India Faces Hard Choice: US THAAD vs Russian S-400 Triumf


Written by Andrei Akulov; Originally appeared on

The US is applying efforts to block India’s S-400 agreement with Russia. It offers to sell its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) instead. New Delhi is in talks with Russia on purchasing S-400 Triumf air defense systems in a $6 billion deal. The issue was included into the agenda of the 2+2 format talks. Indian foreign and defense ministers were to meet their American counterparts in Washington on July 6 but all of a sudden the US postponed the meeting amid the reports that the relations have taken a tumble.

India Faces Hard Choice: US THAAD vs Russian S-400 Triumf

The two countries don’t see eye-to-eye on a number of issues, including the tariff wars, the Iran deal etc. The news came a day after Washington announced that all other countries, including India, must cut oil imports from Iran to “zero” by November 4 or face sanctions. It made clear there would be no waivers to anyone. This is for the second time that America postponed the 2+2 dialogue which was initially slated for March.

The US position looks very much like blackmail because if India refuses to dump the Russian system, it will come under sanctions according to the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) unless the administration is able to convince the Congress that this country deserves a waiver in case it reduces its defense cooperation with Russia. This is another example of America’s arms-twisting diplomacy.

Is it worth to reject the pressure and stand tall? If America offered a good deal, why not meet it halfway? But will India get what it seeks as a result? It calls for a look at the capabilities of the two systems.

The S-400 multi-layered general purpose air defense system covers the entire spectrum of possible air to space targets, including small and intermediate range ballistic missiles. The THAAD is a single layer defense destined to counter only against intermediate range and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at either before or during the early phase of their reentry with the speed of up to 3000 m/s outside of atmosphere. A missile’s velocity is 2,880 m/s allowing to launch another interceptor at the upcoming target in case the first one missed. If there is no kill, the Patriot air defense system will have to step in.

The Triumf can engage targets with higher speed up to 4,800 m/s. It can effectively target incoming aircraft and other targets while transmitting target information to other air defense systems.

The THAAD relies entirely on friendly units for protection against enemy aircraft the Russian system is effective against. The THAAD’s kinetic energy hit minimizes the risk of exploding ballistic missiles’ warheads upon impact, but the Russian system’s fragmentary warhead increases kill probability. The S-400 provides 5 missile types and several different radars for providing intercept from short range / low altitude targets to long-range / high altitude targets. The THAAD has only one.

The THAAD’s has an estimated range of 150-200 km in comparison to Triumf’s 400 km. This is a very important advantage of the Russian weapon. The American system has a greater altitude: 150 km vs S-400’s 30 km. It also boasts a greater detection range: 100 km vs S-400’s 600 km. The THAAD is good against high altitude missiles. But theater defense requires the capability to take down targets at low altitude, not in space.

The S-400’s missiles are fitted with homing devices. Unlike American systems, the Triumf does not need to track the target.

The Triumf routinely scans the airspace in a 360 degree sweep. The THAAD horizontal sweep is 90 degrees, a vertical sweep: 60 degrees.

There is a great difference in prices. One THAAD battery consists of six launchers (eight interceptors per each of them) and costs about $2, 3 billion plus $574 modernized AN/TPY-2 radar. A battery of S-400, including eight launchers with 4 interceptors each, costs about $500 million or six times less.

The THAAD’s identification friend-or-foe system will not allow India to take down US-made and NATO member states – produced aircraft or missiles a potential enemy may have in the inventory. The Russian S-400 will allow countering weapons produced in Western countries.

As one can see, the S-400 has many advantages over the THAAD, including a broad greater range, a lower price, and a wider range of targets to knock down, but it’s not about comparing specifications or costs. Saudi Arabia wants to have both systems in the inventory, India could do it too. What really matters is that Russia attaches no strings to the deal. Unlike the US, it exerts no pressure and makes no threats. It treats India with respect and does not hurt its national pride by trying to impose its weapon systems instead of winning in a fair contest. Moscow does not threaten New Delhi with sanctions and other things if it buys the American THAAD. That’s the main difference between the two deals India has to consider.

China is already operating S-400s, Turkey has concluded a deal. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are engaged in negotiations over the purchase while many more nations are considering such a possibility. India will not make a mistake if it buys the Russian system. With the deal going through, it’ll get a bigger bang for its buck and protect its sovereignty demonstrating the determination to resist pressure. Great nations cannot be dictated the terms of decisions they are going to make. The Indian government knows better what weapon its military needs to defend the country.