Russia struggles to supply S-400 systems to India amid the war in Ukraine.

The Indian Air Force has been forced to cut its FY2023 budget forecasts due to Russia’s delayed delivery of a major air defense system. A parliamentary group has been told.

The media have reported that the report of the parliamentary group, presented in Parliament at the end of March 2023, claimed that the large air defense system was nothing more than the S-400 missiles purchased from the Russian Federation.

S-400 for India

According to an earlier report by EurAsian Times from October 2018, India secured a $5.5 billion deal with Russia to purchase five S-400 missile systems.

The exact words of the representative of the Indian Air Force (IAF), quoted by the Indian media, were: “There is an important project… where the deliveries have been stopped due to the war (which is) going on. So we had a major delivery this year, which won’t happen.”

“They have informed us in writing that they cannot deliver it. That’s why most of the (capex) projection has been reduced.” Presumably, the FAI official was speaking about the S-400 system.

What went wrong?

The Russian Special Military Operation (SMO) launch in February 2022 did not significantly damage Russia’s ability to complete its contractual obligations to supply India with military weapons and replacement parts.

Russia probably intended for the military operation to be brief but decisive in its outcome. Based on such an assumption, Putin kept delivering S-400 regiments to India as per the contract, even after the SMO had begun. The second regiment’s supplies started arriving in July 2022, and the third’s in January 2023.

Russia struggles to supply S-400 systems to India amid the war in Ukraine.
Russian missile S-400.

According to an ANI article from January 2023, which quoted anonymous sources, the only problem between the two countries was India’s difficulties in paying for the S-400 deliveries because of international constraints on banking transactions with Russia.

The United States and NATO supplied Ukraine with sophisticated military gear and ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) aid, which Russia probably didn’t expect in such large quantities.

The war in Ukraine complicates Russia.

The aid has prolonged the conflict but has not changed its course so far. Russia continues to think that it will eventually prevail. However, he now also sees the possibility of NATO intervention to reverse the war’s course.

Russia is known to use the S-400 system in the GOS. Therefore, its reserves of spare parts and missiles are continually depleted. Western sanctions will likely limit Russia’s ability to produce missiles and spare parts for the system.

Critical components for Russia’s S-400 missile defense system were reportedly delivered by a subsidiary of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. If this is the case, Russia can’t keep supplying India with S-400 systems since it lacks the necessary components.

Given the circumstances, the fact that Russia has requested a force majeure postponement of the delivery dates of the two remaining S-400 regiments cannot have surprised India’s political and military leadership.

Impact of the S-400 delay

Force majeure delays in contracts, especially in the military, are not. They do not necessarily represent a supply chain break or a blemish on supplier reliability.

Some events indicate that Russia could have invoked force majeure to get spare parts supply for the Su-30MKI. The Russian Aerospace Forces extensively use the Su-30MKI‘s analog, the Su-30SM, in the SMO. Russia may well be facing a shortage of Su-30SM parts.

The report mentioned above also states that in February 2023, the Chinese company AVIC International delivered $1.2 million worth of parts for Russian Su-35s fighters. There are many commonalities between the components of the Su-30SM and the Su-35s.

Russia struggles to supply S-400 systems to India amid the war in Ukraine.

In fact, Russia may not be able to meet its contractual obligations for other weapons systems it has supplied to India.

Consider the following: Russian weapons systems have much in common because Russia takes an evolutionary approach to weapons development to reduce costs and implement technological advances as quickly as possible.

The S-400 is not the only case.

For instance, the P-800 Oniks missile, which Russia uses extensively on its ships and coastal batteries, has several subsystems with the BrahMos cruise missiles.

The supply of common Russian subsystems to the BrahMos and P-800 will likely be delayed. Of course, BAPL (BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited) will likely have a large spare part stock, so India may not have an immediate negative impact. Forward-thinking, BAPL has been making concerted efforts to indigenize the missile to the greatest extent possible.

The IAF apparently issued the indigenization mandate on February 6 for around 600 components utilized on rigs that are of Russian origin. In this list, you’ll find replacement components for the Mi-17, Su-30MKI, MiG-29, AN-32, Il-76, and Il-78.

The relationship between India and Russia will endure the pull.

Strategic prudence demands that Russia be ready for a NATO intervention, however dangerous it may be for the world. So even if Russia could have reserves, it would do well not to until the war is over!

However, the conflict may not be over for quite some time. In that event, Russia might help India out by increasing technology transfer (ToT), possibly to unprecedented levels, to promote local manufacturing of components and subsystems in India, thereby maintaining goodwill and strong strategic ties with India.

According to the media, the two may develop a more serious connection. The Print quoted a senior IAF officer in October 2018 as saying that after initial deliveries of S-400s were finished, the IAF could purchase additional squadrons.

The officer explained that given India’s long and volatile borders and two long coastlines, “it makes operational sense to have about ten S-400 systems.”

India and Russia against US sanctions

To avoid the effects of US sanctions against commerce with Russia on the S-400 sale, Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov said in September 2019 that India and Russia may engage in localized production.

“Yes, we are discussing the localization [of S-400 production] with India as well,” Chemezov reportedly told an RBK broadcaster.

In the long run, the Ukraine war and US sanctions may lead Russia and India into a deeper partnership than they currently do. US attempts to wean India away from its reliance on Russia for military hardware may, ironically, have the opposite effect.