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India RussIa S-400, All you need to know

With the upcoming purchase of S-400 India once again manages to alter the perception of strategic balances in Asia.

The S-400 is a single jack of all trades system that is designed to provide formidable air and missile defense over a wide area. The system uses multiple types of interceptors based on the targets range. The insane 40N6 (~ 400 kms), the very long range 48N6 (250 kms), the long-range 9M96E2 ( ~120 kms) and medium-range 9M96E ( 40kms).

The S-400 includes up to eight anti-aircraft missile systems, each equipped with up to 12 launchers, a system command post, a radar center, a mobile tower for antenna post, anti-aircraft guided missiles, a technical support system and means of providing technical maintenance for the missiles. Its Interception range exceeds the American analog THAAD by 2-3 times.

According to the table above, the S-400 comes across as the most advanced serially produced air defense missile system in the world. Its closest rival is American Patriot with both systems capable of shooting down both aircraft and ballistic missiles.

Why India chose S-400 over PAC System

Here is a comparison of technical parameters:

S-400 can shoot down targets moving at a speed of 17 km/hour. (while Patriot/PAC-3 could only shoot down a target moving at 8 km/hour)

S-400 can engage with 72 targets simultaneously and track 160 targets at the. Same parameters for Patriot are 36 and 125 targets

S-400 locates a target at 600 km distance and can destroy at 400 km range (with the latest 40N6E missile that just has been successfully tested). Patriot can locate a plane at 180 km and an enemy’s missile at 100 km

S-400 is able to down targets flying as low as 10 meters and as high as 30 km while Patriot PAC-3 destroys its lowest target at a height of 50 meters with the highest at 25 km

The deployment time for S-400 and Patriot PAC-3 is 5 minutes and 25 minutes respectively.

Various informed sources have said that to hit an aircraft with a probability not less than 0.99, one will have to launch 1-2 S-400 missiles or 2-3 Patriot missiles. In case of fighting off a ballistic missile attack, the ratio will be 1 / 2 or 3 in favor of S-400.

S-400 can also hit difficult ballistic targets at distances up to 60 km, The ability to shoot down the high-speed targets of S-400 almost equals THAAD (around 17 km/hour),” a defense industry source said.


Russian S-400 can unite functions of  Patriot and THAAD, therefore, reduced cost.

Field Report

The Patriot system’s usage during actual deployment situations has left room for doubt over its performance. For example, after the 1991 Gulf War it was revealed that only a percentage of Iraqi SCUD missiles were actually shot down by Patriot batteries guarding Saudi Arabia and Israel. In case of the Iraqi missile strike against the American military barracks in Dhahran (Saudi Arabia) in February 1991 the failure of the Patriot intercept left to a tragedy; 27 troops were killed, about 100 wounded.

In 2003, also the overall performance was better; there were also cases of failed intercepts of the outdated ballistic missiles launched by Saddam’s army in the first days of the invasion. The effectiveness of Patriot systems proved to be low despite almost ideal conditions: low-speed targets, solitary launches, absence of ECM environment and false targets.

After 1991 and 2003 significant upgrades are reported to be made but the Saudi experience of countering the Yemeni missiles (November 2017 missile attack against Riyadh) shows almost the same lack of efficiency.

However, the S-400 is yet to be tested in battle so there is no record of it having been fired during actual combat. The system has been deployed in Syria, but didn’t engage any targets yet. There have been reports that the S-400 deployment effectively converted the Russian operating zone over Syria into a ‘No-fly-zone.’


Combat use of the Patriot systems has also highlighted some shortcomings of the system: high sensitivity to sand ingestion and unstable electric supply. There have also been reports of accidental launches.

At par with Chinese missile systems

It is interesting to note that China which has its own anti-aircraft and anti-missile air deference system, choose to buy the S-400. Increasing US aircraft activity in the South China Sea is believed to have forced China to buy the S-400 from Russia; in the process acknowledging that its own home-grown air defense system was not sufficient to counter sophisticated US aircraft such as the F-35 and F-22.

Technological advancement

An ace up the sleeve of the S-400 is said to be its ability to detect stealth aircraft such as the F-35 and Chinese J-20 which are characterized by a low radar signature. Exact how effective is this stealth objects detection capability is not known. The same would apply to the Chinese J-20 now as S-400 is being purchased by India.

Continuous Technical support

Buying military goods from the US comes with a lot of attached baggage and just too many do’s and don’t’s inclusive of the uncertainty attending on the spares supply, which can be stopped at any time on congressional whim and an administration’s fancy.


Many factors have motivated India’s quest for tightening its defense system – especially missiles. With COMCASA, S-400, Rafael, T-72 engine upgrade and various ISRO projects like Chandrayaan-2, GSAT-11, GSAT-29, GSAT-7A, RISAT-1A mission, India has strengthened its combat prowess and cut Pakistan to its size, and left big brother China worried.

R&D and innovation are important determinants of defense production capabilities and India as a country has a long way to go to be self-sustainable. The technology change in the information arena, the biological arena, and the nano-technology arena is not only going to have a profound impact on military operations but will also require a much more responsive defense industry, especially in light of the decreasing predictability of future needs.

A vibrant defense industry is a crucial component of effective defense capability, and to achieve national sovereignty and military superiority. Concerted efforts in this direction will prove handy in the long run for India.

04 Oct 2018/Thursday        Written by   Afsana 

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