The $5.4 Billion deal was inked in October 2018 between Russia and India for delivery of five S-400 Missile systems from former to latter. It is projected to widen the conventional asymmetry between India and Pakistan. The induction of S-400 Anti Aircraft Missile system, aims at bottling up the Pakistan Air Force, denying possibilities of air dominance, which the PAF has been achieving over its Indian counterpart in the past.
How Capable is the S-400 System?
The Anti-Aircraft missile system can carry four types of missiles with varying ranges, the shortest being 40 km with 9M96 while the longest being 400 km with 40N6 missiles. One of the variants of above mentioned missile, i.e. 9M962 is lightening quick. It can fly at Mach 15 and engage targets at low altitude. S-400 is a mobile system that comprises of a very powerful radar with automated detection and targeting, missiles that can destroy aircrafts, cruise and ballistic missiles and a very powerful command and control centre.
The deployment of an S-400 system takes mere five minutes. It can launch 72 missiles at a time, taking down 36 targets at maximum. S-400 is an upgrade to its earlier version S-400 and defence experts believe that the system is at least twice as lethal as S-300 owing to its much more powerful radar, improved accuracy and extended range of detection which stands at around 600 km. It can destroy a ballistic missile within 60 km of its point of deployment.
S-400: The Game Changer
S-400 is a system whose acquisition has prospects of destabilising the strategic balance in the region. With its high range of detection, interception and increased accuracy, it has the ability to render Pakistan Air Force jammed to operate within areas of its range. S-400 has a very powerful radar, which at least on paper, can detect and intercept all fourth generation fighter planes. It may even go as far as to intercept a fifth generation stealth fighter as per manufacturers’ claims, however, this remains doubtful unless observed practically in battlespace.
Pakistan Air Force has been the best performer among all the forces in 1965 and 1971 wars with India and is known for establishing quick air dominance over its adversary. However, With S-400 systems deployed across the border, Pakistan Air Force, which does not yet comprise of any fifth generation stealth fighter, will have a very hard time.
The deployment of the precious systems will not be very close to border with Pakistan, in order to survive saturation strike from Pakistan. The most proficient deployment would be at least 200-300 km from border with Pakistan and for the purpose of shielding high value counter force targets from Pakistan Air Force. While also providing ability to intercept aircrafts or missiles within the Pakistani airspace.
The ability to hit Pakistani aircrafts and missiles including cruise and ballistic, within Pakistani airspace is what changes the game entirely in India’s favour. S-400, therefore, will dramatically extend India’s ability to execute its Cold Start Doctrine, aimed at rapidly folding up Pakistan’s defence by multiple penetrations with swift mobilisation of the Indian troops. Pakistan will struggle to stop Indian Cold Start penetrations as its air force will be locked up to an extent and precious time will be lost in countering the Air Defence system.
S-400, will dramatically extend India’s ability to execute its Cold Start Doctrine
The threat emanating form S-400 acquisition, to Pakistan, is alarmingly serious due to the fact that the country depends largely on its air force in its conflicts, particularly with India. With Pakistan’s inability to afford S-400 or any system equivalent to it due to financial crunch, the prospects of dealing with the threat efficiently appear bleak.
Pakistan, in order to evade detection by S-400 radars, needs a fifth generation stealth fighter which the air force of the first Islamic Republic cannot afford. Experts believe that the F-22 Raptor might be the only fighter which could sneak through the S-400 radar as its visibility on the radars, even the most powerful, is somewhere equivalent to that of a golf ball.
Experts believe that the F-22 Raptor might be the only fighter which could sneak through the S-400 radar
Pakistan has a ray of hope emanating from its successful test of Ababeel (Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicle) in 2017. Ababeel is capable of carrying missile payload consisting multiple warheads which could also be nuclear. Ababeel is a medium range ballistic missile with a range upto 2200 km. It can serve well in a saturation strike against an S-400 system by carrying multiple warheads, provided Pakistan has the accurate intelligence information regarding the position of the S-400 system to hit.
Pakistan believes that its Submarine Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) Babur, is also capable of bypassing Indian air defence system. However, Babur is a subsonic cruise missile with a speed of Mach 0.8, which makes it very much vulnerable to detection and interception by the S-400. Therefore, SLCM Babur might not be a fit to strike S-400 system as it might get neutralized before hitting its target.
Pakistan has a ray of hope emanating from its successful test of Ababeel (Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicle) in 2017
The fact that that India has been working on its indigenous air defence capabilities in collaboration with Israel, has provided it tactile experience in this realm. It is believed that India might be able to shield at least its major cities like Delhi and Mumbai against a Pakistan’s ballistic or cruise missile carrying conventional or non-conventional warheads. On top of it is the acquisition of S-400 which is at par with the US Patriot Air defence system.
Pakistan has recently inducted HQ-16, designated as LY-80, a Chinese made medium ranged Surface to Air Missile system with a range of 40km. The sea variant of the missile is capable of intercepting objects flying as low as 10 m above sea level. The induction has boosted Pakistan’s air defence capabilities to a great extent. The Army conducted a successful test of the newly inducted missile on January 10, 2018.
So Here’s How it looks like for Pakistan
Indian acquisition of S-400 has significantly disturbed the strategic stability in the region and has posed a serious question mark on Pakistan’s ability to respond via ballistic or cruise missile strikes. S-400 also poses a significant threat to Pakistan Airforce, covering its operational abilities with clouds of despondency and supplementing India’s cold start doctrine. Pakistan’s possible options range from inducting stealth fighter which remains unaffordable, to the use of MIRVs in saturation strike against S-400. Recent induction of HQ-16 SAM has reduced India’s relative advantage over Pakistan. The S-400 Threat, however, exists unless Pakistan comes up with the ability to ensure piercing through it or ensuring success of saturated attack to take out the system with confidence.