Sources say the defence acquisitions council (DAC), chaired by Manohar Parrikar, will "soon" take up the proposal moved by the IAF to purchase around a dozen S-400 long-range systems from Russia.
"The project is at an initial stage at present. But it will be a government-to-government contract when it is finalized, with the S-400 systems being inducted over several years," said a defence ministry source.The procurement proposal comes ahead of Parrikar's impending visit to Russia, which will be followed by the Modi-Putin summit in Moscow in December. It also comes around a year after China sealed a $3 billion deal with Russia for acquisition of six S-400 batteries.
China is slated to get the S-400 batteries, which is designated `SA-21 Growler' by NATO and rivals the anti-ballistic missile capabilities of the US Patriot PAC-3 system, from 2017 onwards.
Countries locked in territorial disputes with China in the East and South China Seas, ranging from Japan and Taiwan to Vietnam and the Philippines, are all worried at the prospect of the People's Liberation Army getting such a force-multiplier to dominate the airspace. India obviously is also wary of China acquiring such a military capability, even if it is defensive in nature, since it can make all the difference during a conflict.
The S-400 basically has three kinds of missiles, with different capabilities, that can fly at supersonic and hypersonic speeds to intercept all kinds of targets at ranges from 120 to 400-km. Russian experts even proclaim the S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system can "radar lock and shoot down" stealth fifth-generation fighters like the American F-35 jets.
India, on its part, is now belatedly trying to plug the gaping holes in its airspace surveillance and defence network with progressive induction of a wide array of sensors and weapons.
With both IAF, tasked with the country's air defence, and Army saddled with increasingly obsolete air defence weapons, the ongoing induction of the indigenous 25-km range Akash area defence system has come as a major relief for them.
Induction of the Israeli Spyder low-level quick-reaction missile systems, with a 15-km range, is now planned from 2016-2017 onwards. The project was stuck since the Tatra trucks -- on which the missile systems were to be mounted - had got enmeshed in corruption scandals. The contract was recently amended to replace the Tatra trucks with Tata trucks.
Deliveries of the medium-range SAM systems jointly developed by Israeli Aerospace Industries and DRDO, with an interception range of 70-km, will also begin from 2016-2017.
Along with induction of these weapons, IAF is also now expanding its fully-automated surveillance network called IACCS (integrated air command and control system) to the entire country, with the cabinet committee on security recently approving another Rs 8,000 crore for the project. Eventually, the Army and Navy's Akash Teer and Triguna air defence networks will be integrated with the IACCS.