Strategic implications of Indo-Russian S-400 deal

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 10, 2018
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The S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system. [Photo/Xinhua]

During an official visit to India last week by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a number of agreements were signed for the Indian purchase of sophisticated defense equipment to bolster its external security. 

Top of the shopping list was a $5.43 billion deal to buy five batteries of the advance S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile that can detect, track and destroy fighter aircraft, spy planes, incoming missiles and drones at a range of 380 km. 

The S-400 is considered a most lethal air defense system, playing a decisive role in any conflict involving India. The delivery of the defensive shield is expected to start within two years and be completed in five. 

India decided to go ahead with the purchase despite warnings by the United States, which can impose sanctions. However, the chances for such an extreme step are minimal because Washington needs India in the emerging geo-strategic security situation. 

India expected to escape American wrath by exploiting a similar deal signed by China with Russia in 2014 to buy six batteries of the S-400 system at the cost of $3 billion, making it easier for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to use it as a pretext to appease President Donald Trump. 

The first American reaction to the Indian deal was that it would not take any action to hurt the military capability of its partners. The assertion is a mere formality to express openly what should have been already agreed tacitly between the two countries. 

The deal has vast security implications for the countries which India considers as its adversaries, especially China and Pakistan. It has already signed a deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France which have the capability to strike deep in "enemy" territory.  

The S-400 doubles the Indian defense potential enabling it to deter any aerial strike by the adversaries. So, its strike outreach has increased substantially due to the Rafale factor while its defensive deterrence power has also multiplied.  

Such developments may not greatly impact China, as it has extensive armory to deploy and use if threatened by any external power. However, India's buying spree for lethal war articles should be worrying sign for Pakistan. 

According to reports in the Indian media, if deployed along the border with Pakistan, the S-400 system could destroy fighter jets and any cruise missile long before they came anywhere near Indian airspace. In other words, they would be killed within Pakistani airspace and territory.  

When India came up with the Cold Start doctrine more than a decade ago, Pakistan faced a dilemma how to counter its mighty neighbor. But it did not take it long to come up with a matching answer by developing tactical nuclear weapons that can easily pulverize any military move under the Cold Start initiative. 

The S-400 can be seen as an Indian response to the Pakistani weaponry, but it leaves space for Pakistan to come up with its own counter moves to defeat a foolproof air-defense shield by India. I'm sure the policy-makers and strategic thinkers in Pakistan will lose no time in trying to restore the strategic balance. 

It can certainly maintain the vital strategic parity in South Asia through ingenuity and sophisticated offensive weapons. India is far ahead in traditional warfare and Pakistan knows it too well due to its geographical constraints and other reasons like financial difficulties. 

Another possibility is that China and Pakistan might close ranks even more to face the increasing threats by India. Both countries have unresolved border issues with New Delhi, which provides more reasons for a joint strategy to counter the Indian moves.

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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