by Dr Anil Kumar Lal

The advanced S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems being supplied by Russia to India will add a revolutionary ‘Air Defence’ capability to the existing systems. The Indian Ballistic Missile system is a double-tiered system consisting of two land and sea-based interceptor missiles, namely the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile for high altitude interception, and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Missile for lower altitude interception. The two-tiered shield is able to intercept any incoming missile launched from 5,000 kilometres away. In addition, India has a vast variety of tactical air defence systems which specifically give protection in various roles including protection of mobile armoured forces or any strategic assets. All these systems are supported by an overlapping network of early warning and tracking radars, as well as command and control posts. A quick survey shows that as a legacy, most of the Indian Air Defence systems have been of USSR/Russian origin since India’s independence till date. In addition, India’s Defence and Research Organisation have also engineered multiple range and mission missiles. Recently, it had also successfully fired an Anti-satellite weapon system on a low earth orbit satellite, which was hit by a Kinetic Kill vehicle. To fill voids, some systems have also been procured from Israel. Nevertheless the above, of late there has been many transformational technologies in missiles and Fighter aircrafts, especially the fifth generation systems. This needed upgrading India’s Air space defence systems to counter enhanced threats by more technologically advanced air crafts and missiles. Further, the Chinese recent belligerence and the threat of twin attacks in connivance with Pakistan has only hastened India’s requirement. Therefore, there has been a case for India to procure the best air defence system in the world today. In this context, the Russian S-4OO Triumf air defence system meets the India specific technical and other qualitative requirements. This missile can destroy almost 36x targets simultaneously even when the adversary is in a twin attack mode at longer ranges up to 400 Kilometres. It can also be conveniently integrated into the legacy based-existing and future air defence units of the air force, army and navy. It can be launched against PLA’S AWACS, J-STARS, EA-6B support jammers and other high-value targets. This system, therefore, caters for both the Western and the Eastern borders of India. This state of the art acquisition would actually be a game-changer to the Indian Air Defence systems and make India’s defences more resilient, especially in view of China’s rapid modernisation and aggression against India. The acquisition of S-400 air defence system can become a war-winning factor, especially in the High Altitude mountainous terrain of Ladakh, where air operations are more significant than the difficult land operations.

The highly-automated S-400s, can detect, track and destroy hostile jets, spy planes, missiles and drones. They can even intercept PLA’s hypersonic ballistic missiles with high velocity of 4,800 meters per second. Once the target is locked by its radar, the air defence missile thereafter follows the target automatically- makes corrections- till the aircraft gets shot down (capability of “radar lock and shoot down”. Its electronic configuration cannot be jammed). This implies that it is a global best, which can even shoot down the American fifth-generation stealth F-35 Lightning-II jets. Obviously, this would also neutralise the Chinese J-20 fighter aircraft, which the Chinese claim as the fifth generation. If deployed near the border with Pakistan, an S-400 battery can shoot down a hostile F-16 fighter or cruise missile much before it could enter the Indian airspace. This will give an overwhelming edge to India in the near-earth- space domain even against surprise attacks. Further, this acquisition becomes all the more true at a time when the standoff with China is likely to go even beyond the winters and maybe the Line of Actual Control (LAC) becomes more dynamic akin to the Line of Control (LOC). This would then warrant the necessity of an air defence edge over the PLA even in a status quo battle, with better standoff ranges. This state of the art asset is likely to be deployed, both on the LOC and the LAC along the Northern, Eastern and Western fronts. This will then become as the mainstay and backbone of the Indian Air Defence Systems for at least a decade plus from now, up to 2030 and beyond. All the 5x S-400 Triumf mobile squadrons are likely to be delivered within two years from now under the $5.43 billion (Rs 40,000 Crore) contract inked with Russia in October 2018. India has already paid an advance of $5.43 billion, which in a way binds India for this purchase. But this deal happens to be in contradiction to the American policy of purchase of arms from Russia, which falls under the US sanction law.

Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, (CAATSA)

The ‘CAATSA’ is a United States federal law passed in 2017 that has imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia. This was initiated by the US basically to deter its allies from dealing with these countries. Specifically, pertaining to Russia it reads as “The bill provides sanctions for activities concerning (1) cybersecurity, (2) crude oil projects, (3) financial institutions, (4) corruption, (5) human rights abuses, (6) evasion of sanctions, (7) transactions with Russian defence or intelligence sectors”, etc. In this regard, Section 231 of the CAATSA mandated secondary sanctions to any nation entering into high-value deals to procure military hardware from Russia. The US had applied sanctions both to China and Turkey for procuring S-400 AD systems from Russia. In fact, US Cancelled giving its F-35 Fighters to Turkey because these systems are capable of reading the stealth characterises and “mapping or recording” data of other platforms like aircrafts and radars. A critical examination of such laws builds a case that such sanctions could actually be counterproductive as perceived by many think tanks who say “Washington’s efforts to curb Moscow’s global arms sales may have the unintended effect of obstructing some Southeast Asian countries’ attempts to resist Beijing’s relentless advances; they may even enhance China’s influence.” According to the Stratfor (An American Research group) says “the CAATSA process could actually discourage Vietnam from further building its defence relationship with the United States if only to avoid future compromises to its strategic autonomy. In today’s world, middle powers are increasingly assertive and refuse to tie themselves to any single great power. The United States’ reliance on the blunt tool of extraterritoriality could eventually backfire if it’s not careful”. This act enforces a flawed policy in punishing all nations, even if they are more allied to the USA. Like punishing China, the peer state, cannot be equated similarly by punishing Vietnam or India. Therefore America should amend such laws, which hamper autonomy and strategic space of its own allies. This makes these countries only weaker. In fact, the very concept of sanctions against Russia has to be relooked. Because China is the main threat and not Russia. Sensible geopolitics should dictate that your enemy’s friend should be wooed instead. In this case, American effort should be to work out an entirely new strategic framework with Russia of cooperation. The aim should be to isolate China rather than weaken Russia, which in any case has yet to recover economically after the disintegration of the former USSR.

Argument In Favour of India Procuring Russian S-400 Triumf Air Defence System

Firstly as regards, the “CAATSA” restrictions, India will have to negotiate this with the USA and get a ‘National Security Waiver’ from the Biden administration. Because the issue is crucial to the Indian military, because as the earlier Indian foreign secretary had said that without Russian parts, supplies and maintenance help, “our ships won’t sail, our planes won’t fly,” He had said that “We can hardly be the regional security provider that America wants us to be at this rate.” Further, India’s case is entirely different than any other country and “Waiver” has to be understood in an entirely different matrix, which encompasses a broad spectrum of multiple domains. National power index of any country is dictated by its standing on many issues and aspects. In fact, a nations’ comprehensive power is the summation of its’ strength in all these domains like economic, military, social, demography, form of governance and people’s participation etc. Further, yet another primary domain is the geopolitical advantage which a country enjoys due to its geography, natural resources, and political governance.