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India prefers Russian S-400 systems to American Patriot lemons

When a nation’s own security interests are stake, nobody cares what Washington thinks

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

India has sent its Defense Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, to Moscow this week in order to finalize a deal to purchase Russia’s S-400 anti-missile systems in a deal to be worth around $6 billion. The agreement is going down despite American sanctions against Russia and its arms producers and US efforts to peddle their Patriot systems to the Indian government. India initialized the deal in 2016, and is expected to be concluded in Sitharaman’s visit. Financial Express reports:

The S-400 Triumf deal might be the primary agenda of the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman during this visit to Moscow. The first agreement to look into the contract to procure the S-400 Triumf, a multifunctional medium and long-range anti-aircraft weapon system (AAMS), was signed between India and Russia in 2016.

China was actually the first buyer of the S-400 Triumf. India, which is now likely to seal the deal with Russia at an estimated cost of Rs 40,000 crore, wishes to procure this anti-aircraft weapon system to reduce the threat along China and Pakistan borders.

The anti-aircraft missile system was developed by the Russian state-owned company called Almaz-Antey Corporation. The S-400 is an upgraded version of the S-300 AAMS. The new S-400 Triumf that India wants to acquire has multifunction radar complex inclusive of altitude radar system, four anti-aircraft guided missiles launchers and mobile tower for antenna checkpoint.

The anti-aircraft weapon system also boasts of being capable of destroying enemy fighter jet aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft, missiles and spy drones and planes ranging up to a distance of 400km at the maximum altitude of 3000 meters.

The Indian Air Force is facing acute shortage of fighter squadrons. The current strength of fighter squadrons is 32, making it lowest in a decade. India currently needs at least 42 squadrons to protect its Northern and Western borders against Pakistan and China. With a shortage of at least 8 squadrons and each squadron hosting at least 18 fighter jets, the figure that India lacks now is that of 144 fighter jets.

The Indian Air Force now primarily depends on Russian made MiG-21 & Su-30 MKI, U.K made SEPECAT Jaguar, French-made Mirage 2000 and six indigenously-made HAL Tejas. India is yet to receive 36 French Rafales and 40 HAL Tejas fighter jets. The existing force might also lose another 14 squadrons by 2020, putting India in dire need of strengthening its armed forces.

Apart from the S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft weapon system deal, Nirmala Sitharaman is likely to seal several other impending defence deals with Russia. Ahead of her visit, Russia has already offered 21 MiG-29 fighter aircraft to India. Despite, the MiG-29s that are already being in service, this new deal will help India fight its fighter-jet crunch. India might also see some further development in its bid to get KA-226T helicopters.

The first inter-governmental agreement was signed in 2015 and Russia had told the media in 2017, that it will be delivering 200 helicopters to Indian in another nine years. The Russian Helicopters and HAL have already struck the deal to assemble the helicopters in Tumakuru, in Karnataka. The acquiring the flyaway condition helicopters and also the required technology to assemble in India is likely to be finalised during this visit. India might also sign deals for acquiring more Mi-17 V5 armed-transport helicopters.

Apart from the major deals to procure weapons, India will also work towards a new framework agreement and contract with Russia to make spares, weapon upgrade technology for Russian systems in Indian service.

As per India’s Make in India initiative, the Defence Ministry wants the spares and upgrading work to be made in India. This will help India to boost its Make-II procedure and also fuel Russia’s business to make spares for T-90 tanks, Sukhoi jets, MI and Kamov copters and other frigate spares. India is also likely to procure 2 frigates for the Navy.

Relevant to America’s Patriot system, they weren’t all that impressed with it, given its performance record in Riyadh. Financial Times provides an elegant description:

On March 25, Houthi forces in Yemen fired seven missiles at Riyadh. Saudi Arabia confirmed the launches and asserted that it successfully intercepted all seven.

This wasn’t true. It’s not just that falling debris in Riyadh killed at least one person and sent two more to the hospital. There’s no evidence that Saudi Arabia intercepted any missiles at all. And that raises uncomfortable questions not just about the Saudis, but about the United States, which seems to have sold them — and its own public — a lemon of a missile defense system.

Social media images do appear to show that Saudi Patriot batteries firing interceptors. But what these videos show are not successes. One interceptor explodes catastrophically just after launch, while another makes a U-turn in midair and then comes screaming back at Riyadh, where it explodes on the ground.

It is possible, of course, that one of the other interceptors did the job, but I’m doubtful. That is because my colleagues at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and I closely examined two different missile attacks on Saudi Arabia from November and December 2017.

In both cases, we found that it is very unlikely the missiles were shot down, despite officials’ statements to the contrary. Our approach was simple: We mapped where the debris, including the missile airframe and warhead, fell and where the interceptors were located. In both cases, a clear pattern emerged.

The missile itself falls in Riyadh, while the warhead separates and flies over the defense and lands near its target. One warhead fell within a few hundred meters of Terminal 5 at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport.

The second warhead, fired a few weeks later, nearly demolished a Honda dealership. In both cases, it was clear to us that, despite official Saudi claims, neither missile was shot down. I am not even sure that Saudi Arabia even tried to intercept the first missile in November.

The point is there is no evidence that Saudi Arabia has intercepted any Houthi missiles during the Yemen conflict. And that raises a disquieting thought: Is there any reason to think the Patriot system even works?

Meanwhile, Turkey has also finalized a deal to purchase Russia’s S-400 system in spite of America’s new round of sanctions. In fact, Russia is doing what it can to expedite the delivery of the systems. Turkey will be acquiring four batteries of S-400s that they will maintain.

Apparently, when it gets down to the wire, and when a nation’s own security interests are stake, nobody cares what Washington thinks.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

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