Indo-Russia S-400 deal: Counter-measures by Pakistan

Indo-Russia S-400 deal: Counter-measures by Pakistan

Mariyam Masood,

Last year in October, India signed an S-400 deal with Russia worth five billion dollars. Under this deal, the S-400 defense system will be delivered to India in the next two years. Naturally, this deal has implications for Pakistan’s security matrix which impels Pakistan to counter this threat to strategic stability in South Asia. To fully appreciate how this system affects Pakistan, some details need to be laid out.

Firstly, India has purchased five regiments of this system out of which three will be deployed near the Pakistani border and the other two will be deployed near the Chinese border. The mere placement of these systems, disproportionate to the threat-spectrum emanating from China and Pakistan, puts a questions mark on the Indian narrative of countering nuclear threats from China.

The S-400 is significantly more defensive than THAAD and PAC-3, both of which are US made Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems. Naturally, this triggers a serious security concern for Pakistan. It is important to examine the make-up of S-400 system to understand how it affects Pakistan. The S-400 defense system is comprised of six types of missiles as interceptors to destroy imminent attacks. They can target and shoot down aircraft, cruise missiles, drones and ballistic missiles at the range of up to 400 KM using their two radars which will provide India a peak into Pakistan’s airspace.

Its surface to air strategic interceptor has been designed largely to target ballistic missiles and vital airborne platforms like Bombers, AWACS, ELINT Aircraft, and Tankers & Transporters. Undoubtedly, the S-400 defense system is a very capable and high-tech structure, so naturally Pakistan has to come up with some very capable high-tech countermeasures.

The system has a surface-to-air missile defense capability with a range of up to 400 KMs. It uses four different types of missiles for a complete cover. The missiles that are being used in the system are long range 40N6 (400km), medium range 48N6 (250km), Medium range 9M96E2 (120km), and Short range 9M96E (40km). The 40N6 missile gives it limited anti-ballistic missile system characteristics which can destroy a short-range ballistic missile. According to the deal, India will only be buying the 40N6 and the 48N6 missiles.

On the other hand, Pakistan has already developed enough countermeasures against this grave threat. First of all, Pakistan has developed MIRVs (Multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles) technology which allows a single missile to fire multiple warheads against more than one target. In January, 2017, Pakistan successfully tested its surface to surface ballistic missile named Ababeel which is capable of carrying multiple warheads. The S-400 cannot counter MIRVs owing to a limited target and kill capability, so it will remain as a potential threat to India.

Moreover, Pakistan is developing fifth-generation stealth aircraft in collaboration with China under project Azm. These aircrafts would not be detectable on the radars, hence, rendering S-400 ineffective against airstrikes by Pakistani stealth fighters. Secondly, Pakistan can use swarm attack tactic during conflict or crisis and maximize target saturation. In that case, no defense system in the world can counter a saturation attack as of now.

This is because no matter how advanced the defense system maybe, it would be unable to shoot down all the missiles continuously. Currently, India does not have the capability to counter saturation attacks. Saturation attacks can not only be done through the ballistic missiles but also through the use of cruise missiles, fighter aircrafts and non-guidance rockets. India may be able to stop some of those missiles but it is impossible to stop every last one of them. India would not be able to shoot down every last missile of Pakistan.

Thirdly, Pakistan can launch fake missiles using decoys to counter S-400 system in times of war.  In that situation, no system is capable of differentiating between a decoy missile and an actual nuclear missile presently. Another way to counter S-400 is to launch massive numbers of drones to confuse which target to select.

In addition, cheap inflatable balloons are a simple way to counter the planned missile defense system. The missile defense interceptors endeavour to hit ICBM warheads in the vacuum of space, in this way, any such balloons would travel alongside the warhead, making it impossible to differentiate between decoys and a real warhead. Pakistan while delivering a nuclear payload to India could inflate many such balloons close to the warhead and overpower the defense system by swamping it with fake signals.

And lastly, Pakistan’s acquisition of hypersonic missiles gives it an edge over Indian air defense. Hypersonic missiles move at very high speeds which makes it impossible for any current defense system to intercept these missiles. A hypersonic missile travels at the speed of Mach-5 and higher, which is five times faster than the speed of sound (3836 mph) or one mile per second. Pakistan’s current hypersonic missile Ghaznavi is a hypersonic and surface to surface short-range ballistic missile with the range of 290 km.

Therefore, while S-400 is undoubtedly a very advanced and high-tech defense system that undermines South Asia’s strategic stability, Pakistan’s air defense capabilities render it almost useless. Nonetheless, India’s introduction of this system in South Asia is clearly hinting at its ambitious plans of counter-force targeting, escalation dominance and overall hegemonic design to control South Asian politics.