Defence analysts and security experts feel that the Russian-made air defence system would be the game-changer for the Indian Air Force and would act as a force multiplier in case of a two-front war

Giving an impetus to India's firepower capabilities, the first batch of Russia-made S-400 air-defence systems arrived in India on December 20 and could be deployed in the Punjab sector. The delivery of the weapon system coincided with the telephone conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take stock of progress on the bilateral meeting held between them on December 6 and also the first-ever 2+2 ministerial dialogue. The S-400 systems will undergo acceptance trials in the presence of Russian officials before they are formally deployed.

In 2018, India had inked a deal with Russia to procure five squadrons of S-400 air defence system worth Rs 40,000 crore. BY 2023, Russia will deliver all air defence systems to India. Packed with four different missiles with ranges of 40 km, 100 km, 200 km and 400 km, the newly-procured air defence system can detect and engage adversary's fighter aircraft, ballistic missiles and Airborne Warning And Control Systems in a very short time.

Punjab sector has been chosen to take into account the aerial threats from India's two adversaries, Pakistan and China. On numerous occasions, the US warned New Delhi of action under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) if it goes ahead with the S-400 deal with Moscow. The US even offered surface-to-air weaponry like the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile to India in late 2018. However, air-defence systems like the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence did not have the same operational capabilities the S-400s and also the American systems were much more expensive as well.

After Punjab, one of the north-eastern states will have the next squadron of S-400. Defence analysts and security experts feel that the Russian-made air defence system would be the game-changer for the Indian Air Force and would act as a force multiplier in case of a two-front war.

Defence analyst Lt Gen VK Chaturvedi said, "It’s a game-changer and star of the art air defence systems. It can detect and engage the threats four at a time and track more than 100 targets at a time."

Now, "air defence theatre command is likely to come up in 2022. These systems will add a tremendous capability to our defence potential. It is the best system in the world," said the former Indian Army officer, who spearheaded the artillery modernisation in the force. Lt Gen Chaturvedi further said, "It (S-400) is being deployed in a manner that covers both sides -- the north and the west. It will also be deployed in the eastern sector."

Other than India, only China has this system in the region. However, China operates the previous version of the weapon -- the S-300 air defence system. The S-400 missile system has a firing rate that is 2.5 times faster than that of the S-300. Russia has also developed the advanced version -- the S-500 -- but Moscow is not keen on selling it yet.

According to security and strategic analyst Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, India faces a likely two-front war scenario with Pakistan and China on either side of its disputed borders. "Today, Chinese aggression and infrastructure development activities along our northern borders requires a flexible and holistic approach towards managing and optimising our limited air resources. This is especially true when the accretion in air resources in Indian Air Force has been marginal, to say the least," he said.

"In case of initiation of conflict between India and China, if and when that occurs, Pakistan is likely to jump in and assist its Iron Brother. In that case, it becomes prudent for the IAF to preserve its offensive strength along the China front. S-400, if deployed along the western borders, due to its extremely long-range, will be able to provide a robust air defence umbrella over the Western sector, enabling the IAF to focus on China," Maj Gen Ashok Kumar said.

The strategic expert further noted that deploying such a long-range weapon system along the Pakistani border will enable the targeting and shooting down of enemy aircraft inside their own territory. "With such arrangement, majority of the air assets can be diverted to the China border if the necessity arises. If these missiles are deployed on the western front, they would be able to take on the majority of the role of air defence role of the IAF, especially the ones which are required for counter-air operations to address the Pakistani Air Force," he said.