India's costliest air defence systems deal faces fresh trouble

S-400-Triumf S-400 Triumf launch vehicle | via Commons

The Indian Air Force's plan to acquire Russian-built S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system received a jolt after the United States issued a fresh warning, saying that waivers on sanctions to India are not “absolute” if India continues to purchase weapons from Russia. The IAF is procuring S-400 missile system to fill the holes in its fledgling air defense due to aging air protection and patchy radar coverage. The deal is expected to be signed during the upcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India in October.

"Modalities of the deal have been completed, including pricing. The cost negotiations committee has sent its report to the cabinet committee on security for approval. It is ready to be inked soon," according to officials familiar with the development.

However, on Thursday, Randall Schriver, the Pentagon's assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, said, "We would still have very significant concerns if India pursued major new platforms and system from Russia."

Schriver's statement came a week before the maiden India-US 2+2 dialogue on September 6, with external affairs and defence ministers together meeting their US counterparts in New Delhi.

Defence ministry had felt relieved last month when the US authorities allowed waivers under Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

"India is going to raise this matter during next week's 2+2 dialogue to get more clarity on the issue. S-400 missile deal is very critical for us," an official based in South Block said.

In 2016, Russia had agreed to sell the game changer S-400 Triumf long-range air defence missile system with the capability to destroy incoming hostile aircraft, missiles and even drones at ranges of up to 400km. Only Russia and the US have such long range modern air defence weapon system.

Besides S-400, Russia also agreed to deliver four Admiral Grigorovich–class warships and build military helicopters through a joint venture in India. Moscow is believed to have agreed to lease another nuclear-powered submarine to India. Indian Navy is already operating a nuke submarine, which it received from Russia on a ten-year lease. Besides, Russia also offered to jointly develop submarine under 'Project 75 India', which would help India save a lot of money.

The IAF argues that the S-400 Triumf system is capable of intercepting and destroying airborne targets at a distance of up to 400km (250 miles), and can simultaneously engage up to six targets. Only the US, Russia, and China have such capability to neutralise multiple aerial targets, including ballistic missiles and stealth aircraft.

Officials claim that the estimated cost of five units of S-400 Triumf is over $6 billion, but eventually, the figure will come close to $8 billion along with associated equipment and missiles. The S-400 incorporates four types of missiles. Carried on mobile launchers, the missiles engage targets at 120 km, 200 km, 250 km and 380 km.