S-400 Triumf – Strategic Deal for India

anil chopra, air power asia, air defence, weapons

  Amid the United States CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) fears and visible apprehensions, Russian President Putin and Indian Prime Minister Modi signed the Rs 40,000 Crore ($ 5.43 billion) of 5 regiments of S-400 Triumf air defence missiles deal on 05 October 2018 at Delhi. The US sanctions against Russia were in the financial, energy and defense sectors. This deal was win-win scenario for both. Russia desperately needs big arms deals to boost its economy that has been hit by reduced exports, the U.S. Sanctions, and now the corona virus. This system will give the Indian Air Force (IAF), a cutting-edge advantage in the sub-continent.  In the recent years New Delhi has also inched closer to USA and Israel for its weapons needs. Also it was to be Russia’s signal to the world that it still has some time-tested friends. While initially the threat of US sanctions was real, but till date the said sanctions have not been implemented even on its NATO ally Turkey, the other buyer of Russia’s S-400 system, though Turkey is likely to be cut out of the sensitive F-35 program. There is concern in the U.S. that any friendly country that acquires the S-400 system causes interoperability and security issues for them. The S-400 has the ability to record the enemy/friendly radar parameters and subsequently neutralize the threat electronically.

          For IAF, the fighter squadrons depleting from authorized 42 to 30 has left a little dent in its combat ability that needs to be urgently filled. China is growing into a significant aerospace power. A very potent missiles system could release a few fighter squadrons from air defence duties to take on offensive roles, more so in case of a two front war. The system will also bring to India first operational system capable of engaging missiles. Russia will begin delivering the systems by the end of 2021, Russian officials have confirmed.

The System Development

          The S-400 Triumfpreviously known as the S-300PMU-3, is an anti-aircraft weapon system developed in the 1990s by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau as an upgrade of the S-300 family. On 12 February 1999 the first, reportedly-successful tests were performed at Kapustin Yar rocket launch and development site, near the Caspian sea town of Astrakhan, against an S-300P system missile. Completion of the project was announced in February 2004, and in April a ballistic missile was successfully intercepted in a test of the upgraded 48N6DM missile. In 2007, the system was approved for service. S-400 Triumph and Russian Pantsir missile system can be integrated into a two-layer defense system. The Pantsir missile system is a family of self-propelled, medium-range SAMs and ant-artillery systems. The system is a further development of 2K22 Tunguska (SA-19) point air defence system for military/industrial/administrative installations against aircraft, helicopters, precision munitions, cruise missiles and UAVs and to provide additional protection to air defence units against enemy air attacks employing precision munitions, especially at low to extremely low altitudes.

System Components and Technical Specifications

          Like other Russian missile systems, there is an electronically controlled  administration system that manages eight battalions. There is a command and control center. A panoramic radar detection system (range 600 km) with protection against jamming which is mounted on a multi-wheel mobile trailer.  The S band system can track 300 targets. The battalions of SAMs can also act as an independent combat system, and can track six targets on their own, and support additional two battalions if they are within a 40-kilometre range. There is also a multi-functional radar with a 400-km range, that can track 100 targets. The launchers are on trailers with different missiles. The S-400 uses an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

          The Protivnik-GE is an anti-stealth UHF radar with a 400-kilometre range. The Moscow-1 is a passive sensor with even larger effective range than the than the Protivnik. There is also a target-designation system. The complex also has a adversary radar jamming system.

          The 400-km range S-200D Dubna (SA-5c) missiles and S-300 P-family radar systems can be used without additional command-and-control centers. The S-300 (SA-20A, SA-20B) missiles may also be guided after designation from an A-50 class AWACS aircraft providing early warning and command-and-control target designation. Such control can be integrated with the S-400 Triumf and others. There are special jam-proof systems for communication between command post, missile batteries, the mobile radar units and fighter-aircraft. The system’s VHF component provides sector search and tracking, and the X- and L-band radars providing fine-tracking capability. Correct placement of the elements relative to the threat axis can enable the L- and X-band units to detect the incoming target from angles where the target RCS is even sub-optimal. The Gamma-C1E SHF mobile radar station has a 300-km detection range. The Nebo VHF mobile radar station and the Resonance-NE radar station have a detection range of 1,200 km, with height coverage up to 65 km, and low of 500 metres.

          The declared anti-stealth range is 150 km. To track ballistic missile types of targets with RCS of 0.04 sq meters, and speed of 4800 m/s, the system range is 230 km. A bomber sized target will be detected at 570 km. The export version has the capability to track a maximum of 100 targets. In mountainous terrain, the system is resistant to false returns or clutter. Maximum height for the detection of the target 100 km away and from all directions. Can use a special tower for better detection against cruise missiles and stealth. In 2014, a new type of transporters were introduced, improving the mobility of the system, and reducing fuel consumption.

          One system comprising up to eight battalions can control up to 72 launchers, with a maximum of 384 missiles. The missiles are fired by a gas system from the launch tubes up to 30 meters into the air before the rocket motor ignites, which increases the maximum and decreases the minimum ranges. All the missiles are equipped with directed explosion warhead, which increases the probability of complete destruction of targets. The S-400 is able to intercept cruise missiles out to a range of about 40 km due to their low altitude flight paths. All-purpose maximum radial velocity is 4.8 km per second (17,000 km/h, Mach 14). The System response time 9–10 seconds. The complex can move on roads (60 km/h) and off-road (ground) at speeds up to 25 km/h.

          A regular S-400 battalion consists of at least eight launchers with 32 missiles and a mobile command post. It uses four different missiles from medium to long range to cover entire range envelope and target threats up to 400 km. The maximum range for tactical ballistic targets is 60 km. The number of simultaneously engaged targets by the full system is 80. Its radars can pick up targets at over 600 km and system can track and engage large aircraft to small UAVs. A cross-section of radars operating at different frequency bands give it a natural Electronic Counter Counter Measure (ECCM) from enemy jamming. Service life of ground facilities is 20 years and of the missiles is 15 years.

System Operators

          China was the first foreign buyer to seal a government-to-government deal with Russia in 2014, and has the system operational since 2018. China acquired six batteries to defend its own air space and serve as an effective stand-off weapon against air attacks. With a 400 km coverage range, aircraft in disputed areas off the coast could be targeted by SAMs from the mainland. Also all of Taiwan would be covered from Fujian and Shandong, making it difficult for the US and Japan to deploy combat aircraft over those airspaces. Delivery of the systems to China began in January 2018. China test fired Russian S-400 systems for the first time in early August 2018.

          In late 2017, Turkey and Russian signed a $2.5 billion agreement for the S-400. USA raised concerns, but Turkey rejected the US threat of sanctions citing existing international protocols and that the S-400 offer with Russia was a better deal than the MIM-104 Patriot system offered by US. Turkey received its first installment of Russian S-400 missile defense system on 12 July 2019. The United States suspended Turkey from the F-35 program, stating “F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities. 4 batteries consisting 36 fire units and 192+ missiles have already been delivered to Turkey. In June 2016, Belarus received two S-400 units free of charge from Russia, essentially to also defend Russia.

Other Tie-ups and Prospective Customers 

          South Korea is developing a simplified medium range M-SAM Cheolmae-2, based on technology from the 9M96 missile and with help of the Almaz. The prime contractor is joint-venture of Samsung and Thales. The M-SAM will be composed of an X band multi-function radar vehicle built by Samsung Thales in technical cooperation with Almaz, fire-control vehicles and transporter erector launchers built by Doosan and missiles provided by LIG Nex1.

          In September 2009, it was reported that the S-400 is a part of a two billion dollar arms deal being negotiated between Russia and Saudi Arabia. But the deal is still not finalised. In June 2019, amidst tensions with United States, some Iranian officials expressed interest for procurement of the S-400 missile system. Russia stated it is ready to sell the S-400 system to Iran if such official request is made. Since February 2017, Egypt has shown interest in the S-400 system, but  the negotiations were delayed due to Egypt’s financial issues. In February 2018, Iraq confirmed ongoing rumors that his country had shown interest in the S-400 and that negotiations with Russia were underway, and in May 2019, Iraqi government confirmed the interest was alive. Qatar is also known to be in some talks. Pakistan has also been showing interest in S-400, but they currently have no money.

Operational Deployments

          The S-400 has been in service with the Russian Air Force since 2007. Russians have deployed a total of eleven S-400 missile regiments and were expected to increase to sixteen. One report says that Russia plans to have 28 S-400 regiments by 2020. S-400 was first deployed around Moscow and Central Russia. Two systems are required for Moscow itself. Subsequently they were deployed in far east to defend from North Korea, and also at Kuril Islands. The Baltic Fleet, and the Pacific fleet have their S-400 systems. Russia’s Northern Fleet’s Coastal Forces had deployed S-400s. On 25 November 2015, the Russian government announced it would deploy S-400s in Syria as a response to the downing of its Su-24M fighter by Turkey. The first S-400 unit was activated at the Khemeimim airbase in Latakia in April 2017, and in July a second S-400 unit was activated 13 km northwest of Masyaf in Hama.

Indian Other Missile Systems

          The SAM-400 system’s induction will give India an insight into new level of technology. India had an Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme which started in 1982–83, by borrowing key technologies from Indian space program’s SLV-3 program. Despite international technology embargoes under Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), India developed its own basket of surface-to-surface missiles, including the strategic Agni series with ranges already exceeding 8,000 km. Agni VI will have a range of 12,000 km. BrahMos is a Mach 3 supersonic cruise missile developed in collaboration with Russia. Land attack and anti-ship variants are in service with the Indian Army and Indian Navy. Submarine-launched and Air-launched variants are under induction in the Indian Navy and the IAF. BrahMos II will be Mach 7 hypersonic cruise missile and is under development. Nirbhay is a long range sub-sonic cruise missile under final testing. It has a range of about 1000 km and is capable of delivering 300 kg warheads. Among the air defence systems is the Akash  supersonic (Mach 2.5) medium-range surface-to-air missile with ramjet propulsion and an intercept range of 30 km. It is a fully mobile platform which has been inducted in IAF in large numbers. The Indian Army will also induct some. Astra is a ‘Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile’ (BVRAAM) already integrated on IAF’s Sukhoi Su-30 MKI. Series production has commenced. This will get integrated on Mirage 2000, MiG 29 and LCA in the future. A Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) aimed to demonstrate autonomous flight of a Scramjet Integrated Vehicle using kerosene is under development. Under development is also an Advanced Air Defence (AAD) ‘Ashwin’ ballistic missile interceptor that will operate at endo-atmosphere at altitudes of 20-40 kilometers. India is developing an Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM) that will help to destroy enemy radars and can be mounted on the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter planes.

Indian ASAT Test

          On March 27, 2019, India carried out a successful anti-satellite (ASAT) test using ballistic missile defense interceptor, the Prithvi Delivery Vehicle Mark-II (PDV MK-II), developed by India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), and struck and destroyed an Indian Microsat-R satellite in a flight. The ASAT test, dubbed ‘Mission Shakti’ downed an Indian target satellite in sun-synchronous orbit at 282 kilometers. Intercept occurred on the PDV MK-II’s downward trajectory at a closing velocity of 9.8 kilometers per second.

Counter to China’s Air Threat

          India’s major threat is from People’s Republic of China with which there is not only a serious boundary dispute but also rapidly growing China is pushing power projection in Asia and beyond. China has an ambitious stealth fighter and bomber program and a sophisticated surface-to-surface missile arsenal. They have clear anti-access/area denial doctrines, which use a combination of ballistic and cruise missiles launched from air, land and sea to cover targets in the Asia-Pacific region. China has a significant contingent of nuclear Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and a growing fleet of nuclear ballistic missile submarines. DF-41 has a range of 15,000 kilometers, and the HN-3 cruise missile has a range of 3,000 kilometers. India needed a weapon system to defend against an aerial attack of this magnitude and capability.

Tactical Significance India

          According to Siemon Wezeman Senior Researcher of SIPRI,  the S-400 “is among the most advanced air defense systems available. Russia is already developing the S-500 system to supplement the S-400, and is currently targeting for deployment by 2025. It will be very similar to the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Indian strategic nuclear missiles already cover all of China. The ‘Dragon can thus not spit fire on the Elephant‘. The S400 will give great air defence capability, especially for the National Capital Region (NCR). It will also act as a combat barrier both on the Western and Northern borders. It will keep the adversary AWACS and FRA aircraft further deeper away from Indian borders. With nearly four times India’s defence budget, China is pulling ahead in its aerial strike capability both through aircraft and missile development. India not only needs to watch closely but also allot more resources for indigenous weapon systems development.   

S-440 Triumf Picture Credit: BBC News   

Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

12 thoughts on “S-400 Triumf – Strategic Deal for India

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