During the India Russia Summit in Goa, which took place a day after the BRICS Summit concluded on 16 October, India signed a deal to buy the S-400 Triumf air defence system (called Growler by NATO), developed by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau. India will buy five of them at an estimated price of Rs 30,000 crore.
The S-400 Triumf fills a critical void in India’s air defence system. it is a mobile platform that can launch eight missiles at one go and at a speed faster than most fighter aircraft. It is hence a game changer in the current environment in the sub continent. Its criticality lies in its sophisticated jamming-resistant panoramic radar that can detect and track a target at a distance of 600 km with the ability to engage multiple targets up to a range of 380 km.
Russia first deployed the S-400 Triumf in 2010 to defend its air space and an area a few hundred kilometres beyond, against missiles and aircraft of all types, including stealth aircraft. Each S-400 battalion has eight launchers, a control centre, radar and 16 missiles available as reloads. It incorporates four types of missiles which are carried on mobile launchers. These missiles engage targets at ranges of 120 km, 200 km, 250 km and 380 km and can hit targets at a speed of 17,000 km an hour, faster than any existing aircraft. The targets could be strategic aircraft, spy planes, fighter jets, stealth aircraft, airborne early warning aircraft and missiles.
Following the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 warplane by Turkish fighters, Russia has deployed the system in Syria.The immediate impact of the deployment was that the Turkish F-16s not only stopped venturing into Syrian airspace but even stopped coming close to avoid an accidental provocation. Ankara also reversed its policy to invite Russia to bid in a tender to build an anti-missile defence system. With that one move, Moscow sent out the message that it wasn’t posturing, but was there to stay in Syria – a move that stunned NATO. A single weapons system had fundamentally altered the balance of power in the Syrian battlefield and outside.In comparison, the US Patriot missile system has a range of just about 100 km.
China is also buying six S-400 antiaircraft/anti-missile systems-a move that will significantly boost China’s air defence capability against the US and its allies. Russia recently completed the delivery of S300 air defence missile systems to Iran. For India, it will restrict the Pakistan Air Force’s ability to operate even within its own airspace and will provide more latitude and security to the political authority, at
least on the volatile Pakistan front. The first effect is on the rounding off of India’s three-tier air defence loop. At the first level are shortrange surface-to-air missiles, basically the indigenouslydeveloped Akash with a 2040 km range. Then, the medium range surface-to-air missile of about 70 km range. And now the S-400s.
As the S-400 would virtually cover most of Pakistan, the vulnerability of the Pakistan Air Force would greatly increase. India plans to deploy three of these against Pakistan and two against China, one each on the western and eastern sectors of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The calculus is that even the Chinese would have to depend largely on their aerial capabilities for any deep offensive into India. So, this acts as a major deterrent.