While the IAF is mulling purchases of additional advanced Western jet fighter like the Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS 39 Gripen, the Lockheed F-21 or Boeing Super Hornet, it’s meanwhile turning to its long-running relationship with Moscow to patch up the growing gap in its air defenses—even if that means it risks running afoul of U.S. CAATSA sanctions imposed on countries that import Russian weapons..
While a companion article looks at major new arms purchases by the Indian Army and Navy from Russia, this piece will survey three different buys the Indian Air Force is making entering the 2020s to stem the bleeding away of its combat strength.
India is proceeding with the purchase of five regiments of S-400 surface-to-air missiles in a $5.43 billion, paid in Euros in order to bypass CAATSA sanctions. In 2019, New Delhi made a down payment worth $800 million, and initial deliveries will arrive in October 2020, with the order completed between in 2023 and 2025.
This come even after the U.S. kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program in the summer of 2019 for procuring S-400s from Russia—and has voiced its objections to the new deal. But real U.S. sanctions on India as building a closer defense relationship with New Delhi remains a priority in Washington.
India was more interested in the S-400 than the U.S. Patriot or THAADS systems because it can threaten aircraft up to 250 miles away due to its powerful radar radars and missiles designed to engage different targets. By contrast, the U.S. systems are effective across a smaller radius.
Thus, the S-400 will free up IAF fighters from performing routine air defense patrols—especially following a Pakistani incursion into Indian airspace that ended with the loss of an Indian fighter.
U.S. officials have refused to back down from threats to level CAATSA sanctions on India for the deal. But when the same official tells The Diplomat that there is “no blanket application” of CAATSA sanctions, one can sense the threat may have no teeth due to Washington’s eagerness to court Indian support in strategic competition with China.
Time will tell if that changes—particularly if Modi’s controversial policies threaten to cause India to lose support in U.S. Congress.