By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: India‘s missile muscle got a boost with its all-weather friend Russia helping the nuclear-armed South Asian giant to catch up in air defence capabilities with its arch rival China.
India and China are currently in a military faceoff in the Ladakh region since May 2020, which is yet to thaw, and the two nations have been blowing hot since their talks in October failed to resolve the current eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.
“The supplies of the S-400 ‘Triumf‘ air defence system to India have started and are proceeding on schedule,” Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) Director Dmitry Shugaev was quoted by a Russian media house from the Dubai Air Show, in progress since Nov. 14.
India will get the first S-400 squadron by the end of this year, which would mean the Indian Air Force will have the capabilities, considered to be the best in the world, against Chinese aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles.
Why is S-400 important for India?
India and Russia are strategic partners for decades now, and their ties have seen a rupture following the efforts by New Delhi to source defence equipment from the United States.
That is not all. Russia is also a major partner of China, and has already supplied the S-400 air defence missiles to Beijing, nearly a decade ago. Russia has now supplied the S-400 missile to India much to the chagrin of China.
It is in view of China’s S-400 missile capability that India signed a nearly $6-billion contract at present day currency conversion rates to buy five squadrons of the S-400 missile from Russia in October 2018 on the sidelines of a BRICS meet, a multilateral forum that was also attended by Brazil, China and South Africa.
Russian firm Almaz Antey-made S-400 can hit targets such as aircraft, cruise missiles and even fast-moving intermediate range ballistic missiles, tracking these enemy weapon platforms some 600 km away, even before reaching India’s air space.
The US cold shoulder
In fact, soon after India signed up with Russia for the S-400 missile, it came under the possibility of being sanctioned under the then Donald Trump administration’s law Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA targeted at all those doing military business with Russia.
Yet, India has gone ahead and pursued the S-400 missile from Russia, though the US sanctioned Turkey in Dec. last under CAATSA when it bought the same missile.
Under the new Joe Biden administration, there have been calls from within the US Congress to waive the CAATSA for India, as the US has already declared it as a Major Defence Partner during the Barack Obama regime.
Peace has ended along Sino-Indian border
At a recent online event, India’s former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, who has recently penned a book on how China negotiates with India in its bilateral ties, said the times of peaceful coexistence between the two Asian giants are over.
Gokhale said it will now be a time for confrontation between the two nations, and it will be a long game for the two sides.
The primary reason for the changes in the relationship between the two nations seems to be the emerging new world order, in which China is determined to outshine the US as the new global power.
India’s growing status as a key nation in the Indo-Pacific region, and its ties with other powers in the region including the United States, Japan and Australia under the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad arrangement are obviously a challenge to China’s ambitions as a global power.
India, Russia ties boost
India and Russia are now all set to further boost in their ties when President Vladimir Putin visits New Delhi for a bilateral annual summit meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December.
That meeting is slated to set the stage for a renewed and an expanded military-technical cooperation agreement between India and Russia that will be signed next year when the defence ministers of the two countries meet.
Indian armed forces have relied mostly on Russian equipment in the decades gone by. Legacy equipment from the erstwhile Soviet Union and now Russia, after the cold war ended, continue to be deployed by India.
Russia is also the only nation that supplied two nuclear-powered submarines to the Indian Navy, one of which, a Nerpa-class Akula submarine, is serving India as INS Chakra on a 10-year lease. The previous Chakra nuclear-powered submarine, which served three decades ago, was also supplied by Russia on a lease.
India and Russia also jointly developed and manufactured the BrahMos missile that can hit targets 300 km away and beyond, at speeds three times that of sound. BrahMos which is the lone operational supersonic cruise missile in the world today.