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The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has put Russia’s S-400 air defense system under intense scrutiny. With frequent strikes by advanced Western missiles like Storm Shadows and ATACMS, the S-400’s capabilities are being questioned. These developments prompt a critical evaluation of whether India made the right decision in acquiring this high-profile air defense system.

In recent months, the S-400 has struggled to effectively counter strikes from Storm Shadow cruise missiles and ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System). Reports indicate that these missiles have successfully targeted not only Ukrainian batteries but also bases and facilities purportedly protected by the S-400. This situation has raised concerns about the system’s ability to defend against modern, high-precision munitions.

India signed a $5 billion deal with Russia in 2018 to procure five S-400 units, with the first deliveries beginning in 2021. The decision was driven by the S-400’s reputed capability to intercept a wide range of aerial threats, including aircraft, UAVs, and ballistic and cruise missiles, at ranges up to 400 kilometers. Given India’s complex security environment and diverse threat spectrum, the S-400 was seen as a crucial addition to its defense arsenal.

The effectiveness of the S-400 against newer, more sophisticated missiles like Storm Shadows and ATACMS is under question. India’s potential adversaries are also modernizing their arsenals, which may require systems with more advanced countermeasures.

The conflict in Ukraine provides a different operational context compared to the strategic environment in South Asia. While the S-400 may face challenges in Ukraine, its performance could vary under different conditions and against different threats.

While the S-400’s performance in Ukraine raises legitimate concerns, it does not necessarily imply that India’s decision to acquire the system was flawed. The strategic rationale behind the purchase remains valid, but India must now closely monitor the system’s performance, adapt its strategies, and remain open to upgrades and alternative solutions to ensure a comprehensive and effective air defense posture.