likeliest quarters, Pakistan and China. Beijing signed a deal with Moscow in 2015 to buy six battalions of the S-400 system, and deliveries began in January 2018. While the Chinese acquisition has been seen as a “gamechanger” in the region, the concern for India is limited because of the system’s range. However, the S-400 can play a crucial role in case of a two-front war. In October 2015, the Defence Acquisition Council considered buying 12 units, but it was subsequently determined that five would be adequate for India’s needs.

Traditionally, the Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on five major components: politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism co-operation and space. These five major components were highlighted in a speech given by former Indian Foreign SecretaryRanjan Mathai in Russia. However, in recent years a sixth, the economic component has grown in importance, with both countries setting a target of reaching US$30 billion in bilateral trade by 2025, from about US$9.4 billion in the year 2017. In order to meet this goal, both countries are looking to develop a free trade agreement. Bilateral trade between both countries in 2012 grew by over 24%.

Map indicating locations of India and Russia

In October 2018, India inked the historic agreement worth US$5.43 billion with Russia to procure five S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defence system, the most powerful missile defence system in the world ignoring America’s CAATSA act. The United States threatened India with sanctions over India’s decision to buy the S-400 missile defence system from Russia.

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India and Russia have several major joint military programmes including:

  • BrahMos cruise missile programme
  • 5th generation fighter jet programme
  • Sukhoi Su-30MKI programme (230+ to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics)
  • Ilyushin/HAL Tactical Transport Aircraft
  • KA-226T twin-engine utility helicopters
  • some frigates

Between 2013 and 2018, Russia accounted for 62% of arms sales to India, down from 79% between 2008 and 2012.

Additionally, India has purchased/leased various military hardware from Russia:

  • S-400 Triumf (purchase pending)
  • Kamov Ka-226 200 to be made in India under the Make in India initiative.
  • T-90S Bhishma with over 1000 to be built in India
  • Akula-II nuclear submarine (2 to be leased with an option to buy when the lease expires)
  • INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier programme
  • Tu-22M3 bombers (4 ordered, not delivered)
  • US$900 million upgrades of MiG-29
  • Mil Mi-17 (80 ordered) more in Service.
  • Ilyushin Il-76 Candid (6 ordered to fit Israeli Phalcon radar)
  • The Farkhor Air Base in Tajikistan is currently jointly operated by Indian Air Force and Tajikistan Air Force.

Written By Radhika Bansal, She is doing her Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication from Amity University, Noida. She is interested in covering political, international and humanitarian issues.

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