Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit India next month which will not only coincide with the delivery of the first batch of S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, but will also be marked by negotiations with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the possible sale of the ultra-advanced missile systems S-500 and S-550, according to reliable sources.
If the talks are fruitful, India may become the first foreign buyer of the Russian S-500 and S-550 SAM air defense systems.
Preparations for Putin’s visit to India are underway and the exact dates are expected to be officially announced at any time. Russia stated publicly for the first time on November 9 through its Defense Minister, General Sergei Shoigu, that Moscow is also working on the development of the S-550 air defense missile system.
The S-500 Prometey (in Russian for Prometheus) has already been developed and successfully tested for the first time in July of this year. In September, the Russian armed forces began receiving the first deliveries of the S-500, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov.
By October, the 1st S-500 brigade was deployed by the 15th Special Forces Army of the Russian Aerospace Forces to cover Moscow and the country’s central industrial region.
The S-500 has an operational range of approximately 370 miles (600 kilometers), with which it can detect up to 10 supersonic ballistic warheads flying at up to 4.34 miles (7 kilometers) per second.
In addition to providing tactical air defense on the battlefield, the S-500 Prometheus mobile system is one of the most advanced systems in the world and is said to be capable of destroying a barrage of hypersonic missiles that are currently being developed by various countries.
Russian analysts claim that the S-500 can even target low-earth orbit satellites and fifth-generation stealth aircraft, as well as its primary cruise and ballistic missile targets. Moreover, the survival of the system is claimed to be enhanced by its high resistance to electronic interference.
The S-500 was developed by Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern to replace the outdated A-135 missile systems currently in use. It is said to be a step up from the S-400 Triumf but will complement that platform rather than replace it.
Regarding the S-550 SAM, it is believed that it was developed on the basis of the S-500 Prometheus. It is intended to become the world’s first mobile specialized missile defense system (Anti-Ballistic Missile – ABM) and an anti-space defense system capable of effectively destroying ICBMs.
At present, countries such as Russia and the United States have missile defense systems that can accurately shoot down ICBMs. But these systems are not mobile and, instead, are silo-based, increasing their vulnerability to the first preemptive strike. The S-550 will overcome this bug.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on November 13 that “the new [S-550] The mobile system is being developed as a version of the S-500 air defense system and will specialize in anti-missile and space defense missions. Its ability to intercept ballistic missile warheads of various ranges, especially intercontinental ones, as well as space attack weapons will be an order of magnitude higher than the S-400 and S-500 systems, as well as the American missile defense systems – THAAD and Aegis with SM-3Block ll B missiles “.
Now, how does India fit into these schemes of things? According to Dmitry Shugaev, head of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC), India could become the first country to which Russia could export the most advanced S-500 Prometheus air defense weapon, given the depth of India-Russia military relations.
Long-Term Defensive Bonds
India has long been a strategic partner of Russia. New Delhi has long used Russian-made equipment including tanks, small arms, aircraft, ships, carrier aircraft (INS Vikramaditya) and submarines, including nuclear submarines.
India also buys the S-400 Triumf. India and Russia are co-producing BrahMos supersonic missiles and are negotiating the licensed manufacture of Ka-226T helicopters.
It is true that India’s partnership with the United States is getting stronger with each passing day, and it is described as a “defining partnership for the twenty-first century”, and India has been designated as a “major defense partner” of the United States on a par with NATO. allies. However, India also claims a great friendship and an unprecedented “strategic partnership” with Russia.
The fact that New Delhi has purchased $70 billion worth of arms from Moscow since 1991 is often overlooked. India has absorbed a third of Russia’s arms exports over the past decade, far exceeding China’s arms purchases from Russia.
One study suggests that while US arms sales to India grew from nothing to $16-18 billion over 15 years, New Delhi signed $15 billion worth of new arms contracts with Moscow in the one-year period between 2018 and 2019.
Although SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) data differed from these numbers “due to accounting procedures, installation years and exchange rates,” the data in the above study indicates that while Indian arms purchases from the United States rose from zero in 2005 to 4 billion dollars over 15 years, in the same period, cumulative Indian arms purchases from Russia grew by seven times this figure.
Indeed, the analysis of this study indicates that Russian-origin platforms in the Indian Army that comprise “85 percent of India’s major weapons systems rather than the often cited 60 percent”, made a “sealing” effect. “The relative depth of support for India’s technology base and strategic systems has generated a relatively high degree of indebtedness and trust in key strategic circles.”
This is not to say that India’s purchase of arms from Russia is frictionless. There was a quality issue. India faced many problems, including substandard regulations or unfulfilled contractual obligations.
Additionally, when it comes to supplying parts, Indian officials have particularly complained about delays, price revisions, cost overruns, and demanding advance payments or new or long-term contracts, some of which are even designed to take advantage of India’s dependence on Russia.
Finally, even while joint development and Russian technology transfers are routinely announced and are the standard by which all other arms agreements are implicitly evaluated, India remains not always satisfied with the limits of access and technology transfers.
Partnership dates back to the Soviet era
However, despite Indian frustration with issues of quality, spare parts and maintenance costs of Russian-origin systems, the relationship with regard to arms trade between the two countries will remain primarily for the following reasons:
First, there is the factor of history, in particular the then-Soviet assistance to India during the Cold War, not only in armaments but also in the areas of non-military industries such as aerospace and nuclear. This created a reservoir of familiarity and goodwill that fostered cooperation between Russia and India after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Second, due to the accumulated inventory, operators’ familiarity with the platform, training, and regulation around acquisition flows, India remains dependent on Russia to maintain its military action.
Third, India still considers Russian weapons to be cost-effective. It may seem ironic, but India’s diversification from other Western suppliers such as Israel, France, and later the United States increased its bargaining power vis-à-vis Russia. This increases as Moscow’s economic need for foreign exchange through defense exports increases.
Russia is now more open to India’s request for the licensed production or joint development of some technologically advanced systems, such as cruise missiles, nuclear submarines, combat aircraft, nuclear power and surface ships (including the aircraft carrier).
Indeed, India is unlikely to find another country that is willing to develop high-level cooperation like Russia to develop advanced strategic systems. This only reinforces India’s determination to continue the relationship, as it will likely pay off in the future.
Fourth, Russian support for and localization of Indian defense technology cannot be condoned. Russian arms sales, information exchange, cooperation, technology transfer, and practical technical guidance, often in the face of intense US pressure, have made enormous contributions to India’s strategic deterrence.
There has been unequivocal, though not obvious, Russian assistance in developing Indian submarine-launched, medium-range, and ICBM capabilities through the original SSBN, INS Arihant.
Dozens of Russian engineers and advisers were sent to support India’s Atomic Energy Ministry and DRDO and help with designs, precision equipment and technology for miniaturizing reactors to fit aboard a submarine, admitted the late Ashok Parthasarathy, a former science and technology advisor to the Indian prime minister.
Similarly, Russian space cooperation has played its part in India’s latest breakthrough strategic developments – such as strengthening its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and improving navigation satellite systems.
Fifth, and it is very important to realize that, in all this, Russia did not claim special access to base or intelligence facilities in India. Analysts say Moscow also did not formulate the ideological concepts or strategic thinking of the Indian officers.
There may have been some indirect effect of selling certain weapons platforms on Indian war doctrines, but it is marginal. Indian doctrines are still influenced by the British legacy. In fact, they have recently been more receptive to Western (American) doctrines.
Given all this, India may not disappoint the Russians by becoming the first customer of the S-500, or the S-550 for that matter.
- Veteran author and journalist Prakash Nanda has been commenting on politics and foreign policy in strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research and a recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. Call: [email protected]
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