Russia to the rescue
Despite US opposition, the Russian S-400 Triumf missile air defence system will bring India at par with China.
Ignoring Washington's frowns, India has decided to turn to old and time-tested friend Russia to acquire the state-of-the-art S-400 Triumf missile air defence system at a cost of about Rs 40,000 crore. Washington is against the deal not only because it has imposed a sanction on Russia and does not want Moscow to conclude such a huge deal, but also because it wants India to be solely dependent for its defence needs on the United States, its allies and Israel. Some hard bargaining is now underway between the Russian and Indian sides over pricing. India, apparently, is unwilling to pay as much as the Russians are demanding.
The Indian Air Force needs the Triumf anti-aircraft missile system to attain parity with China, who has already acquired it. But its acquisition will put India at a great advantage over Pakistan. The Triumf is expected to neutralise Pakistan's short-range nuclear missile Nasr. The S-400 is believed to be a game changer for India as even the United States and its Western European allies in NATO are apprehensive of it as it has been rated as a highly advanced interceptor-based missile defence system.
As far as China is concerned, the Triumfs it has acquired reportedly have radars and missiles with much shorter ranges than the ones that the Russians are supplying to India. In spite of the current Sino-Soviet bonhomie, the Russians do not seem to trust the Chinese fully, as the latter is notorious for 'reverse engineering' weapons systems to manufacture them on their own, violating the intellectual property rights of the country that originally developed it.
India is going to buy five Triumf systems. Three will be deployed in the west against Pakistan and two in the north against China. Once the deal is through, delivery is expected to be complete in four and a half years. China has got six missiles – one more than India is going to acquire.
The Triumf S-400 is actually an improved version of its predecessor, S-300. It is a versatile strategic asset, equipped with a wide range of supersonic and hypersonic missiles. It can seek out and destroy a variety of missiles, such as medium-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. It has a better radar system and can launch four surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Their range varies between 150 km and 200 km. One SAM has a range of 400 km and can attain an altitude of 185 km. One major advantage of the Triumf is its high operational mobility.
What is especially noteworthy is that the Triumf missile system was first inducted into the Russian military only in September last year. So, it is a state-of-the-art weapons system and not obsolete like what the western countries usually sell to the third world countries at very high prices.
The whole range of complements of the Triumf consists of a tracking radar system, eight missile launchers and 112 guided missiles that can intercept and destroy airborne threats up to a distance of 450 km. What is more, it will give the IAF the capability to destroy aircraft deep inside the enemy territory in a war, including 'stealth' fighter-bombers.
As stated earlier, the Americans are not happy about the prospect of India getting the Triumf anti-missile system. At the beginning of this year, the Americans enforced the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA) to prevent other countries entering into defence deals with Russia. But Americans are reported to have 'understood' India's predicament, with regard to both China and Pakistan, and are expected to take a lenient view of the Triumf deal. If India stands firm, Washington will have to give in. And, India seems keen on acquiring the S-400 to end its land and airspace vulnerability to sneak or open attacks.
The Chinese military has an expansionist aim. Its economic and defence policies dovetail into each other to further its conquistadorial objectives across continents. By contrast, India's defence policy is entirely deterrent. It seeks to raise defence capability to a level when a likely enemy will know that a military misadventure, including a nuclear misadventure, on India will invite second-strike retaliatory attack. India's nuclear doctrine, formulated during the regime of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has three elements: to have a "minimum credible deterrence"; NFU (No First Use); and never use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear country under any circumstances.
But India's "nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be 'massive' and designed to inflict 'unacceptable damage' on the enemy." That doctrine remains unchanged till today. India does not intend to join an arms race with China, not only because that is beyond its capacity but also because it is totally unnecessary.
During the heyday of Indo-Soviet cooperation, when the Soviets were the main suppliers of most military hardware required by the three wings of India's defence establishment – the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force – there was a barrage of criticism of India's supposed 'over-dependence' on Russia for its defence needs. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, these critics have become silent. But, now that India is again going in for 'single-sourcing' of defence hardware from the United States and its allies, there is no criticism of this policy from any quarter. A sound defence policy would be not to put all our eggs in any one basket and retain our right to decide what to acquire from which country that will best subserve our national interest.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)