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Why India bets for S-400 missile system than THAAD

By Shankar Kumar
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Why India bets for S-400 missile system than THAAD

China made no official comment nor did Russia pass any remarks on inaugural two-plus-two dialogue between India and the US. It is viewed that China and Russia did so keeping in mind their individual relations with India which has improved in the recent days with all three countries enjoying similar views on several international issues. For India, however, what could be the most relieving matter was that US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told accompanying American journalists after the inaugural India and the US two-plus-two dialogue that “we do understand the history, right, of India’s relationship with Russia and legacy system. Our effort here, too, is not to penalise great strategic partners like India, a major defence partner.”

Apparently, he was speaking in reference to Russian made S-400 triumf missile defence system. The US President has power to grant waiver to India on the purchase of this missile system.  It is said that US and Indian authorities will take up the waiver issue in their next round of talks, expected to be held soon in Washington. However, amid noise over India’s decision to buy the Russian made missile defence system, it is pertinent to note that the US put all-kind of pressure on New Delhi to buy THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System). But India ignored pulls and pressure from the US, which signed with India COMCASA (Communication compatibility and Security Agreement), one of the four foundational agreements that America signs with allies and close partners to facilitate interoperability between militaries and sale of high end technologies. After all what is so much striking with S-400 missile defence system that compelled India to bet for it than the US made THAAD?

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From pricing to quality, experts say S-400 anti-aircraft weapon system is comparatively better than THAAD. According to them, the Russian made defence system is capable of hitting targets at a height of up to 300-km and is inbuilt with fire-and-forget capability. Besides, S-400 missile is a multi-layered general purpose air defence system that covers the entire spectrum of air to space targets. In comparison, THAAD is a single layer defence system with the capability to counter intermediate range and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at either before or during the early phase of their re-entry with the speed of up to 3000 m/s outside the atmosphere. The Russian made triumph missile defence system can engage targets with higher speed up to 4,800 m/s. It can effectively target incoming aircraft and other targets while transmitting target information to other defence systems, whereas THAAD relies completely on friendly units for protection against enemy aircraft.

The American defence system is not an explosive warhead rocket. As a kinetic warhead, it simply strikes a target rather than exploding it. On the other hand, S-400 missile system explodes.  S-400 provides five types of missile system and different radars for intercepting short range/ low altitude targets to long range/ high altitude targets. In comparison, THAAD has only one. In terms of scope, THAAD has an estimated range of 150-200 km in comparison to triumph’s 400 km. However, the US defence system has a greater altitude and it is as much as 150 km, while S-400 has only 30 km. THAAD has also a greater detection range than the Russian missile defence system. The American system offers better kill against high altitude missiles, but, as per experts, theater defence requires taking down targets at low altitude and not in space. The Russian anti-aircraft weapon is fitted with homing device which can locate a target and destroy it.  It is also fitted with an inbuilt mechanism to scan the airspace in a 360 degree, whereas THAAD has 90-degree horizontal sweep and 60-degree vertical sweep. Besides, there is a major difference in the two defence systems’ price.

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While one THAAD battery consisting of six launchers and eight interceptors, costs about $ 2 to 3 billion, a battery of S-400 missile with eight launchers and four interceptors costs about $500 million or six times less the price of THAAD. Only after evaluating all factors, India has decided to seal the deal on S-400 missiles during President Vladimir Putin’s visit in October for the annual talks.  India, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are keen to buy the lethal S-400 missile defence system, while China received first triumf system from Russia in July. Since THAAD can’t match the Russian made triumph anti-aircraft and missile defence system, India is desperate to secure deterrence vis-à-vis China by owning up S-400 missile defence system in the next two years. Meanwhile,  External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s September 13-14 visit to Moscow assumes high significance in the light of upcoming visit of the Russian President to India and New Delhi’s decision to brief its all-weather friend Russia about the just concluded inaugural two-plus-two dialogue between India and the US.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.