NEW DELHI: India’s capability to detect and destroy hostile fighters, strategic bombers, missiles, and drones at long ranges will get another major boost when a new squadron of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems becomes operational along the northern borders with China in the next two to three months.
Deliveries of the second operational S-400 squadron through ships and aircraft are now underway from Russia, the first since the Russia-Ukraine war erupted on February 24. The new S-400 deliveries come at a time when China has cranked up its air activity across eastern Ladakh, with Chinese fighters often flying close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in violation of the 10-km no-fly zone confidence-building measure between the two sides.
The first S-400 squadron, which was delivered through thousands of containers last December, is already deployed in northwest India to cater to aerial threats from both Pakistan and China. The IAF also got simulators and other equipment for an ‘S-400 training squadron’ in April-May this year. The second operational S-400 squadron, in turn, will be positioned for air defense specifically on the China front.
Chinese fighter deployments and sorties have gone up along the 3,488-km LAC since mid-June, especially across Ladakh but also in other sectors like Arunachal Pradesh. There are often two-three Chinese fighter sorties near the LAC in a day,” a source said.
A Chinese jet had even flown over Indian troop positions at a friction point in eastern Ladakh on June 28, which led IAF to scramble its own jets and later raise the matter with China, amidst the over two-year-long military confrontation, as was reported by TOI.
China has systematically upgraded all its major air bases facing India like Hotan, Kashgar, Gargunsa, and Shigatse, with extended runways, hardened shelters, and fuel storage facilities for additional fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance aircraft, over the last two years. It has also deployed two Russian-origin S-400 batteries and several other anti-aircraft systems to tackle any air strikes by India.
Apart from matching the military deployments, India till now has also managed to stave off sanctions under the US law called CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act), which seeks to prevent countries from buying Russian weapons.
India has scrapped a long-pending deal for 48 additional Mi-17 V5 medium-lift helicopters as well as “deferred” the acquisition of 21 more MiG-29 and 12 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters from Russia. But India has told the US that the S-400 systems, the acquisition process for which began before CAATSA was enacted in 2017, are an “urgent national security requirement” to counter its hostile neighbors.
The US, incidentally, had earlier slapped sanctions on China and Turkey for inducting S-400 systems. IAF is slated to get all the five operational squadrons of the highly-automated S-400 systems, contracted under the $5.43 billion (Rs 40,000 crore) contract with Russia in October 2018, by the end-2023. Each squadron has two missile batteries with 128 missiles each, with interception ranges of 120, 200, 250, and 380 km, as well as long-range acquisition and engagement radars and all-terrain transporter-erector vehicles.