India has begun to receive equipment for one of five S-400 air defence units ordered from Russia, which were contracted in October 2018 under a $5.4 billion deal. The deliveries coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Delhi, and the signing of a new agreement on Russo-Indian military and technical cooperation for 2021-2030. The Indian Foreign Ministry announced that: “Supplies have begun this month and will continue to happen,” despite uncertainty regarding the deal after the U.S. threatened economic sanctions against Delhi if it acquired the systems. The U.S. has pledged to unilaterally implement a worldwide sanctions regime against any country which purchases high end Russian military equipment, with China having been targeted and Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia and the Philippines being among the other countries in its crosshairs. India has ignored threats of American economic attacks, however, and proceeded with the purchase and with discussions for further major acquisitions. The U.S. has sought both to deny the Russian defence sector much needed export revenues, and to expand markets for Western equipment much of which uses American components. The country has offered India its own air defence systems such as THAAD, but their limited suitability for India’s needs, lower flexibility and very questionable performance records have undermined the viability of such a deal.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on December 6 regarding U.S. efforts to prevent India from acquiring a long range air defence capability from Russia: “We witnessed attempts on the part of the United States to undermine this cooperation and to make India obey the American orders, to follow the American vision of how this region should be developed.” The S-400 is prized for a range of capabilities including a very high degree of situational awareness using multiple radars in different bands, allowing it to track aircraft up to 600km away and lock onto stealth aircraft at shorter ranges. This is particular valuable as China is the only country to have developed and deployed fifth generation stealth fighters outside the U.S., and is expected to proliferate these technologies to Pakistan. Each S-400 battalion has a far lower operational cost than fighter unit, but deploys missiles travelling at over three times the speed of most long range air-to-air missiles and capable of intercepting targets at speeds exceeding Mach 8. With a high degree of mobility, it can reportedly engage up to 80 targets simultaneously and has effective countermeasures against electronic warfare. India will be by far the world’s largest foreign operator of the S-400 once all units are delivered by the end of 2025.