An Argument in favour of India for procuring Russian S-400 Triumf Air Defence System and the need for US to review this legislation to focus on China rather than Russia. There is thus a need for the U.S. to realign its global security strategy as per their ‘National Defence Authorisation Act’ (NDAA-2021)


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 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.

‘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 U.S. 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) cyber security, (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 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 a 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 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.

Geopolitical Factor

The geopolitical factor has always been the key enabler in making a nation great. Historically, alliances between nations at war invariably become the dominant factor in dictating the outcome. (The Second World War was won by a by a much broader alliance of America and the allied forces as against the few axis powers).The equation here is clearly beyond the realm of pure mathematics of adding alliances or subtracting them. It is enmeshed in a very complex equation of geopolitics, geostrategy, governance, technology and resources etc. Let us examine the matrix specifically between these four nations; USA-India-Russia and China. Let us calculate their interplay. For example if India does trade with Russia (the adversary state to USA) at the cost of the friend state (America), it could only have a marginal negative effect on the economy of the friend state. But however, if this transaction kind of weakens and creates a wedge between the alliance of two adversary states (China and Russia) then the weight of geopolitical advantage to India-USA partnership will be much more significant than sacrificing a minor trade deal. Simply, same is the case between US-India-Russia and the peer state China at least as regards defence deals and arms purchase is concerned. Here again, India–US relationship synergy is an advantageous geopolitical spin-off to both the friendly nations. But because, India is the middle factor and also traditionally allied to Russia, who in today’s time is also China’s ally. Ipso- facto the binding of the opposite alliance between Russia &China gets naturally weekend. This in turn gives a Philip to the India-US alliance and gives a geopolitical benefit as compared to a tactical loss to USA, when India buys military hardware from Russia rather than USA.

Denial of S-400 Will Create Operational Void

The second point one has to understand is making India’s security self- sufficient. Because India already has inducted some mobile squadrons of the S-400 Triumf contract and has always depended on the Russian legacy systems. Any abrupt switching over of the system will only cause an operational void for few years, which India can ill afford. Even the USA should not want such a vacuum in India’s air space. This when converted into geopolitics translates into India’s dependence on Russia and continuation of the privileged Indo-Russia strategic partnership. This falls in contradiction with the parallel Indo-US strategic Partnership, which has been further fortified especially after the four ‘Foundational Agreements’. Further, the recent US National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) 2021 has focused on shaping the Indo-Pacific environment and has specifically mentioned about China’s unlawful aggression along the LAC in the Himalayas. Obviously, this has given an extra Philip to the partnership with the US. Therefore, denying India its traditional air defence systems from Russia will tantamount to disruption in this critical domain of warfare.

Also read: Part II