Russia's T-14 "Armata" MBT is regarded as one of the most advanced battle tanks in the world

As India continues to invest heavily in military modernisation, maintaining its place as the world’s largest arms importer and fourth major military power, its armed forces have continued to deploy state of the art new weapons systems aimed at countering potential security threats. The country’s armed forces were notably involved in a number of serious clashes with Pakistani forces in 2019, one of which saw an exchange of fire between fighter aircraft the outcome of which remains hotly disputed today. More recently clashes with Chinese ground troops in Galwan Valley have driven home the possibility of a potential future Sino-Indian clash over longstanding territorial disputes. China’s deployment of new J-16 fighters to the region under its Western Theatre Command has provided it with a considerable qualitative edge over the Indian Air Force - and it has considerable room to escalate further with deployments of fifth generation stealth aircraft and greater numbers of high performance fourth generation jets such as the J-10C and J-16. Tensions appear to have accelerated India’s modernisation plans, with the Defence Ministry almost immediately considering an order for 33 new Russian fighter jets and looking to accelerate the schedule for receipt of Russian S-400 air defence systems. Should tensions continue unabated, it is likely that plans for modernisation will only further be hastened and India will consider a wider range of new acquisitions. Seven potentially game changing new weapons systems which could be acquired to influence the power balance over in the land and air over the borders with China and Pakistan are assessed below.

S-400 Surface To Air Missile Batteries With 40N6E Missiles

Despite considerable Western pressure and threats from the United States to penalise the Indian economy with economic sanctions, the Defence Ministry signed a contract for five S-400 long range surface to air missile systems in October 2018 valued at over $5 billion. The S-400 will be a game changer for India’s air defence capabilities, and can engage targets at speeds of Mach 14 with each system guiding up to 160 surface to air missiles simultaneously against up to 80 targets. The system is particularly prized for its unrivalled situational awareness, making use of multiple powerful radars to detect aircraft over 600km away and if needed to track and lock onto stealth aircraft. 

While the S-400 itself is a formidable system, Russia in 2018 began exporting new 40N6E missiles which have a much longer 400km engagement range and are sold separately. The missile is prized not only for the distances at which it can engage enemy targets but also for its ability to engage at extremely low altitudes even against faraway targets overcoming the limitations usually imposed by the Earth’s curvature on ground launched missiles. It does so by climbing to an altitude of around 30,000km in its first stage before descending towards its target from a high altitude. The missile can engage enemy targets as low as 5 meters off the ground, and can target enemy missiles and aircraft. Deployment of S-400s equipped with these missiles would allow India’s armed forces to engage aircraft deep behind Chinese lines and potentially seriously hinder logistical efforts. While China already deploys the S-400, only two units are fielded and these are not deployed under the Western Theatre Command.

Su-30MKI ‘4++ Generation’ Variant 

The Su-30MKI is considered the most capable fighter in South Asia by a considerable margin, outperforming other Indian jets like the MiG-29UGB and Rafale and rival Pakistani jets such as the F-16C. Over 250 of the aircraft are in service, but while their capabilities are formidable they are increasingly outmatched by newer heavyweight designs such as the Su-35, J-16 and China’s upcoming J-11D. To keep the fleet viable against high end threats, the Indian Defence Ministry is reportedly considering upgrades to enhance the fighter to a ‘4++ generation standard.’ These upgrades are centred around integration of new engines and radars. The new engine proposed is the Saturn AL-41FS developed for the Su-35. The engine considerably more powerful than the AL-31FP currently used, and benefits from advanced high and low-pressure turbines, a new digital control system, superior thrust vectoring nozzles and a longer lifespan. The aircraft’s thrust/weight ratio will improve considerably if theses are integrated, with the new engines putting out 32,000 lbf of thrust with afterburner compared to just 27,700 lbf from the AL-31FP. 

The Indian Air Force is reportedly also planning equipping the Su-30 with the Irbis-E radar, which was also developed for the Su-35 and its considerably more powerful and harder to jam. Russian sources differ on the Irbis-E’s ability to lock onto stealth jets, with some claiming it can do so at 58km ranges while others place the range at 90km. It has also been suggested that the Su-57’s AESA radar could be integrated onto fourth generation heavyweight fighters with a few modifications, which would provide a truly revolutionary capability enhancement for the Su-30MKI. Either radar will allow the fighter to detect enemy aircraft at much greater distances and will make it compatible with new munition types such as the R-37M air to air missile which has over triple the range of the currently used R-77 and R-27 platforms.

Su-57 And MiG-35 Next Generation Fighters

While fourth generation fighters in which India is currently investing such as the Su-30MKI and MiG-29UPG are formidable, as China moves to field a new generation of frontline aircraft boasting next generation technologies these older Indian aircraft are left at a growing disadvantage in a potential clash. Looking at the J-10C for example, the lightest of China’s new fighter generation, the aircraft benefits from a high composite radar cross section reducing airframe, stealth coatings, integration of a powerful AESA radar and more modern WS-10B thrust vectoring engines. Its PL-15 missiles have 2-3 times the range of those deployed by the MiG-29 or Su-30MKI and are guided by active rather than passive radars making them far more difficult to jam or evade. The discrepancy in capabilities is only more acute for heavier Chinese fighter classes like the J-16. Replacing the MiG-29 and Su-30MKI in future acquisition plans with next generation Russian designs from their respective weight ranges, namely the MiG-35 and Su-57, could in the long run prove far more cost effective and quickly minimise the growing qualitative gap in the air favouring China.

The MiG-35s integrates a powerful AESA radar and is compatible with a range of new standoff weapons, which will likely make it overall India’s most dangerous fighter in a strike role. Although it lacks an AESA radar guided air to air missile like the PL-15, its R-37M missiles are considerably faster and have a longer range than their Chinese counterparts. The fighters have been offered for licence production in India, and an Indian purchase is considered highly likely. The aircraft notably have a much lower operational cost than the MiG-29 with a more modern design requiring less maintenance, meaning they may well prove cheaper. The Su-57 can provide India’s fleet with parity with China’s new generation of heavyweight fighters such as the J-16 and J-20, and is particularly outstanding in its strike capabilities. It is the only stealth fighter designed to deploy hypersonic ballistic missiles allowing it to pose a threat to Chinese airfields across the Western Theatre, while its powerful AESA radar and unique cheek and rear mounted sensors will place its situational awareness on a much higher level than existing Indian combat aircraft.

BrahMos Hypersonic Derivative

Following on from the success of the BrahMos air launched cruise missile which was declared combat ready in October 2019, it was announced that India and Russia were jointly developing at least two new missiles under similar joint programs which could engage targets at hypersonic speeds. The former will be a similar cruise missile design intended for standoff ground attack and anti shipping roles, which would be able to better challenge newer generations of Chinese air defences such as the HQ-9B and engage targets from safer distances. Such missiles would be particularly lethal in an anti shipping role, as the sheer speed of their impact would allow them to disable almost any enemy warship with a single direct hit. 

The second more unusual design being developed by BrahMos Aerospace is a hypersonic very long range air to air missile. Unlike the Astra missile or the Chinese PL-15, this new missile would be designed to neutralise enemy support aircraft such as AEW aircraft and tankers, and would thus not be well suited to engaging fighter sized jets. Indian Su-30 fighters currently deploys the older K-100 missile for such a role, although they are considerably slower and shorter ranged. The Russian R-37 deployed by MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors is currently considered the most capable extreme range missile, but although it is hypersonic and carries a very large 60kg warhead it is too heavy to be carried by fighter sized aircraft. Russia’s experience developing hypersonic long range air to air missiles is second to none, with the U.S. having cancelled its own AIM-132 program due to budgetary reasons and China having yet to deploy its own analogue the PL-21, and its involvement in the program is expected to be highly beneficial. 

T-14 Armata And T-90M Battle Tanks

The Indian Army has been the leading client by far for both the current generation of Russian battle tanks, the T-90, and the prior generation of T-72 tanks, deploying over 2500 of the T-72 and planning to field close to 2000 of the T-90MS. While the T-90MS’ superiority over Chinese and Pakistani platforms was previously assured, China’s induction into service of newer Type 99A tanks and offers of a number of advanced armoured warfare systems to Pakistan threaten to seriously undermine this. In light of this and the underperformance of the long delayed Arjun battle tank program, India has shown considerably interest in Russia’s T-14 next generation tank which is one of just three active fourth generation platforms in the world. The tank integrate a wide range of new technologies including both passive and reactive armour, sensors, and wide range of new munition types for roles from bunker busting to engaging low flying aircraft. The tank is currently in limited service with the Russian Army and in serial production on a modest scale. Russia has also more recently begun to field the T-90M platform, which is available both ‘off the shelf’ and as an upgrade package for older T-90 models. The tank integrates several new technologies developed for the T-14 including its Relikt explosive reactive armour , it’s 2A46M-4 main gun and it’s munition types, and also benefits from a new V-92S2 multi-fuel diesel engine. The T-14 and T-90M were notably given second and third places respectively in a recent ranking of world battle tanks, and the latter's subsystems could be acquired to upgrade several hundred or more of the T-90s already in service to a similar standard.