Russia has shown it will not allow Tel Aviv and Washington to determine who gets its advanced missile systems, probably the world’s most potent in destroying enemy planes and missiles at distances not achieved by competing NATO systems.
Much to the anger of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russia has supplied Syria’s military with upgraded versions of the S-300 capable of shooting down Israeli aircraft. The move upset Netanyahu’s friends in Washington and came in the wake of a Russian plane being shot down over Syria after it was mistaken for an Israeli fighter that was illegally operating in Syrian airspace.
Russia had an arrangement with Israel that it would give notice if it intended to send fighters or bombers to attack targets in Syria, but Israel broke the deal.
Israel has also had to sit by as Iran has deployed the S-300 system despite opposition from Washington.
In a further sign that Russia was not going to be restricted in the sale of its missile systems, in July 2018, Turkey, much to NATO’s consternation, signed a deal with Russia to buy its upgraded S-400 missiles. The Turks responded to criticism of the move, pointing out that for 10 years they had been trying to buy a missile shield from allies, meaning the U.S., and had been turned down.
What worries NATO’s chief is that the S-400 will not integrate with NATO’s missile shield, which includes the U.S. Patriot system. More importantly, Turkey is due to take possession of a consignment of F-35s, America’s most lethal attack aircraft. Security experts fear this will give Turkey the opportunity to test the Russian systems against the capabilities of the F-35. It might enable Russia and other nations with the S-300s and S-400s to make adjustments to them so they will be more effective against F-35s presently being used by the Israeli Air Force.
Quite simply, if Turkish technicians linked the computers in an S-400 battery to the F-35’s sensors, they could pull out data, allowing them to observe how the F-35 evades radar of the kind used by S-300s and S-400s.
China has recognized the value of deploying the S-400 because of its range, which is twice the range of the U.S. Patriot system. It will likely position its S-400s in the South China Sea for use in any eventual clash with the U.S. Navy and Air Force. While the S-400 is often defined as a defensive missile shield, it offers an offensive capability, permitting it to identify and eliminate stationary targets at 200 miles. Its radar has a surface surveillance capability of 350 miles. The Patriot’s strike range is less than half that of the S-400, and its radar does not reach anywhere near the 350-mile mark.
Just when it seemed that the spread of the S-400 had ended with China making a $2.5 billion purchase of it, India stepped in on Sept. 28 with $5.4 billion to ink a deal with Moscow for five S-400 batteries with 40 launchers and 1,000 missiles. The announcement of the move by New Delhi angered Washington and drew a swift response from President Donald Trump that India would “find out sooner than you think” about his response.
Russia was quick to point out that it would not be dictated to by Washington. The Russian ambassador to India, Nickolay Kudashev, said, responding to Trump, “India is much too large to depend or be afraid of somebody.” He also hinted that more deals with India were in the pipeline.
Amit Cowshish, a former financial advisor to India’s Ministry of Defense, told Sputnik News that any sanctions by Washington against India would be a setback to developing U.S.-India relations. Without spelling it out, he was warning Washington that its hopes of having India as an ally should war break out in the South China Sea would be dashed, as would India’s cooperation with Washington over security in the Indian Ocean.
While there is much talk of the S-400 system, those looking for a more potent missile system are eyeing the S500, which China and India are likely to purchase. It has the capability to take down military satellites in space, as well as act as a shield against ballistic missiles.
In Western defense circles there are critics who feel that threatening Russia and countries that buy weapons from it is a sign of Washington’s weakness because it cannot control an arms industry in which it is only one of the major players. At least in missile design, it appears Russia has the edge.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former NY news producer.