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In Search of Equilibrium: India’s Attempt to Manage US and Russian Defence Clashes (Part 1)

Thejus Gireesh writes, India walking on razor edge as the purchase of S-400 from Russia might attract fresh sanctions from the Trump administration. It also tests India’s old friendship with Russia against its new strategic partnership with the US.

Historically, Indian Armed forces have been very dependent upon foreign powers for much of her key defence equipment needs. India, Post-independence, on the first, relied on much of the equipment from the Allied countries like the US, France and British. One of the key examples of one such Foreign defence equipment is the INS Vikrant (HMS Hercules) and INS Viraat (HMS Hermes) which served for over 60 years with the British and the Indian Navy. Post-1960s India witnessed a sharp turn towards the Soviet Union to meet it needs and since then they have been a key defence partner with one of the highest of trade share. Even after the breakup of the Soviet Union and its transformation into Russia, the Russians even after many hiccups and delays in delivering and providing of the spares, it has to be acknowledged that the Russians have been very committed and have never stopped the inflow of Essential defence equipment.

After 2010, India started having better relationships with the US and this resulted in increased foreign trade and options for India to purchase slightly more advanced US defence systems which offered more reliability in terms of spares, higher technological capability, lower delays etc. Yet, During the NDA-1 and the under the  current NDA-2 possible clash seems imminent when the Modi Government signed a crucial deal of 5.83 billion dollars’ worth five S-400 Air defence missile systems on October 2018, when Putin came to India for a 2-day visit. This deal was signed in the backdrop US imposing sanctions on China for taking deliveries for the first batch of S-400s from Russia and tensions on Turkey regarding their similar purchase.

Now it is nothing new for India to purchase from Russians as the armed forces have been long purchasing from them for example the T-90 MBTs which are the mainstays of the armoured regiment or the INS Chakra which is a nuclear-powered submarine leased from Russia or even the INS Vikramaditya the only aircraft carrier of the Indian navy as of now (Kiev Class) are all of High end Russian equipment. Yet the Essential thing that differentiates all of the problems from the previous deals is that:

  • The S-400 is estimated to be technologically superior than the Present American systems such as the THAAD and the Patriot Systems.
  • The American systems are completely two different systems with a different set of characteristics, whereas the S-400 happens to be a one-stop system that offers more superior capabilities than its present competition.
  • The American systems are estimated to be very expensive than the S-400 systems which come at lesser than Half of the price at which the American systems come which makes the S400s a cost-effective option.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration trying to forge a more impressive deal to India by offering F-35s, in return India must scrap it’s deal for the S-400 systems from Russia. It looks a very impressive deal at the outer core yet when coming to specifics such as the F-35s high prices, incurred with its long order waiting line and expensive life-cycle cost makes a big difference over the negotiation process. With trump administration adamant on stopping countries with CAATSA, the pressure on potential buyers for the S-400 systems and their manufacturers already caught in the sanctions along with it the problem arises in the payment part of the deal wherein the Rupee- Ruble exchange system won’t do any help in stopping the future sanctions on India. Also, If India happens to successfully acquire the S-400 system it poses a threat to the future prospects of F-35 sales in South Asia since S-400 systems high-tech radar and missile systems could learn the weakness of the Stealthy F-35 as per US Govt reports.

Considering all of the things aforementioned above it would be tough for India to leave an all-weather friend like Russia while it is already facing economic sanctions on itself and still much of our forces are dependent upon Russian equipment for spares and newer defence pieces of equipment. On the other hand with only increased cooperation with US over the years especially after signing LEMOA and COMCASA which enables more critical sharing between US and India or even the several deals which are already on delivery phase like the Chinook heavy lift Helicopters and the Apache attack helicopters for the Indian Air force can be threatened if India doesn’t manage to find a way out of this problem. If India doesn’t manage to solve this clash sooner, the road to the US imposing sanctions on India become very eminent which shall directly pose a threat to India’s economic growth unless Trump himself approves a waiver for India which at the present moment the chances look pretty bleak.

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