Russian S-400 missile purchase is a “done deal”, US looks to calm waters - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 7 June 2018

Russian S-400 missile purchase is a “done deal”, US looks to calm waters

 By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th June 18

Senior defence ministry officials say India’s purchase of five units of Russia’s S-400 Triumf mobile surface to air missile system (M-SAM) is “a done deal”.

“All that remains is to decide whether the deal should be signed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets President Vladimir Putin later this year”, said one official who is closely involved in the negotiations.

On Tuesday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was only marginally more circumspect when she said in a press conference in New Delhi: “It (the S-400) has been for a very long time in negotiations. We have reached a final stage in the S-400 negotiations.” 

With the time-consuming hurdle of cost negotiations crossed, only the Indian cabinet’s concurrence remains for the deal to be ready for signing. 

In 2015, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had cleared the purchase of five S-400 units for an indicative price of about Rs 30,000 crore ($4.5 billion). However, the ministry is keeping a tight lid on the price finally agreed.

For President Donald Trump’s administration, New Delhi’s determination to buy the S-400 is a significant problem. A law passed by the US Congress last year – titled “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) – binds the administration to impose sanctions against countries that engage in “significant transactions” with Russian, Iranian and North Korean defence and intelligence entities.

Given close US-India defence ties, and recognition by US officials that India’s predominantly Russian arsenal prevents New Delhi from abruptly severing ties, American officials are asking Congress for a waiver from CAATSA for key allies like India.

New Delhi has dug in its heels. “We have very clearly explained how India and Russia’s defence cooperation has been going on for a very long time. It is a time-tested relationship and India has got quite a lot of defence assets from Russia. [In] assets, spares and servicing, we have a continuous relationship with Russia [and that] has to be recalled. Therefore CAATSA cannot impact on us”, said Sitharaman on Tuesday.

Senior Indian government officials are reportedly upset at this “lack of American understanding”, after India last year scuttled the project to jointly develop a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) with Russia.

Senior US officials complain that the US Congress displayed a “lack of nuance” in passing CAATSA. Intending primarily to tie down Trump to a hard line against Russia, Congress inadvertently placed the US administration at loggerheads with valued partners like India, Indonesia and Vietnam, who field large Russian-origin arsenals.

Behind the scenes, both governments are searching for a solution. Secretary for Defence James Mattis, who has argued before the US Congress for a CAATSA waiver for key allies, is working with New Delhi on the wording of an acceptable waiver. 

Defence ministry sources say New Delhi has rejected at least one draft, while also declaring that India has no obligation to respect CAATSA, which is an American law.

Separate from the CAATSA imbroglio is Washington’s concern over technology security. US officials say they will not allow the F-35 Lightning II – their latest, hugely expensive and secretive fighter aircraft – to operate alongside the S-400. 

Given the IAF’s growing interest in the F-35, this concern could significantly impact any such plans. 

Echoing technology security concerns, the US House Armed Services Committee chairman, Mac Thornberry, told Indian journalists that if India bought the S-400, inter-operability between the Indian and US militaries would be undermined.

Underlining US sensitivity over the S-400 – which China could well buy in the future – is Washington’s growing confrontation with Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally that is pushing to buy the S-400. Turkey is an F-35 partner country, but US officials say it could well be denied that fighter if it bought the S-400.

The S-400 Triumf (NATO designation: SA-21 Growler) can detect an incoming ballistic missile (perhaps carrying a nuclear payload) from 600 kilometres (km) and shoot it down when it is still 230 km away, and 185 km above the earth. It can shoot down fighter aircraft at ranges out to 400 km.


  1. I thought china already had the S 400 from Russia

    Then we also have S500 and S600

    Can we trust USA and buy the F16 in view of these sanctions...and futuristic pressures on IRAN amongst other.

  2. Given the IAF’s growing interest in the F-35, this concern could significantly impact any such plans.
    The Air Chief Marshal has categorically rejected any interest in F-35. Allocating for journalist's tendency not to take people at face value; there are solid technical reasons why the IAF will not chase F-35.
    A F-35 purchase will usher in intrusive end user verification regime; something the Indian Navy faced with a single purchase, INS Jalashwa and quickly proceeded to eliminate US components subject to end user verification. How will the IAF deal with the issue that will affect an important part of their fleet?
    The F-35 locks the user into a single vendor construct. Make that a double whammy for the IAF, locking into a single nation, single vendor construct; importantly, locking itself with a nation that has a robust track record of sanctions against India!
    Finally, stealth aside, F-35 is a beehive of sensors that load data to central servers. How comfortable would India and IAF be at not having access and control to and over its own data?

    For Stealth Aircraft, I'd watching for proposals to appear from Japan or France, apart from progress on AMCA.

  3. Very informative. It also highlights the perenniel conflicts that exist in managing eastern & western block equipment in one bag

  4. From last April 2018 there has been four batteries (one regimental unit) of S400 in China already.
    The complete Chinese order (yet to be delivered) consists of six regimental units.
    The S400 may be a match for any US aircraft including the F35 - and the Americans are worried - it can also intercept cruise and nuclear ballistic missiles.
    The S400 is being used to guard Moscow nuclear attack as well as being deployed elsewhere; to protect the Baltic Fleet at Kaliningrad for example.
    I am glad India did not fall for the US con of manufacturing the F16 in India. This is an obsolete aircraft, when confronted by the S400.
    The Chinese are working on their own indigenous version of the S400 and intend this to be mass produced, as part of a Chinese Iron Dome against nuclear attack, if these are given to Pakistan then Indias nuclear deterrence may be neutralised.
    While all this is going on, the our bureaucrats, posted in short stints to the driving seats at the MOD lack knowledge of emerging technologies. These temporary creatures are dysfunctional, arrogant and dismissive of change.
    A coordinated defence strategy consisting of our Armed Forces, and made up of permanent specialists thinking long term is needed, this present piecemeal decision making - by merely reacting to changing realities will be fatal.

  5. India will buy what is necessary for its defence from what ever source suitable. Don't think US will enforce it.

  6. so pleased to hear this, hopefully it will be signed this year. but what about the Ka-226T and frigates?? they also need to close these 2 projects and then can buy predators to placate the americans. S400 will truly be a game changer and gives pakistanis no chance against us.

  7. Excellent.
    Now army should start getting new assault rifles, new light utility helicopters and airforce more Tejas Mk1A.
    When will this deal be signed with HAL ?

  8. Has India ipso facto committed to buying F-35, that too off the shelf now that it has pulled from PAK-FA.

    It looks like the seed for another round of expensive fighter jet purchase in long run.


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