Local media said Delhi could execute payments for the weapons and their upkeep through channels that would not be affected by Western economic sanctions. Therefore the Indian armed services have begun receiving their third unit of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
India is now the company’s largest international client after signing a $5.43 billion contract for five S-400 systems in October 2018, greatly expanding the company’s long-range surface-to-air capabilities.
Analysts generally agreed that India had effectively called Washington’s bluff over possible sanctions after repeatedly warning of economic warfare measures should it continue with acquisitions of high-end Russian weapons hardware.
Although the Russian military has reduced its acquisition of combat aircraft and has often abstained from investing in the most cutting-edge fighter classes since the Soviet Union’s collapse, it has made constant and large investments in air defense systems, including the S-400 in particular.
As a result, well over 20 S-400 regiments are already in service with more on order, with an already large scale of production expanded as foreign orders have grown.
The S-400 has a significantly lower operational cost than fighter or interceptor units providing an equivalent air defense capability. It is heavily relied on by Russia and foreign key operators such as Belarus and Algeria to counter adversaries with numerically larger air forces.
The first S-400 unit delivered to India was deployed near its western border with Pakistan in December 2021. A second unit was delivered the following year near the northern border with China.
It is expected that three of the five units will face Pakistan and the remaining two will be deployed facing China, with Russian sources claiming that all five will be delivered by 2024.
With Indian officials having praised the S-400 as the world’s most formidable air defense asset, Delhi’s post-contract requests for an accelerated delivery have been obliged by Moscow.
The S-400 is prized for its ability to engage up to 80 targets simultaneously, its use of multiple radars in different wavebands to provide very high situational awareness, including against stealth targets, and its ability to engage hypersonic targets traveling at over Mach 8 using its missiles that fly at over Mach 14. The system has an engagement range of 400km if integrating 40N6 missiles, although whether India has purchased these remains uncertain.
India’s S-400 acquisitions have fuelled speculation that the country could acquire further high-end Russian aerial warfare assets in the future, including the new S-500 system designed to complement the S-400 and engage space and strategic targets, as well as Su-57 next-generation fighters.
India was previously a partner in the Su-57 program under a complex joint development agreement but was widely reported to have withdrawn. However, it has continued to show an interest in acquiring the aircraft after they had been more widely deployed in Russia.
Although the S-400 provides a means of countering China’s own fast-growing fleet of indigenous fifth-generation fighters, Su-57 acquisitions would provide a peer-level capability and are expected to be pursued either as part of a license production agreement, mirroring the Su-30MKI, MiG-27, and MiG-21 deals previously signed, or as off the shelf purchases.