India and Russia have signed a US$5b deal, under which India will receive S-400 air defence missile system – that is poised to be game changer in South Asian strategic environment.
The Russians have definitely made a breakthrough with sales of weapons to some NATO countries with uncertain futures in the bloc (e.g. Greece, Turkey) and strong US client countries such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states such as the UAE. India’s procurement of five S-400 regiments that is expected to be completed in 2020 is something that is giving a new dynamics to the issue.
The main usage of S-400 long-range missile is against stand-off systems including flying command posts and aircraft such as the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). These aircraft, which are used by the US and its NATO allies with a squadron stationed in Japan at Kadena Air Force Base and in the UAE at al-Dhafra, are vulnerable to S-400 interceptors and lose their stand-off range protection.
The S-400 missile system is a state-of-the-art air defence and anti ballistic missile platform with a maximum range of 400km against aircraft while reportedly can engage ballistic missiles at 40km range. It is considered one of the best defense systems in existence. Russian-made Almaz-Antei S-400 Triumf air defense systems (NATO reporting name: SA-21 Growler) are expected to be fully integrated with the Indian Air Force’s IACCS (integrated air command and control system). The IACCS is an automated command and control system for air defense, which integrates the service’s air and ground-based air sensors and weapons systems.
The S-400 Triumph missile defense system is a significant strategic upgrade in India’s military hardware and in its pursuit to become a global power. The development is particularly worrisome for Pakistan. The system if deployed along Pakistan border will provide India an edge of 600kms radar coverage with option of shooting down incoming aircraft from 400kms from its territory.
However, India’s purchase of S-400s and its option to acquire upgraded US Patriot systems remains on the table as well. This extensive arms shopping spree by Indian side includes C-17 Globemaster and C-130J transport aircraft, P-8(I) maritime reconnaissance aircraft, M777 lightweight howitzers, Harpoon missiles, and Apache and Chinook helicopters. The US will likely accept India’s request for Sea Guardian drones, and American manufacturers including Lockheed Martin and Boeing are contenders for mega arms deals with India. This (S-400) will further destabilize strategic stability in South Asia, besides leading to a renewed arms race which is disadvantageous for the peace of entire region.
The Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) law tries to push back against Russia’s malign activity around the world.
“We urge all of our allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that would trigger sanctions under CAATSA,” a State Department Spokesperson said
When asked about India’s plan to purchase multi-billion S-400 missile defense system from Russia.
“The Administration has indicated that a focus area for the implementation of CAATSA Section 231 is new or qualitative upgrades in capability – including the S-400 air and missile defense system,” the spokesperson said.
Islamabad has from decades faced various stringent sanctions and severe political pressure from Washington. This all is evident from opposition over transfer of any sophisticated arms including the F-16s falcons.
The silence over such issue by Washington seems to be a part of its ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy, considering China as the next global adversary. Washington is in a difficult position where it is seeking to bolster ties with India to counter China’s growing assertiveness while maintaining pressure on Russia. Whereas, China may not fret over the S-400 system deal provided to India but it will have implications for Pakistan’s Air Force and missile program both.
Finally, it cannot be underestimated that most of Indian defense system is Pakistan centric. As far conventional weapons are concerned, the balance has always been in India’s favor, because of India’s better and larger economy. Therefore, Pakistan is concerned about this deal keeping in mind that it disrupts the equation of conventional weapons that exist in this region.
The induction of S-400 might lower the nuclear threshold to a new level that is already precarious with the waivers and blessings by big powers to India. These moves have the capacity to lead the region in a spiraling arms race which can bring about an increase in instability through the escalation of an already dangerous arms buildup in the region.