Politics, World, Asia - Pacific

‘US claim that S-400 will compromise equipment untrue’

Ex-vice chief of Indian Air Force says American brinkmanship in the region is creating problems

Iftikhar Gilani   | 26.06.2019
‘US claim that S-400 will compromise equipment untrue’

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan 

The Russian S-400 missile defense system, which India and Turkey have bought over U.S. objections, is the best in the world in terms of tracking and scanning radar, height parameters, and the area it can cover, according to the retired vice chief of the Indian Air Force.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, retired Air Vice Marshall Kapil Kak, who has commanded fighter jets and is involved in strategic planning in India, said the U.S. offer to supply American missile defense systems cannot meet their strategic requirements.

Kak, who also served as chief instructor at the Defense Services Staff College at Wellington, New Zealand, said U.S. President Donald Trump’s extreme closeness to Israel and cultivating princes in Saudi Arabia and the UAE has thrown Asia into a tumult. Here are excerpts from the interview, edited for clarity:

Anadolu Agency: Since you had a long, distinguished career in the Indian Air Force, the U.S. has raised a hue and cry about purchases by both Turkey and India of Russian S-400 missile defense systems. Can you tell us something about this system?

Retired Air Vice Marshall Kapil Kak: The S-400 purchase has been on the cards for a while from the Indian side. We had started with the S-300. While we were trying a parallel process with the Russians on the purchase of S-300s, we realized that they were exponentially moving to develop a missile that is far more advanced, in terms of tracking and scanning of radar, in terms of height parameters and in terms of the numbers it can go, and finally in terms of the area it can cover.

Today, we can say the S-400 is perhaps the best air defense system in the world. The Turkish Armed Forces are also prone to keep their antenna up to what is the best defense system they need. Given the geopolitical realities in the post-Syria period, they have virtually clinched the deal.

But they also have one difference between them and us -- that Turkey is a partner in the production of American F-35s. Now the Americans have said that F-35 countries cannot have Russian S-400 defense system. Because they argue some parameters -- radar signatures, coordinates and so many things -- are likely to be compromised.

Q: Since you mentioned the American fear that the Russia system will compromise the U.S. equipment, how correct is it? As we know, 80% of India’s defense inventory is of Russian origin. Does that mean in the new system, they will need to change the entire inventory?

Kak: Turkey has a Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) with the U.S., and now India has it as well. It secures U.S. military equipment. It also facilitates interoperability between militaries. So, President Trump’s contention that the S-400s will compromise high-end U.S. military equipment is not true.

Q: As allies, both India and Turkey are facing intense pressure from the U.S. How far you think it will go?

Kak: We’ve been told at senior-most levels that India will be exempted or will get a waiver on the purchase of the S-400 missile defense systems. India will not have to pay a price in the way of economic sanctions, if it goes ahead with purchasing the systems. But still there is no clarity. Now and then we hear unnamed government officials in Washington threatening that the purchase will risk triggering CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act). My own reading is that the U.S. approach towards Turkey will be far harsher than towards India.

Q: I think Americans are offering both Turkey and India their Patriot defense missile system as well as dangling the carrot of supplying the fifth-generation F-35 fighter aircraft. Will these systems match the capabilities of the S-400?

Kak: My calculation is that the S-400 is superior to any other system. It also depends on the specific Patriot that’s on offer. For the S-400, we know exactly what it means. We’re not sure when Americans tell us about Patriots. They were used in the Gulf War and subsequently upgraded. Various tests done later don’t make them superior. I don’t think they will either interest Turkey or India. That’s my belief.

India already rejected F-21 aircraft that are upgrades of F-16s, when we decided to go for the French Rafale. Americans are dangling the carrot of setting up production in India. And they’re telling us India will become a next exporter of F-16s, when there are 4,000 of them in the world. It’s an attractive proposition indeed. The Indian Air Force has a compulsion to augment its inventory. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself told the air chief after the airstrike this February across the border in Balakot, Pakistan that the air force needs to be beefed up and strengthened hugely.

Q: Besides this S-400 controversy, a dangerous situation is developing in the Strait of Hormuz. How will it affect the world and the Middle East in particular?

Kak: President Trump’s closeness to Israel and on the other hand the way he is cultivating Saudi Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and UAE Prince Mohammed bin Zayed has completely upended the earlier American approach of managing the world. The Middle East is in a moment of tumult.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal done by the 5+2 countries has been disregarded. Iran had been very faithfully implementing it. We also do not take into account and the media failed to report that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had sent its monitors and inspectors to every site. They found no violation of the agreement. It is American brinkmanship in the region that creates complications.

About the recent attacks on ships in the Gulf of Hormuz, Iran has completely denied carrying out such attacks. Having been in the military service for so many decades, I believe Iran will not carry out such attacks. Why would they do such a thing for which they have to pay a price?

There could be non-state actors. I cannot comment and do not have knowledge. It is a situation that calls for immediate action by the international community. This isn’t about the U.S. and Iran alone.

The UN, whatever its weaknesses, must come into the picture and reduce tensions. Iran has come out unambiguously, that if such an action is taken, Iran will do all it can do to defend its national sovereignty. We could see a missile war as we saw during the last Gulf War. Today’s missiles are so accurate that targeting will take place in areas vulnerable to others. We could have a conflagration that spins out of control. That’s why the wisdom is to have interest in peace and bring the situation to a stage where it’s a little bit manageable.

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