India Faces Hard Choice: US THAAD v/s. Russian S-400 Triumf

US has suggested that Delhi choose Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) and Patriot Advance Capability (PAC-3) anti-aircraft missile systems over Russia’s S-400s, the Indian newspaper Hindustan Times reports. If India went ahead with the purchase, it could face sanctions from the US under a 2017 federal law that targeted Russia (as well as North Korea and Iran) with sanctions and prohibited any other nation from negotiating defence deals with these countries. Moscow has slammed the law as a declaration of “all-out trade war”. US is understood to have pledged to grant a sanctions waiver to India last September despite its plans to buy the S-400s; however, the waiver expired in early May. It comes after an official with the US Department of Defence said in March that the US was working on an “alternative choice” for India. The S-400 is touted as one the most advanced air defence missile systems in the world, capable of firing three different types of missiles at a short-to-extremely-long range. The missiles can tackle a variety of targets, including aircraft jammers, reconnaissance aircraft, cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles. S-400 is an anti-aircraft weapon system which is capable to shoot down any maneuverable fast moving aircrafts close to a range of 400km and also has capabilities to bring down cruise missile and Ballistic missiles but Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is specially designed to intercept long-range missiles (IRBMs or ICBMs) at either before or during the early phase of their reentry, which means their radar systems and system controls should be able to detect targets from long distance (1,200 kilometers for objects with 1 square meter RCS). This forced the size of such system to be relatively large. Also, with such a specific goal, there are other missiles and fighter aircrafts enlisted to provide anti-aircraft fire, there is no need for THAAD to worry about airborne threat. Therefore, it cannot intercept anything other than ballistic missiles, and relies entirely on friendly units for protection. The THAAD is good against high altitude missiles. But theater defense requires the capability to take down targets at low altitude, not in space. The S400 is a single jack of all trades system that is designed to provide formidable air and missile defense over a wide area at an affordable cost. The S-400 is also highly flexible when it comes to engagement ranges. The system uses multiple types of interceptors based on the targets range. The S-400 command node can use one of the following interceptors to bring down its target: The insane 40N6 (~ 400 kms) , the very long range 48N6 (~250 kms), the long range 9M96E2 ( ~120 kms) and medium range 9M96E (~ 40kms). The big interceptors (which are understandably harder on the pockets) need not be used on targets flying closer and can be reserved to harass slow moving, high value targets (like AWACS, Fuel tankers, transports etc). The Russians find this approach of arming a single system with multiple interceptors most suitable for their needs. The US-built THAAD can hit targets only at very high altitudes (minimum 40-50 km) due to which it is useless against fighter jets or long-range tactical aircrafts, making it strictly an anti-missile defense system. Whereas, S-400 can target aircrafts as well as cruise missiles and ballistic missiles which makes it more effective than THAAD. Moreover, THAAD has never been used in actual warfare, whereas, S400 is time-tested in the actual operational environment in Syria. THAAD: India already has Anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capabilities and will be soon deploying its Phase-I Interceptor batteries to protect crucial cities like Delhi and Mumbai soon and procurement of THAAD could only strengthen India’s Anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capabilities with the local system. Technological advancement of THAAD could actually help India plan its Phase-II Interceptor batteries but nowhere it can substitute them, recent ASAT Missile system test showcases India’s technological advancement to create building blocks to commence development of Phase-II Interceptor missiles which will be highly effective against a missile launched from over 5000km range. India is also developing its own very long range Anti-aircraft missile system called XRSAM with a range of 250km and with additional funding can develop a 400 or 500 km range Anti-aircraft missile in the same league as S-400 and S-500 systems but the call can be only taken by gauging available capabilities at hand and India has to decide which one they want to develop on their own and which one they want to buy off the shelf.

As one can see, the S-400 has many advantages over the THAAD, including a broad greater range, a lower price, and a wider range of targets to knock down, but it’s not about comparing specifications or costs. Saudi Arabia wants to have both systems in the inventory, India could do it too. What really matters is that Russia attaches no strings to the deal. Unlike the US, it exerts no pressure and makes no threats. It treats India with respect and does not hurt its national pride by trying to impose its weapon systems instead of winning in a fair contest. Moscow does not threaten New Delhi with sanctions and other things if it buys the American THAAD. That’s the main difference between the two deals India has to consider. China is already operating S-400s, Turkey has concluded a deal. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are engaged in negotiations over the purchase while many more nations are considering such a possibility. India will not make a mistake if it buys the Russian system. With the deal going through, it’ll get a bigger bang for its buck and protect its sovereignty demonstrating the determination to resist pressure. Great nations cannot be dictated the terms of decisions they are going to make. The Indian government knows better what weapon its military needs to defend the country.


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