Reports of Chinese S-400s on India’s Borders Deemed ‘Grave Threat’

Amid signs of a stalemate in talks between China and India over their dispute at the Ladakh border area, India's main federal opposition Congress Party warned that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) reported deployment of Russian-made S-400 air defences systems at the border seriously challenged Indian security interests. "This is the first time that they have deployed the S-400 at the border. 

It is a grave threat to us and the government must take all steps to ensure that the issue [border standoff] is resolved", spokesman Pawan Khera said. If confirmed, the S-400 would be one of the latest weapons systems deployed to reinforce the PLA’s Western Theatre Command facing India, which has traditionally been a lower priority for receipt of new hardware as primary threats to Chinese security have come from the U.S. and its allies operating near its eastern coasts. Other high end assets include Type 99A tanks, J-16 and J-20 heavy fighters, and H-6 bombers. 

China currently deploys only two S-400 units - an asset for which it was the first ever export client and which is prized for its extreme engagement range, high situational awareness against stealth targets, powerful electronic warfare countermeasures, and ability to intercept hypersonic targets. India is notably the largest foreign client for the S-400, but having only placed its first order near the end of 2018 it has yet to receive its first units. 

Although China deploys many similar systems to the S-400, notably the S-300PMU-2 and HQ-9B, India has no modern long-range air defence systems of it own.

Spokesman Khera further elaborated regarding the possible challenge to Indian air power: “The government has to be reminded time and again about the threat lurking at the border. In fact, all the Indians must be made aware of the threat at the border... How far are the Indian aircraft in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh from these S-400s?” 

The unconfirmed deployment has reportedly been to the Ningchi Airbase around 20 kilometres current Indian positions. With Chinese S-400s having received new 40N6E missiles from Russia, they can engage targets 400km away allowing them to target aircraft and missiles deep into Indian territory. India primarily relies on MiG-29 fighters to guard its Ladakh border, although a small number of Rafale jets with superior sensors and of much more capable Su-30MKI aircraft, are also deployed. 

None of these have modern stealth capabilities or are considered capable of challenging the S-400, particularly as the Chinese-operated system is backed by more modern fighters including the J-16. Relations between Beijing and Delhi have overall been positive despite the border dispute, with the two seeing an increase in trade volumes and repeatedly making statements that they do not seek confrontation. 

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