Foreign Minister S Jaishankar told his US counterpart Mike Pompeo on June 26 that India will go by its national interest on the S-400 missile defence deal with Russia.
The two sides, however, agreed to work their way through the contentious pact among other prickly issues, including trade, to take bilateral ties to new levels.
The development comes at a time when the US is pressurising India to drop the S-400 Triumf deal with Russia. The S-400 competes with US’ Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile systems.
The US could use its Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions (CAATSA) Act to stop this and other potential arms deals between India-Russia. The law was enacted in 2017 by US President Donald Trump specifically to prevent revenue from flowing to Russia. The US could use this law to impose sanctions on India. The Indian government, however, maintains that it is an American law and hence not binding on it.
India had signed the $5.2 billion deal with Russia in October 2018 and is expected to start receiving delivery in the October 2020-April 2023 timeline.
The S-400 Triumf
It is one of the world’s most advanced air defence systems. It is developed by Russia's Almaz Central Design Bureau. Its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) reporting name is 'SA-21 Growler'.
The system is able to track flying objects over 600 km. It can engage with these hostile targets and shoot them down using missiles in a range of up to 400 km. It can shoot down hostile aircraft, drone, ballistic missiles and hypersonic targets.
A view shows S-400 surface-to-air missile system after its deployment near Kaliningrad, Russia (Image: Reuters)
Every unit consists of multiple components: a long-range radar to track objects, a target acquisition radar, a command post vehicle and battalions of launchers. The system can carry multiple types of missiles catering to different strike ranges.
While specifications of the S-400 systems that are to be delivered to India are unclear, the regular variant used by Russia consists of at least eight launchers with 32 missiles.
It is significantly faster than its predecessor S-300. It can track over 100 flying objects and engage multiple targets simultaneously.
These components are mounted on multi-axle carriers that can be driven on difficult terrain -- allowing defence personnel to set it up anywhere, within five minutes. This also allows the batteries to be moved around to avoid being spotted by the enemy.
Russian servicemen work inside a command centre at a new S-400 system deployed at a military base outside the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia. (Image: Reuters)
Why does India want it?
The system can shoot down strategic bombers such as B-1 and B-2, airborne early warning and control system (AWACS), fighter jets such as the F-16 and strategic cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has F-16s in its fleet.
In Russia, the system has been operational since 2007 and guards capital Moscow from aerial threats. In 2015, it was deployed in Syria to protect Russian and Syrian naval and air assets. Russia has also positioned units in the annexed Crimean peninsula.
China purchased the long-range missile system from Russia in 2014 and has started receiving its delivery.
India is expected to deploy the S-400 system for air defence against both China and Pakistan. Reports suggest India is hoping to use the system to upgrade its air defence mechanism, particularly along the China border.
According to reports, the S-400 could also be integrated with other systems to form an air defence shield over the National Capital Territory (NCT).
The missile system is currently operated by China and Belarus, besides Russia. Russia is the largest operator having 39 such battalions in 19 regiments.
Saudi Arabia is also reportedly purchasing the equipment. Turkey is likely to receive delivery of the first set soon. In fact, Ankara is expected to purchase the system from Russia defying American threat of sanctions.