(This was originally posted in The Hindu by Dinakar Peri)
The delivery schedule for the S-400 long-range air defense systems was on track for the end of 2021 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior defense official said. “The deal is on track and deliveries are expected to begin by November this year,” the official said. Two officials independently stated that efforts were made to speed up the deal but the Russian side had conveyed this was not possible.
Two official sources, also speaking independently, dismissed concerns over possible U.S. sanctions on the deal under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), stating this deal met national security considerations. In October 2018, India had signed a $5.43 billion deal with Russia for five S-400 regiments despite objections from the U.S., with deliveries scheduled to begin the end of 2021.
U.S. officials on several occasions raised concerns over the deal as India deepened its defence cooperation with the U.S. and acquired several frontline military platforms like transport aircraft, helicopters, artillery, and drones. Indian officials had reiterated that all payment-related issues had been resolved and the deal was well underway.
Responding to questions on the issue at a press conference during his visit to India in February, U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin had said that there had been no delivery of an S-400 system, and “the issues of sanctions is not one that’s been discussed”. He had also stated, “But we did address with the Minister of Defence the issue of the S-400.”
For the Indian Air Force (IAF), the high-end technology S-400 would give a fillip and make up for its falling fighter aircraft squadrons in the medium-term. Former IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa has on several occasions termed the S-400 air defence systems and Rafale fighter jets “game changers” and “booster dose” for the IAF.