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Procurement of S-400 Triumf and US Reaction

The veiled threats of US sanctions just for own self interest without any past record of proven  credentials on geopolitics or Technology transfer have serious implications for future relationship.  India has to guard its own interests to meet the national security requirement and pursue an independent policy.

India world’s second-largest arms importer and fifth-largest economy has inked the majority of its weapons deals in the past with Russia followed by United States holding down the No. 2 spot. In recent past there has been slight shift in its defense procurement as India is diversifying it purchases to the United States. As per SIPRI reports, in the block year 2008 to 2013 India imported 76% of our defense items from Russia. In the next five-year block, from 2013 to 2018, this came down 58% and in the same period Indian imports from the United States has been increasing significantly.

The defence ties between India and the United States seems to be stretched over planned procurement of Almaz-Antei S-400 Triumf self-propelled surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems from Russia.

Indian Cabinet Committee on Security approved the proposal worth approx. $5.4 billion to buy Russia’s S-400 a mobile, long-range, surface-to-air missile system last year.The S-400 Triumf system is ideally suited to fill a critical gap in Indian existing capabilities. The first S-400 system is expected to join the IAF in late 2020 while the remaining four will arrive by 2023. The SAM system can destroy incoming hostile aircraft, missiles and even drones at ranges of up to 400 Km.

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), provisions expects partners to forgo transactions with Russia and proposes penalties on Russian defence customers. However CAATSA has been modified by a clause introduced through the US National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2019 that allows for a possible CAATSA waiver under certain conditions and each transaction is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The apprehension about some of the armament supplies from Russia following U.S. sanctions on Russian entities under CAATSA are:-.

  • A $2.2 billion government-to-government contract for two Krivak-class stealth frigates.
  • Joint production of AK-203 Assault Rifles.
  • The unreasonable provisions also affected support to maintain and operate in-service equipment, a large proportion of which is of Russian-origin for purchase of spare parts, components, raw materials and other assistance for which Indian entities are dependent on Russia for domestic licence manufacturing and maintenance of existing equipment
  • A new 10-year framework agreement with Russia to manufacture and upgrade at least a dozen types of Russian armament systems in India, such as Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighters, Mi-series helicopters, Kamov helicopters, T-90 tanks, and Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher systems.

Fact of the matter is that US Govt. and its Arms Lobby wants to push their own agenda. In this segment the rivals of S-400 are Lockheed Martin’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, System (THAAD) and Raytheon’s Patriot system.

Besides there are other deals in pipeline where in some of the US major are contenders. To quote a  few, in aero fighter segment the US wish to push  the F-16 Fighter Falcons or F-21 made by Lockheed Martin or the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet. Indian government wants to procure the jets under its ‘Make in India’ initiative and both the companies are willing to set up their production facilities in India while making it an export hub.

Israel is also one of the leading participants to improve its defence preparedness as per the SIPRI during 2014-18 periods; India was the top most buyers of weapons from Israel. Israel has a past time tested record of very cordial and fruitful association with India on defence co-operation. Some of the recent and proposed acquisitions from Israel include Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control system), Searcher, Heron and Harop UAVs to Aerostat and Green Pine radars and several types of missiles and laser-guided bombs. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is associated in a $630 million deal with India on supply of long-range surface-to-air missiles (LRSAM) systems to four ships in the Indian navy. Elbit and Ashok Leyland have partnered in December 2018 for mounting Elbit’s artillery guns on wheeled vehicles.  Adani Defence and Aerospace has also signed a contract with Elbit to construct UAVs in India, including its Hermes 900 and Hermes 450.

The planned high-level visits from the US since the formation of the new government are attempts to persuade India not to go ahead with the Russian deals and instead consider US offers. The veiled threats of US sanctions just for own self interest without any past record of proven  credentials on geopolitics or  Technology transfer have serious implications for future relationship.  India has to guard its own interests to meet the national security requirement and pursue an independent policy. Through such actions, there is a general feeling in India that the US is not likely to be a reliable partner and India needs to hedge its bets in defence provisioning.

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