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S-400 Air Defence Missile Systems

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  • Published
    22nd Apr, 2020

As per a recent report, all the major military contracts, including the deliveries of S-400 air defence missile systems, between Russia and India will be on schedule and the coronavirus pandemic will have no effect on their timeframe, according to India's top diplomat.


As per a recent report, all the major military contracts, including the deliveries of S-400 air defence missile systems, between Russia and India will be on schedule and the coronavirus pandemic will have no effect on their timeframe, according to India's top diplomat.


  • In October 2018, India had signed a USD 5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems, notwithstanding warning from the Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanctions.
  • Last year, India made the first tranche of payment of around USD 800 million to Russia for the missile systems.
  • India is the largest purchaser of Russian military hardware. India has ordered $15 billion worth of Russian arms in three years.
  • The country has purchased around $70 billion in weapons from Russia since 1991.
  • In February, it was stated by Moscow that it will begin the delivery of the S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to India by the end of 2021 and there will be no delay in execution of the project.


What is S-400?

  • Manufactured by Russian state-owned defence company, Almaz-Antey, the S-400 Triumf (also knows as the SA-21 Growler by NATO nations) is one of the most advanced missile defence systems on the market.
  • The 'Triumf' interceptor-based missile system can destroy incoming hostile aircraft, missiles and even drones at ranges of up to 400 km, in an intensive jamming environment.
  • Missile type: The S-400 can be equipped with four missile types:
    • the 40 km-range 9M96
    • the 150 km-range 9M96E2
    • the 200-250 km-range 48N6
    • the 400 km-range 40N6
  • The system is intended to engage manned aircraft and missile threats, including medium-range ballistic missiles.
  • The S-400 has so far been exported to China, and Turkey conducted its first tests with the system in November 2019. 
  • Russia plans to complete the delivery of the fifth regimental set in the first half of 2025.

The US factor:

  • The United States had imposed sanctions on Russia under the stringent Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
  • The law also provides for punitive action against countries purchasing defence hardware from Russia.

What is CAATSA?

  • The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is a U.S. federal law that imposes economic sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea.
  • The bill came into effect on August 2, 2017, with the intention of countering perceived aggressions against the U.S. government by foreign powers.
  • It accomplishes this goal by preventing U.S. companies from doing business with sanctioned entities.
  • China has already had similar sanctions imposed.
  • In India’s case, such sanctions could threaten growing defence cooperation between the U.S. and India, which, ironically, is intended in part to counter China.
  • Similarly, the U.S. has already suspended the sale of the F-35 to Turkey due to its pursuit of the Russian-made system.


Are there any strategic implications for NATO?

  • The potential proliferation of the system to India and other nations such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey is not particularly surprising, but it has created political tensions inside of NATO.
  • Besides being problematic given Russia is seen as the major existential threat to NATO, the system is also not interopeable with NATO platforms so contributes little Alliance security.
  • The SA-21 at its current position near Hmeimim Air Base near Latakia provides coverage over most points in Syria.
  • In addition, various NATO assets that are engaged in the region against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL) would be in the range of the S-400.
  • In the European theatre, from launch positions in north-western Russia and Kaliningrad respectively, 40N6-equipped S-400s could cover much of Finnish and Polish airspace.
  • Turkey’s decision to purchase S-400 systems holds greater political implications for NATO and the F-35 project.
  • Not only does it signal a strengthened Russia on the global stage, but it also shows how the reluctance of the US- to sell their own missile defence systems - can be leveraged by rival nations. 

Why everyone is showing interest in the S-400?

  • There is a reason why every country that shows interest in the system is threatened with diplomatic retaliation from the US and NATO.
  • The S-400, together with systems such as the Nebo-M (Russian state of the art radar complex), may pose a threat to fifth-generation air systems, especially in the context of ‘night one’ operations against an intact integrated air defence system.
  • "Multi-axis (kinetic and non-kinetic) attacks against such a system and the adversary’s command, control, and communications infrastructure will be critical to degrading the threat posed by advanced air defence systems.
  • S-400 is on par with anything that West has to offer.  

Significance of the system:

  • Key advantages of the system include:
    • its ability to track a high number of stealth targets
    • high modularity
    • high mobility, ensuring that the system can be deployed and engaging targets within a matter of minutes
  • Overall, the S-400 – which has been in use since 2007 – is a huge step up from the S-300, and utilises a full suite of targeting apparatus, such as multifunction radar, command and control and autonomous detection, ensuring that the system is capable of providing a layered defence.
  • While largely untested in an operational environment, the S-400 is potentially twice as effective in comparison to the capable S-300 system.


The S-400 would give India’s military the ability to shoot down aircraft and missiles at unprecedented ranges.


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