EXPLAINED: High On Versatility, More Bang For Buck. What Russian S-400 Triumf Brings To India’s Air Defence

In October 2018, India had signed a USD 5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems, despite a warning from the Donald Trump-led US administration (Reuters)

India has started receiving deliveries of the advanced S-400 missile system from Russia with the first ones to be deployed to the western sector, reports say

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated:November 15, 2021, 14:07 IST

It is seen as being one of the most advanced aerial defence systems deployed anywhere in the world at present and packs an ability to take on everything from drones to ballistic missiles. Reports say that Moscow has dispatched the first of the S-400 Triumf missile systems that India has spent USD 5.5 billion to purchase, the deal having been inked under a threat of US sanctions. Here’s all you need to know.

What Is The S-400 Triumf Air Defence System?

The S-400 Triumf, which has the Nato designation of SA-21 Growler, is a mobile, surface-to-air missile system that is ” capable of engaging aircraft, UAVs, cruise missiles, and has a terminal ballistic missile defence capability”, according to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Development of this advanced missile system is said to have been taken up in 1993, almost in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and borrows heavily from the earlier S-300 missile defence system, including on aspects like missile storage containers, launchers, and radars. Testing of the S-400 is said to have begun in late 1999 or early 2000 and the first of the weapons became operational in 2007.

Russia has deployed S-400s in a variety of areas, including for the defence of Moscow. Russia had also deployed the S-400 to Syria in 2015 with some units also placed in Crimea after it was annexed by Moscow.

What Are The Capabilities Of The System?

Made by the Moscow-based Almaz Central Design Bureau, the S-400, says army-technology.com, comes with a “multifunction radar, autonomous detection and targeting systems, anti-aircraft missile systems, launchers, and command and control centre”.

The missile system is capable of taking on practically any aerial target within a range of 400km and can “simultaneously engage 36 targets”. It can be activated within five minutes, is “twice as effective as the previous Russian air defence systems” and has the flexibility to be “integrated into the existing and future air defence units of the air force, army and navy”.

To engage a multiplicity of targets, the S-400 uses four kinds of missiles along with the missiles of the earlier S-300 variant. So, first there is the 48N6DM missile, which can hit airborne targets within a range of 250km while the 40N6 missile has a range of 400km and “uses active radar homing to intercept air targets at great distances”.

The S-400 also comes with improved electronic counter-countermeasures to thwart attempts at jamming while its radars are capable of detecting low-signature targets.

Then there are the 9M96E and 9M96E2 medium range ground-to-air missiles that can strike “fast moving targets such as fighter aircraft with a high hit probability”. The range of the 9M96 missiles is 120km. CSIS adds that another missile, the 77N6, is currently in testing, which comes a hit-to-kill capability “designed specifically to destroy ballistic missile warheads”. ‘Hit-to-kill’ implies the capability to take down a target through the use of kinetic power. That is, these weapons rely on destroying a target by hitting it at high velocity instead of packing an explosive warhead.

How Does It Compare With Its Competitors?

A report on globalsecurity.org said that the S-400 would likely serve as “the cornerstone of Russia’s theatre air and missile defences… and it is possible that Triumf will become the only system being developed, providing defence both in the close-range and mid-range as well long-range zones”. It notes that Russia claims that the S-400 “has no parallels across the globe in terms of combat capabilities”.

The report says that in comparison, the US-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, “has shorter range and is incapable of hitting targets beyond the horizon” while also being just an anti-ballistic missile system that cannot engage other aerial targets. Another much-touted capability of the S-400 is its “fire-and-forget capability” with missiles fitted with a homing device that locks on a target and destroys it.

Russian military experts are reported to have held that the S-400 is superior to the US system in terms of both the range and altitude at which it can operate. While it can launch missiles at targets 400km away, it can also thwart threats at a height of 27km. “In terms of maximum target destruction range, the S-400 surpasses its counterparts by almost two times… (and is) capable of destroying a cruise missile or any enemy aircraft at an altitude of 10 meters”.

“Nothing flies below. The closest competitors lag behind our system in this indicator by two-and-a-half times,” globalsecurity.org quoted a Russian expert as saying.

An Observer Research Foundation (ORF) report notes that when it comes to India’s needs, “there is no alternative system capable of serving its long-range air defence requirements, from the standpoint of either capability or cost”. It says that the abilities of the S-400 are “unmatched by typical Western systems offered up as analogues”, comparable western systems “are primarily oriented towards missile defence with less focus on the pure anti-aircraft role”.

Further, ORF points out that the typical S-400 configurations cost around half of their western equivalents.

Which Countries Have S-400s?

According to army-technology.com, Russian military was operating more than 20 battalions of the S-400 Triumf by 2015 and there were plans to take that up to above 50 by 2020.

Some of the first countries to get the missile systems were Algeria in 2015 and close Russian ally Belarus in 2016. China acquired two systems reportedly starting in 2018 while Turkey received its first battalion in 2019. China and Turkey which, incidentally, is a member of the US-led NATO, were slapped with sanctions by the US for their acquisition of the advanced missile system.

ALSO READ: Why US Senators Are Seeking Sanctions Relief For India’s Triumf Missile Defence Deal With Russia

India had in 2018 signed a deal for the purchase of five S-400 Triumf systems at a cost of close to USD 5.5 billion, which makes it one of the biggest defence acquisitions made by New Delhi with US, which has come to enjoy deepening defence ties with India, having threatened sanctions in reaction to the deal. However, in October, top Republican Senator Ted Cruz introduced a bill which, if passed, would effectively prevent the US President Joe Biden from imposing any S-400-related sanctions on India.

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Kenneth Mohanty