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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 43 New Delhi October 13, 2018

Turning Once Again to the Traditional Friend

Monday 15 October 2018, by Barun Das Gupta

The Indo-Russian defence deal, signed last week during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi, is a significant development. To make this deal possible, hectic behind-the-scene activities took place. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had to work overtime to persuade Washington to exempt India from the purview of the draconian “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”, CAATSA for short, which stipulates imposing sanctions on any country doing certain types of deal with Moscow.

In the face of the growing hostility of China in the north and Pakistan in the west, the Modi Government has been forced to turn to India’s traditional and time-tested friend, Russia, to shore up the country’s defence capability. In fact, while signing the agreement on the Triumf anti-missile defence system, Prime Minister Modi himself acknowleded Russia to be India’s “traditional” friend. The irony is that the architect of that friendship, Jawaharlal Nehru, continues to be the bête noire of the BJP and Sangh Parivar.

This deal will enable India to acquire the S-400 Triumf anti-missile system. So far, China is the only country to which Russia has sold this highly sophisticated weapons system. India is the second. Turkey and Qatar are the two other countries which are negotiating with Russia for the acquisition of Triumf.

Technical details of the Triumf anti-missile system are available in the public domain. The system integrates several sub-systems—an autonomous detection and targeting system, anti-aircraft missile system, launchers, command and control centre, and a multi-function radar. Triumf can fire three types of missiles to create a layered defence. It can engage all types of targets from aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles or ‘drones’ to ballistic and cruise missiles up to a distance of 400 kms and an altitude of upto 30 kms. It can simultaneously engage as many as three dozen targets.

A special advantage of the Triumf system is that it can be integrated into existing and future air defence systems of the Army, Navy and Air Force in just five minutes. Its surveillance and tracking radar can be transported by the same vehicle when the S-400 battery is deployed autonomously. The powerful radar can detect and track aircraft, rotorcraft, cruise missiles, guided missiles, drones and ballistic rockets within a range of 600 kms and a coverage of 360 degrees. It can simultaneously track three hundred targets. The launch vehicle can carry upto four launch tubes holding a mix of missiles.

Under the Indo-Russian agreement, signed last week, India will acquire five units or forty launchers and about a thousand missiles.

At a time when the fleet strength of the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been depleted to an alarming low, with the acquisition of a new Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) mired in a controversy, Triumf will prove to be a force multiplier for the IAF. It can track and destroy Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems or AWACS within a range of 400 kms. The IAF looks forward to using the Triumf system beyond its intended use as an air defence system to making it an air offensive battlesystem.

Transfer of technology is not part of the Indo-Russian deal, but there is a distinct possibility that Russia will set up maintenance facilities in India.

The defence angle apart, there is a political angle to the Indo-Soviet agreement which is no less important. There is no doubt that ever since the United States (and under US pressure the European Union) put sanctions on Russia in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, the Russian economy is passing through difficult times. It is the economic imperative that has forced Russia to gravitate to China and, as China’s client state, to Pakistan.

In August this year, Pakistan signed a defence agreement with Russia for training Pakistani troops in Russian military training institutes. The Gulf News reported that the troops training agreement was signed at the conclusion of the first meeting of the Russia-Pakistan Joint Military Consultative Committee (JMCC) on August 6. The JMCC is the highest forum of defence collaboration between Pakistan and Russia.

Last week, China announced its decision to sell 48 ‘high-end’ Wing Loong-II drones to Pakistan. These drones, to be later manufactured jointly by China and Pakistan, will have reconnaissance, strike and multi-role endurance unmanned aerial system capable of being fitted with air-to-surface weapons.

These two developments—training of Pakistani troops by Russia and the supply of multi-role drones to Pakistan by China — cannot but be worrying for India. India turning to its ‘traditional and time-tested’ friend Russia could not have come a day too soon. The Rs 40,000 crore Triumf deal will come as a shot-in-the- arm for Russia. If Indo-Russian cooperation expands and covers new areas, it is likely that Russia will turn more towards India than China.

The Modi Government has been abjectly surrendering to Washington’s demands and pressure. If the renewed friendship with Moscow enables India to withstand Washington’s pressure it will be all the better. It is time New Delhi made it clear to the world that India conducts its foreign policy to protect its own national interests and not those of any other country.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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