Air Defence System

If there was one news that dominated the media space like no other in the recently concluded BRICS Summit on 15-16 Oct, it was the one on the signing of the contract between India and Russia for the purchase of five Regiments of S 400 Triumph Air Defence System at the cost of some 39000 Cr. What will be the impact of the induction of S-400 system in our country?

S-400 Air Defence System

Air Defence SystemS-400 is a long range air defence and anti-Missile system. It provides a counter to the air threat from our potential adversaries likely to be prosecuted by multiple air threat vehicles, like multi-role modern aircrafts, attack helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their combative version (UCAVs), cruise missiles, anti-radiation missiles, and more. Today, most of the modern air threat vehicles as mentioned above, strike in all-weather conditions and possess the ability of deep strike with precision and stand-off capability when attacks are delivered from long ranges without the need to close in with the deployed weapons. S 400 being an anti-missile system, can provide a full air defence shield against the adversary’s Surface-to-Surface Missiles (SSMs) including the nuclear capable missiles.

Air Defence System | History

modi_putinEvolution of the system takes us back to 1978-79 when the then Soviet Union started to develop long range Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) to provide area air defence to its large sized Vulnerable Areas (VA) like military bases, industrial centres, logistic and administrative areas and nuclear centres. The S 300 (predecessor to S 400) was the weapon system for this role. This system evolved around three verticals, namely P, V and F series. Here, P standing for PVO Stranny (meaning country’s air defence), was the mainstay development line for area air defence of ground based strategic assets. V (standing for Voyska or Ground forces) was the compact version of the system basically designed for the mobile air defence cover for mechanised forces, while the F (standing for Float), was the naval version of the system. S 400 is the latest of the P series of the system (also called S 300 PMU 3). The weapon designer is Almaz Corp KB-1 (later Almaz Air Defence Concern) while the Missiles have been designed by MKB Fakel Design Bureau.

Air Defence System | Analysing the Technical Muscle

s-400-triumfAny ground based air defence system is essentially configured on the three verticals of Sensors, Combat Teeth and Battle Management and Command and Control (BMC2) System. Sensors are for carrying out surveillance of the air space, detecting the air threat, identifying it to be friend-or-foe (IFF) and finally guiding the missiles to the target. Combat teeth are the Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) to take on the designated target while the BMC2 system exercises minute-to-minute control over air defence battle resulting in the delivery of accurate and lethal fire on the intended target. In each of these three verticals, S 400 has many special features.

Air Defence System | Sensor Speciality of S400

  • The weapon designers have laid great emphasis on the initial detection of the threat.
  • The sensors have evolved along with the revamping of the air threat from Medium/High Altitude to Low level, to Ballistic Missile threat to stealth threat and more.
  • The system has a formidable sensor package covering all altitudes and extending to long ranges up to 600 km.
  • It has sufficient capability to simultaneously track any threat by quantum (300 targets).
  • The latest sensors have cutting edge technology features (3D Panoramic/all-altitude detection) and high survivability muscle in the hostile Electronic Warfare (EW) environment.

Air Defence System | Missiles

maxresdefaultThe most distinctive feature of S 400 is its capability to fire three dissimilar missiles from the same platform with nil/minimal changes on the action stations. The first of the three missiles on board is 9M 96 E with an operational range of 120 Km. The probability of hitting the target with a single launch of 9M96E missile is around 90 %.

The second type of missile on board is 48 N6. Flying at an incredible speed of 17280 km per hour (4.8 km per second, Mach 14), it is eminently capable of closing on to the threat much faster than any known threat can move.

The third type of missile is an extremely long range missile (400 km). The special feature of this missile is its trajectory which has a high apogee (highest point reached during free flight) in excess of 40 km. It means that upon launch the missile rises high into the exo-atmospheric space thus gaining a lot of Potential Energy (PE). Such a missile is optimal in the anti-Ballistic missile role.

What is special about the Missiles of the System?

  • Three dissimilar missiles capable of being launched from the same platform.
  • Range versatility (120-200-250-400 km) suited for multi-role.
  • Variations in the guidance systems to increase effectiveness and enhance survivability.
  • Many special features (17280 km per hour, Potential Energy to Kinetic Energy).

Air Defence System | Likely Impact of Induction

  • It will be a ‘WAY ABOVE’ system, implying thereby, that the capability of range, reach and kill effects it brings, will be way above anything we have had in the existing Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) landscape till date.
  • Its backward system integration and resource sharing capability with the existing GBADWS will provide a paradigm enhancement in the existing surveillance, battle management and kill capability of the entire system as a whole.
  • In specifics, as a far upper end of the area air defence system, it will render large swaths of area under air defence cover. These areas could include high value installations, key Govt. institutions, seat of power, important army/naval / air force bases/assets, oil dumps, refineries, nuclear power installations and more.
  • In the anti-missile role, the system will integrate with our Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Programme named ‘Programme AD’ under development by the DRDO. This programme, as is known in the open source, is a two tier system providing interception of incoming ballistic missiles in the exo-atmospheric region (altitude 50-80 km) as well as, endo-atmospheric region (altitude 15-30 km). The Programme is in two phases. In Phase 1 the system capability will be able to take on the ballistic missiles up to the ranges of 2000 Km while in Phase 2, the system capability will be extended to 5000 km. Phase 1 stands operationalised while Phase 2 is nearing completion. S 400 will bring a quantum enhancement in this capability


Air Defence System | Challanges

  • While the procurement is through Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA), the entire procurement procedure is yet to unfold where every step has a time penalty. By any modest guess, the entire cycle could take 3-5 years.
  • The capability enhancement will be incremental as fire units of the regiment get built up over time.
  • The issues of Indian work share and its progressive enhancement, transfer of technology (ToT) and more importantly, its absorption capability by our public and private industry over the years and the entire gamut of ‘Offset’ will be huge challenges, each demanding its timeshare and repeated deliberations/negotiations and more.
  • Associated with the above will be the issues of training, maintenance ToT, Quality assurance and clearances, EMC/EMI clearances, simulators and more.


No doubt the induction of S 400 increases the might of Indian defence forces with a credible defence against the potential air attacks against India. But we should ensure that the issues of training, delivery, maintenance, quality assurance and clearances are addressed to avoid future exigencies.

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