The Russian Triumf system

If fighters like Rafale are meant to take the war to the enemy, the S-400 batteries are designed to prevent the enemy from bringing it to your shores by erecting a defensive shield that can detect, track and destroy hostile strategic bombers, jets, spy planes, missiles and drones at a range of 380 km. India’s move to ink the $5.43 billion (Rs.40,000 crore) deal for five advanced S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile squadrons from Russia, despite the looming threat of US sanctions, underlines its resolve to bolster air defence coverage along the unresolved borders with China and Pakistan.

The resolve became stronger after China began inducting six S-400 batteries in January under a $3 billion deal inked with Russia in 2014. The US last month imposed financial sanctions on China for its S-400 deal but India is hopeful of getting a waiver from the Trump administration.

India will pay 15% (Rs.6,000 crore) to Russia as the first instalment, with the rest being linked to deliveries. IAF is slated to get the first S-400 missile squadron in 24 months, with its associated battle-management system of command posts and launchers, long-range acquisition and engagement radars, and all-terrain transporter-erector-launcher vehicles. All five squadrons, with two firing units each, will come in 54 months.

The S-400s, with their huge ‘area denial capabilities’, are as much of a game-changer as the Rs.59,000-crore procurement of 36 Rafale fighters from France, which has run into a political dogfight between the BJP and Congress.

If deployed near the border with Pakistan, an S-400 battery can shoot down a hostile F-16 fighter or cruise missile much before it comes near Indian airspace during hostilities.

Russia contends the S-400, designated the ‘SA-21 Growler’ by NATO, can even “radar lock and shoot down” 5th-Gen stealth fighters like American F-35 jets. It’s no wonder the US is against proliferation of the S-400s, and has tasked its latest F-22A ‘Raptors’ and other top-notch weapons with defeating the Russian system in case of a conflict.

It was in October 2015 that India had kicked off plans to acquire the S-400 missile system, and that the Cabinet Committee on Security on September 26 had cleared the deal for inking. The S-400 contract is among the largest-ever defence deals inked with Russia. The other big deals include the ones for 272 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters (over $12 billion) and INS Vikramaditya ($2.33 billion for the aircraft carrier and another $2 billion for 45 MiG-29Ks to operate from its deck).

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