The problem with India’s S-400 missile system

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India’s $ 5.43 billion purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems, almost complete, raises serious obstacles to closer political-military relations between Washington and New Delhi. This requires careful strategic thinking to avoid hampering deeper political relations within the Asian “Quad” (US, India, Japan and Australia), compromising US stealth technology, or jeopardizing seemingly mundane problems. but often critical of interoperability between national armies. Finding mutually acceptable solutions has enormous implications; failure too.

Without a doubt, India needs advanced air defenses. It has long and difficult borders with China; Beijing’s growing navy is increasingly threatening, as are Pakistan’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, encouraged by China.

But India’s purchase of the S-400, formalized in October 2018, was a mistake, even from its own strategic perspective. New Delhi directly implicated previous US law intended to block significant Russian arms sales, and which provided very limited presidential override power. Particularly unfathomable as to why India would buy the same system as China, risking that Beijing’s cyber warriors, perhaps exploiting backdoors inserted by Moscow, could cripple their defenses in the event of a crisis. Turkey’s similar purchase of S-400, and the momentum between the three deals, particularly relates to the current campaign to lift sanctions against India.

Washington sanctioned Beijing in September 2018 with broad US domestic support. The acquisition of Turkey caused considerable controversy, coming as it did from a NATO ally. The S-400s are, unsurprisingly, wholly incompatible with NATO-wide air defense capabilities, leaving the south-eastern flank of the alliance potentially vulnerable. (A contemporary humorous remark was that Turkish President Recep Erdogan wanted the S-400s to defend against Ankara’s own air force.)

In addition, Turkey co-produced components of the F-35 stealth and ordered 100 of them. Significant exposure of the F-35s to S-400 radars would give the air defense operator a clear advantage in detecting F-35s. despite their stealth, potentially compromising the entire F-35 program. After a long debate, President TrumpDonald Trump Federal Judge Rejects Trump’s Efforts to Block Jan.6 Documents Sununu’s Exit Highlights GOP’s Uncertain Path to Senate Majority Trump Endorses Idaho Lt. govt. against the head of the GOP in place MORE reluctantly and belatedly expelled Turkey from the F-35 program in 2020 and imposed economic sanctions. To date, the potential proximity US F-35s and Russian S-400s in Turkey raise concerns.

Perhaps reinforced by Trump’s obvious reluctance to punish Turkey and equally obvious divisions among Trump’s advisers, India’s decision to move forward nonetheless reflects a backward dependence on Turkey. Russia for sophisticated aerospace and weapons technology. Now, with deliveries imminent, Indian sources still argue that the deal should not be canceled: the actual deal dates back to 2016 (before sanctions legislation), India relies on Russia for spare parts and contracted maintenance of previous weapons systems and the imposition of sanctions would push New Delhi back to Moscow.

These are arguments of inertia and complacency, and they should carry no weight for the United States. . The rapprochement of New Delhi and Washington means exactly that, and not an equivocation or a reversal of ground.

In fact, India’s direction in overseas arms purchases is decidedly unclear. Last week, its Ambassador to Russia, Bala Venkatesh Varma, said that “there has been a fundamental change in the way our defense relations have evolved over the past three years. Russia retreated again as the first defense partner from India. Worse still are reports that, even before initial S-400 purchases are fully deployed, India and China are planning to upgrade to new S-500 system.

Skeptics might say New Delhi is playing against Washington. Even viewed with benevolence, India is sending mixed signals, possibly due to divergent views within its government and body politic. Whatever Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reasons, the other Quad members have compelling reasons for New Delhi to more precisely articulate its future defense procurement strategies. No one needs to engage in a full-fledged politico-military alliance to see the importance of striving for interoperability between like-minded states before things get any further, if ever they do. make. NATO has struggled with interoperability issues for decades, leaving the alliance less effective, both operationally and as a deterrent. There is no reason to create potential problems, which careful planning could avoid.

In such circumstances, any waiver by the United States for purchases of S-400s from India must be accompanied by clear conditions and requirements. Pending legislation in Congress simply says that the president cannot impose sanctions on a member of the Quad unless he “certifies … that this government is not participating in quadrilateral cooperation … on security issues that are essential to strategic interests the United States “. It is not at all a condition; if these were the facts, it would mean that there was no Quad, just a Trio.

Developing the US conditions for the waiver is an urgent priority. Washington should at least demand an agreed timetable and measures to curb Indian purchases of sophisticated Russian weapons systems, regular Quad consultations on the achievement of these goals, and more in-depth politico-military planning for Indo-Pacific threats, thus shaping future supply needs.

We don’t need to insist that India acquire all of its future high-end weapon systems from the United States, although it would obviously be helpful to see larger purchases than at present. Many western countries are able to meet Indian needs, further emphasizing the benefits of breaking the Russian mold. America, Japan, Australia and others could also offer defense cooperation opportunities with India in the direction of the AUKUS project on nuclear powered submarines, in order to improve own Indian arms productions.

This model is important not only for the Indo-American relationship but for many others, including Turkey. If sanctions waivers or general weariness over Russian arms sales and their impact on regional power relations become commonplace in Washington, the problem will continue to worsen. It is quite certain that an Indian waiver will trigger instant requests for similar treatment from Turkey and other potential buyers, while still allowing Rosoboronexport, Russia’s overseas military sales agency. , to exploit our lack of will. Ironically, Turkey could justify a waiver, with appropriate conditions, if the Turks sack Erdogan from his post in the next election, so that the resolution of the Indian problem may well be a precedent.

Decisions of this magnitude force Washington to pursue a conscious strategic approach, rather than simply treating an Indian waiver (or any other) as a one-off. Hurry up.

John boltonJohn BoltonOvernight Defense & National Security – GOP unhappy with Afghan control John Bolton: It is ‘essential’ for the United States to manage multiple strategic priorities The Hill’s Morning Report – Brought to you by Facebook – Democrats have so many hurdles to overcome MORE was a national security adviser for President Trump from 2018 to 2019, United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006 and held senior positions in the State Department in 2001-2005 and 1985-1989. His most recent book is The room where it happened (2020). He is the founder of John Bolton Super PAC, a political action committee supporting candidates who believe in a strong U.S. foreign policy.


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