S-400 Triumf deal is welcome but India’s military purchases are moving at a snail’s pace
After several years of talks and negotiations, the Narendra Modi Government is in the final stages of negotiations for acquiring the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air air defence system from Russia. This highly advanced air defence system, one that is feared by opposing air forces from across the world, would be a major upgrade for air defence systems in Indian urban centres. India’s air defence has been severely lacking upgrades for almost 40 years now. The ring of Air Force bases that surrounds New Delhi, which houses anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, is making do with 1970’s Russian technology. In fact, the primary medium/long range missile in the Indian inventory right now is the 1960’s Russian S-125 system, technologically, the great-grandfather of the S-400. Thankfully, India has co-developed the Barak-8 close-in missile defence system along with Israel which enables the country to have at least a semblance of anti-ballistic missile capability. But coupled with the S-400 and the Barak, India’s major urban and industrial centres will have proper cover from airborne and missile attacks.
However, this one deal should not take away the fact that India’s defence procurement has not speeded up in the recent past. In fact, if India signs the deal to purchase the S-400 system, it will face automatic sanctions from the United States under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) even though US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and the Trump Administration are arguing for a waiver for India, especially as the US is interested in selling India more military hardware. Most Indian defence procurements are mired in a swamp of corruption and misinformation. Even the deal for 36 Dassault Rafale fighters is being projected through a sustained campaign of misinformation by the Congress as a corrupt deal. However, the fact is that, thanks to governmental and bureaucratic ineptitude and corruption, India is the world’s least capable large military power in terms of domestic manufacturing. It also has some of the most outdated hardware, as illustrated above. Indeed, a Government busy juggling the needs of infrastructure buildout and expensive social programmes can hardly afford to spend huge sums of money on defence but India does not have that luxury. Saddled with an adversary on its western border, whose raison d’etre of existence is countering India, and another on its eastern border, which is determined to reclaim its role on the world stage as well as grab as much land and resources as possible, as they did when the United States was led by an effete Barack Obama, India has little choice but to spend money on preparing itself for an attack. The acquisition of the S-400 system is a good start but with a general election less than a year away, it is unlikely that other severely delayed acquisitions from guns to helicopters and submarines to drones will take place. That is indeed a pity.