The major Indo-Russian deal that has irked the Americans the most is the one that involves the S-400 Triumf

by Aditya Kakkar

NEW DELHI: The Russian S-400 Triumf advanced air defence system has become a bone of contention between India and the US, particularly after the latter brought in a new law on August 2, 2017, called ''Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act' or CAATSA. This, among other things, imposed new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea. This limits India’s ability to purchase arms and ammunition from Russia since such an act would be tantamount to inviting sanctions from the US. It also forces India to use a currency apart from the US dollar to set the exchange rate between the rouble and the rupee. India was previously honouring its payments for defence contracts with the US dollar.

The major Indo-Russian deal that has irked the Americans the most is the one that involves the S-400 Triumf. This is an advanced surface-to-air missile system, developed by Russia’s state-owned company Almaz-Antey, and can shoot down hostile aircraft and ballistic missiles. It has an estimated range of 250 kilometres and a possible upgrade is speculated to extend it to 400 kilometres.

The S-400 battery has four transporter erector launchers (TEL) which are essentially missile vehicles that can carry and launch missiles. There are four launch tubes in each TEL. The system also includes a fire control radar and a command post. This enables it to fire surface-to-air missiles and eliminate incoming missile or adversary, thus creating an air defence shield.

The S-400 is not merely military equipment for Russia but a tool for geopolitical strategy. The Russians, despite the sanctions on Almaz-Antey, are actively offering it to a number of countries, including NATO members such as Turkey. China has reportedly already acquired the first set of S-400 system including the command post, radar stations and launching stations. The S-400 may also be purchased by countries such as Algeria, Belarus, Iran and Vietnam, thus reducing the American sphere of influence.

The other reason US is up in arms against the S-400 is the missile defence system's reported ability to take down American stealth fighter jets including the F-35. If Turkey were to acquire the S-400 along with the American F-35 (which it has already ordered from the US), then the exact nature of the F-35’s weakness would be apparent to them. Such information could also eventually find its way to Russia.

“We have made it clear that CAATSA is a U.S. law and not a UN law,” said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on July 13. She also pointed out that negotiations have reached a “conclusive stage” with Russia on the S-400 deal.

Although the United States Congress has passed the conference report on National Defence Authorisation Act-2019 (NDAA-19) which provides a modified waiver to section 231 of CAATSA, President Trump will need to grant his approval for helping India evade American sanctions. This might go against his ‘America First’ policy of favouring US interests over global concerns.