On 5th October, India and Russia’s Prime Ministers will assemble in New Delhi for the much awaited bilateral summit. The highlight of the summit is likely to be the S-400 Triumf defence system deal. It will cost India $5 billion (over Rs 40,000 crore), making it the country’s largest defence deal.
India’s ambitions to procure the Russian-developed S-400 system has landed New Delhi right in the middle of global strategic complexities. Pulled on both sides by Russia and US, the upcoming summit can make or break diplomatic ties between either nations. Here’s what this deal means for India on both the strategic and defence front.
India will be the third nation to use an S-400
As of now only Russia and China can boast of having the weapon in their defence system. That does not mean that other countries aren’t interested in acquiring it. The US and Saudi Arabia have both being eyeing the S-400 for years but haven’t been able to get their hands on it. Recently, Yemen and Egypt too tried to acquire the weapon and Saudi, afraid of probable power to Yemen, threatened both nations with sanctions. The same thing happened between US and India this time, when the former too warned India against closing the deal.
The US knows that acquiring the weapon will place India on the list of the most powerful countries (militarily)in the world. And considering how we anyway has the third largest army, being one of the few owners of the S-400 will make us one of the most elite military forces in the world.
It is one of the deadliest weapons in the world
The S-400 is the most powerful anti-anti-missile and anti-aircraft system ever. It can track over 300 army bases and shoot dozens of targets simultaneously. This weapon is the reason for the intense stand-off in the Middle East. Russian military has threatened to detect and blast US army at the Syrian/Iranian border if the latter tried to attack Russian bases there. This is one of the reasons why US has pulled back its operations against the ISIS in the region.
Naturally, a weapon that has the power to influence US (the most powerful nation in the world), can do wonders for India. How?
With this weapon at hand, India will be able to manage its borders much better. Currently India has at least 2 hostile borders (Pakistan and China) and 3 unstable ones (Tibet, Myanmar, Afghanistan). With danger on so many sides, it is important for us to have the capability to thwart missile attacks from at leats the two likeliest quarters, Pakistan and China.
Once India acquires and deploys the S-400 system, the balance of power equation in South Asia will change. Pakistan which currently boasts of its nuclear power will statistically fall weak in front of India air force, and skirmishes at the Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar border will most likely ebb off.
US will lose one more major ally
US stands at a major loss if the India-Russia deal goes through. Firstly, the deal will strengthen India-Russia ties. Arms sales are usually seen as foreign policy tools. And since the US has been trying to deviate India from Russian partnership, the S-400 is one of the top obstacles in this plan.
Secondly, for US, India is not only a strong diplomatic ally against China but is also an important trade market. And Washington has been seriously eyeing the India defence market for years. India is the largest weapons importer in the world over the last five years overall imports increased by 24% in the five-year period, of which 62% come from Russia. It spent more than $100 billion, between 2008 – 2017, buying fighter jets, submarines, artillery guns and other weapons. US wants to channel all this money towards itself but the S-400 now becomes a huge roadblock. If this deal is successful, India will be looking for a second round of purchase from Russia.
Thirdly, India will be a major player in surpassing US’s sanctions on Russia, portraying itself as a strong and stern nation. The US also fears that this move will give an impetus to other countries too to deal with Russia breaking down the whole impact of the word “sanctions” in itself. Besides, Saudi has already started conversations with Russia to buy the S-400 costing US another strategic ally.
With two allies down, and Russia’s growing influence as an arms dealer, there may soon be a tilt in the global diplomatic balance.
But it will help India maintain strength before China
When Beijing signed a deal with Moscow in 2015 to buy six battalions of the S-400 system, it was seen as a “gamechanger” in the region. This increased concern for India, especially in the event of repeated standoffs at the border and the looming fears of another Indo-China war.
But now, with both the Rafael jets and the S-400, experts believe, it will increase India’s strength and stance before China. India will no longer vie for UN intervention in upcoming standoffs. Indian Air Force Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa himself spoke of meeting the Chinese air force on equal grounds.