NEW DELHI: India’s first squadron of the formidable S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems will become operational by January-February next year, with the country now getting initial deliveries of the air defence weapons from Russia despite the threat of US sanctions.
The S-400 system can detect, track and destroy incoming strategic bombers, jets, spy planes, ballistic missiles and drones at a range of 380-km. The first squadron will be “suitably deployed in the western sector” to tackle aerial threats from both Pakistan and China before they can enter Indian airspace, top sources said on Sunday.
Ahead of the Modi-Putin summit here in early-December, the “thousands of containers and packages” of the first S-400 squadron, including two missile batteries, long-range acquisition and engagement radars and all-terrain transporter-erector vehicles, are now being sent to India through the air and sea routes.
“After the deliveries of the first squadron are completed by next month, the massive S-400 systems will be assembled, erected and then undergo ‘acceptance trials’ in front of Russian experts,” said a source.
All five mobile squadrons of the highly-automated S-400 systems, under the $5.43 billion (Rs 40,000 crore) contract inked with Russia in October 2018, will be progressively delivered by 2023. “They will cater for the borders with China and Pakistan as well as airbases and places like New Delhi,” said the source.
The initial deliveries of the S-400 systems come at a time when there are still no signs of any de-escalation in the 18-month military confrontation in eastern Ladakh. China has deployed at least two S-400 batteries, apart from several other anti-aircraft systems, to tackle any air strikes by India.
TOI was the first to report in January that India was sending IAF teams to Russia for training in operations and maintenance of the S-400 systems, ahead of its deliveries beginning this year-end, despite the threat of US sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act). Enacted in 2017, the US law seeks to prevent countries from buying Russian weapons or Iranian oil.
The US has imposed financial sanctions on China and Turkey for inducting the S-400 systems from Russia. India, however, remains “reasonably confident” of getting a waiver from the Biden administration on the ground that the air defence systems are an “urgent national security requirement” for it, given its two long unresolved borders with China and Pakistan.
India has also assured Washington it will “never compromise the operational secrecy” of the weapon systems it has bought or will buy from the US, while pointing to its unblemished record of not passing sensitive military information of a country to a third party, as was reported by TOI earlier.
One of the main reasons for the US to remove Turkey from its F-35 fighter programme was the fact that the powerful radars of the S-400 systems are capable of “mapping or recording” data of other aircraft or radars. Consequently, the F-35’s stealth characteristics, electronic warfare and other capabilities can be analyzed by the S-400 systems if they are operated together.
India has also increasingly turned to countries like the US, France and Israel for its defence needs over the years, much to Russia’s dislike. The US alone has bagged lucrative Indian defence contracts worth over $21 billion just since 2007, with some more deals in the pipeline.
The S-400s are critical for India to erect a missile shield to protect its vital installations and areas. While the 36 Rafales armed with Meteor and Scalp missiles being inducted by IAF under the Rs 59,000 crore deal with France in September 2016 are primarily meant for an offensive role, the S-400 systems are defensive in nature.
Each of the S-400 batteries can be loaded with as many as 128 missiles, with interception ranges of 120, 200, 250 and 380-km. They can even intercept intermediate range ballistic missiles with a velocity of 4,800-meter per second.

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