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Russia Could Soon Sell the S-400 Air Defense System to India: Report
Russia is on the cusp of signing a deal to sell India its S-400 air and missile defense system, according to a senior Russian official.
Recently appearing on Russian television, Vice-Premier Dmitry Rogozin said the two countries were nearing an agreement. “We hope that the S-400 deal will be signed with India soon,” Rogozin said, TASS reported.
His comments come on the heels of a similar statement from Viktor N. Kladov, director for international cooperation and regional policy of Rostec, a massive Russian conglomerate. Speaking to Indian media outlets earlier in December, Kladov said that negotiations between India and Russia had reached a “very profound stage.” When asked when a formal agreement would be inked, Kladov answered, “As soon as they prepare the contract it will be signed … I cannot give you the time as I don’t know but anytime in future because the two teams are working very hard.” While indicating that the talks at this point were mostly focused on technical issues, Kladov also said the two sides were still discussing issues relating to “pricing, training, transfer of technologies, [and] setting up of command and control centers.”
India’s interest in acquiring the S-400 is nothing new. At the October 2016 BRICS summit in Goa, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Russian president Vladimir Putin announced a $5 billion deal for Delhi to acquire the S-400 Triumf air defense system. The agreement was reportedly for five different variants of the system. Around that time, NDTV, a local Indian media organization, speculated that “the five missiles India is acquiring will likely provide defense for a large area around high-value installations including nuclear power plants and key government centers. They are also expected to provide India with a missile-shield for protection against Pakistani or Chinese nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.”
The S-400 is Russia’s fourth-generation air and missile defense system. It is currently Moscow’s most advanced deployed system, although a fifth-generation version, the S-500, is under development. The S-400 is a mobile system that is designed to counter a number of different aerial threats, from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and aircraft to short and medium range ballistic missiles. Each system is armed with numerous missiles to engage different threats. As Robert Farley has explained:
An S-400 battery has three kinds of missiles, each intended to engage aerial targets at different ranges. The longest ranged SAM [surface-to-air missile] can engage at 400 km, with shorter-ranged missiles compensating with enhanced capabilities for killing fast, maneuverable targets. The S-400 can also engage ballistic missiles.
S-400 is reportedly able to engage thirty-six targets simultaneously. According to some sources, every unit comes with eight launchers, each one of which is equipped with thirty-two missiles.
Still, a number of observers have questioned some of the S-400’s purported capabilities. For instance, the CSIS Missile Threat project notes that it is unclear if the 40N6 missile—which is the interceptor that has a range of 400 kms—is even deployed. The same source also questions whether the S-400’s radar capabilities were sufficient for the 40N6 missile to reach its 400 km range. In the end, the CSIS Missile Threat project assesses that: “The S-400’s mission set and capabilities are roughly comparable to the U.S. Patriot system. Unlike some Patriot interceptors today, however, the S-400 does not currently employ hit-to-kill ballistic missile defense technology.” Russia is seeking to develop a new interceptor that uses hit-to-kill capabilities.
Whatever its shortcomings may be, Russia has found substantial success in selling the S-400 system abroad. In late 2014, Russia signed its first deal to export the S-400 with China. That deal is reportedly worth about $3 billion and will consist of four to six S-400 systems. The latest reports suggest that the deal is already being implemented, although it is not exactly clear what that entails or when the system will be operational. In discussing the possible sale to India, Kladov said that training local personnel alone takes two years. It is also unclear if China’s S-400s will have the longer range missiles or only shorter-range interceptors.
More recently, Russia has been eyeing the Middle Eastern market. During King Salman’s visit to Moscow in October 2017, Saudi state-run media said Riyadh and Moscow had signed a memorandum of understanding for Saudi Arabia to purchase the S-400 and other Russian arms. The report did not include any financial details or how many systems Saudi Arabia was interested in buying, and it is far from clear that the agreement will actually come to fruition.
More notably, Turkey upset the United States and its other NATO allies by announcing plans to purchase the S-400 over other similar Western systems. The most recent reports are that Turkey is buying two S-400 systems (four batteries) in an agreement that is worth $2.5 billion. Ankara is expected to pay 45 percent of the cost up front, with Russia financing the remaining 55 percent. Deliveries of the system will happen as soon as March 2020, according to these reports.
Zachary Keck (@ZacharyKeck) is a former managing editor of The National Interest.