Impact of India’s Acquisition of S-400 missile system
The acquisition of S-400 by India, Russia’s most advanced long-range missile defense system is a manifestation of its growing ambitions as a leading military power in the region. It is a reflection that Indian leadership, despite its strong strategic relationship with the US, retains its options of simultaneously dealing with other major powers if its perceived national considerations so demand. Modi also realizes that despite Washington’s displeasure, it would give it a waiver. The US has been promoting its own version, the Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile systems, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government preferred the S-400.
China was the first country that selected the S-400 in 2014, followed by Belarus. This shows that apart from the US, Russia is clearly one of the leading manufacturers of sophisticated defense equipment. Moreover, 65 to 70 percent of the defense equipment in India’s inventory is Russian made, despite its growing and strong strategic partnership with the US.
The apparent concerns of the US were articulated by diplomat Alice Wells last month, when she said that the S-400 sale could effectively limit India’s ability “to increase our interoperability” (with the US.)
Despite Washington being keen to sell its own defense missile system to Delhi, India preferred the Russian S-400 because it recognizes that it is the more technologically advanced system, and capable of tracking more than 100 flying objects with a 400 km range.
India has also signed the COMCASA agreement with the US which allows for classified sharing of information and lays the foundation for interoperability. Washington feels this purchase violates the spirit of that agreement in a broader sense. Whereas India values a strategic relationship with the US, it doesn’t want to be restricted in its options while dealing with other major powers.
This reflects India’s confidence that in the current global situation, the US, while expressing its dissent, will have no choice but to give it a waiver.
Pakistan cannot match India in terms of numbers and the range of weapons and equipment, but it tries to counter Indian preponderance by maintaining its own forces in a high state of readiness by prioritizing higher standards of training and morale.
Interestingly, Turkey too has preferred the S-400 to Washington’s equivalent system and defied threats of other major defense deals being canceled because of it. But despite warnings from the US, it is going ahead with the deal.
Apparently, the reason for this defiance is based on two considerations. One, it is clearly a highly sophisticated and lethal system that outranks or matches similar US missile defense systems. Two, these countries want to retain the freedom of choice and optimize their power. There are indications that India may buy some additional major systems from Russia.
Notwithstanding the current Russian deal, India is one of the major growing markets for US defense equipment. In the last ten years, India has procured defense equipment from the US worth close to $20 billion.
India’s quests to out-match China and Pakistan in the acquisition of military hard and software comes at a huge cost. Although India’s economy has been doing well for the last several years, nearly 400 million Indians are still living below the poverty line.
Minorities, especially Muslims and Dalits, members of India’s lowest caste, are the worst sufferers. These considerations demand a more equitable distribution of resources and not merely building a sophisticated military machine. But it is unlikely that the welfare of these groups will take priority in Prime Minister Modi’s policy-making.
China, it seems, has not reacted publicly to India’s acquisition of the S-400 system although it is to be deployed against the China border as well. It will, however, be concerned about India’s growing military power.
For Pakistan, India’s current military buildup poses multiple challenges. It cannot match India in terms of numbers and the range of weapons and equipment, but it tries to counter Indian preponderance by maintaining its own forces in a high state of readiness by prioritizing higher standards of training and morale.
The acquisition of S-400 by India, however, poses a serious new threat to Pakistan as it claims to possess the capability of shooting down Pakistan’s F-16 and JS-17 fighter jets and cruise missiles.
There is no possibility of Pakistan acquiring the S-400 or equivalent system in the near future. The high cost of the system precludes the possibility of acquiring the system even if Russia was willing to sell it.
In these circumstances, the likely option for it would be to step up production of nuclear warheads and this could trigger a nuclear arms buildup. Pakistan would have to also undertake other measures, both diplomatically and by enhancing its technological capabilities, to effectively counter the impact of India’s S-400.
– Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues.
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