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NEW DELHI — The Indian Air Force has asked the Ministry of Defence to buy unknown numbers of S-400 Triumf air defense systems from Russia, but Russian diplomats here said Moscow is unlikely to agree until India clarifies its position on the joint Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) program.

A final agreement on development of the FGFA is still pending despite an initial agreement inked in 2010 because the Indian Air Force still has not finalized how many aircraft it would order, and because work-share issues between India and Russia on production of the FGFA are not settled. India will release its share of $10 billion toward development of the FGFA — which is based on the Russian T-50 platform and is in the prototype stage —only after final agreement is approved.

A Russian diplomat, however, said Moscow wants greater clarity on whether the ruling Narendra Modi government would proceed with  joint development of the FGFA or limit its purchases of the aircraft. The diplomat, however, would not say if there would be a trade-off between the S-400 and the FGFA deal.

The Indian Air Force made a request to MoD early this month to buy the S-400 system, a Defence Ministry source said, adding that the request will be on Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's wish list when he visits Moscow next month. India proposes to buy the S-400 through a government-to-government deal, the source added.

The Air Force wants the S-400 to fill holes in its fledgling air defense systems and provide capability to strike multiple targets, including ballistic missiles and stealth aircraft, said an Air Force official. The S-400 Triumf can intercept and destroy airborne targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers and simultaneously engage up to six targets.

"The intention to go ahead with the purchase of S-400 Triumf indicates that the homegrown capability to build an effective anti-missile missile system is not in sight in the near future," said defense analyst Nitin Mehta.

India is developing its own anti-missile system that includes the Prithvi for high-altitude interception (above 75 kilometers) and the Advanced system for low-altitude interception (below 15 kilometers).

The first phase of the system, which will be able to kill ballistic missiles at a range of 2,000 kilometers, was scheduled to have been in operation by 2012. No official from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which is developing the Prithvi system, would comment whether the system is in operation.

The MoD source said that the second phase of the system, intended to provide the capability to kill missiles at a range of 5,000 kilometers, is now in development. The source would not comment on whether Phase 1 is in operation.

In addition, India and Israel are developing a medium-range surface-to-air missile (MRSAM) project, which would have a range of 70 kilometers, but the project has been delayed by more than three years, and no MoD official would comment about when it would be completed.

The Indo-Israeli MRSAM is being jointly developed by India's DRDO and Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries of Israel.

Another project being developed jointly with the Israelis is a long-range surface-to-air missile, which would have a range of more than 100 kilometers and is meant for the Indian Navy. This effort is also over two years behind schedule.

Email: vraghuvanshi@defensenews.com

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