India has agreed to procure Russia’s advanced S-400 Triumf surface-to-air anti-ballistic missile system in a deal valued at around $10 billion dollars. Once completed, the S-400 deal could represent the largest one ever between New Delhi and Moscow and a major coup for Russia, which has sought to sell its S-400s across the world. According to Indian state media, the S-400 deal was agreed to between Indian Defese Minister Manohar Parrikar and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu during a meeting of a high-level bilateral group on military and technical cooperation. The deal will likely be announced formally during the anticipated state visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Russia later this year.
The S-400 is an impressive piece of equipment and is an evolution of the S-300 anti-ballistic missile defense system. The S-400 is manufactured by Almaz-Antey and has been in the service of the Russian military since 2007. The system is particularly well-suited against aircraft, including any fighters and bombers that may conceivably enter Indian airspace with hostile intentions from either China or Pakistan. The S-400 is presumably also capable of intercepting most medium- and short-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. The system can engage up to 36 targets simultaneously within a range of 400 km. The system launches three types of missiles and can comprise a layered defense system. Earlier this year, China became the first foreign buyer of the S-400 system.
Beyond the S-400 deal, Parrikar and Shoigu discussed a range of other matters related to the India-Russia defense relationship. As my colleague Franz-Stefan Gady reported recently, New Delhi is considering leasing a second Russian nuclear submarine for its Navy (it currently operates on Russian Akula-class submarine on lease). It’s unclear if Parrikar and Shoigu cleared the path for a shared development deal for a derivative of the Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA fighters. Additionally, the two sides are slated to begin an infantry exercise next week in the western Indian state of Rajasthan.
This spate of defense deal-making between New Delhi and Moscow should reassure observers in India that despite appearances, Moscow’s primary arms customer in South Asia will continue to be India. Last year, Russia lifted its decades-old self-imposed arms embargo against Pakistan and, this year, Moscow sold Islamabad four Mi-35M attack helicopters. These developments sparked concerns in India that New Delhi’s status as Moscow’s preferred customer in the region–a constant since the Cold War and the 1971 friendship treaty with the Soviet Union–was fleeting. Following fiscal pressures at home and economic isolation from the west since its annexation of Crimea in February 2014, Russia has been seeking arms buyers around the world.