Has China Deployed Its ‘Most-Powerful’ S-400 Missile Defense System Near The ‘Disputed’ India-China Border?

China has reportedly deployed the Russian S-400 missile defense systems near the LAC thus fortifying the border with India — from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.

Amid the ongoing standoff between India and China in the eastern Ladakh sector, both countries have been increasing their military buildups and movement of troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border.

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For more than a year, the two nuclear-armed neighbors have been locked in a border standoff in the Ladakh area. On June 15 last year, a violent confrontation between their armies in Galwan Valley resulted in the deaths of 24 soldiers. 

Last year’s incident was the deadliest border clash between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA in decades.

S-400 Triumf air defense systems.

Several reports suggest that the Chinese have now set up two squadrons of S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems at the Hotan airbase in Xinjiang and Nyingchi airbase in Tibet, close to LAC.

The PLA is also equipped with armed UAVs, drone swarms, missiles, and rockets. There are also reports coming in of additional accommodation in the depth areas along the LAC.

India, on the other hand, is due to receive its first batch of five of the squadrons state-of-the-art S-400 Triumf air defense system, which is capable of targeting missiles as well as aircraft within a range of 40km-400 km.

Defense experts continue to raise concerns over the rising complexity of air defense amid the ongoing talks on the possible creation of an integrated air defense theater command. 

India’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, last week said that air defense was becoming more and more complex because of the large use of air space, not limited to just aircraft and helicopters.

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Weapons In Use 

According to Bloomberg, India has moved nearly 50,000 troops to the LAC, taking the total strength of soldiers guarding the China border to around 200,000, an increase of 40 percent from last year.

India is protecting its military bases and cantonment towns through the deployment of the indigenous Akash, the Israeli SpyDer and Soviet-origin Pechora and OSA-AK systems, Hindustan Times reported.

The EurAsian Times published an article last week highlighting India’s air defense system that includes Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD).

The Indian Air Force (IAF) fighters such as the Sukhoi-30 MKIs and MIG-29s have been regularly patrolling the skies.

Reports suggest that the Indian Army is getting four Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Heron drones on lease from Israel for surveillance across the LAC.

India is also in the process of acquiring the American MQ-9 Predator-B, a battle-tested drone that was the first hunter-killer UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle).

The PLA, on the other hand, has deployed a swarm of UAVs, drones, missiles and rockets including surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) like the HQ 22, which is capable of targeting aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, ballistic and cruise missiles.

China is believed to have deployed Z-10 medium-attack helicopter for operations in the mountains and also Y-20 heavy-lift transport aircraft to facilitate troop mobilization in Tibet.

An analysis of open-source satellite imagery has shown that China has created a surface-to-air missile site on the banks of Mansarovar Lake in Tibet, and is developing similar facilities to cover sensitive stretches of the disputed border in the Doklam and Sikkim sectors.

S-400: India Vs China 

In view of India’s imminent acquisition of the first batch of the Russian state-of-the-art S-400 missiles, there has been a recurring debate among defense circles on whether India’s answer to the Chinese S-400 will also be S-400 defense systems.

Dr. Amrita Jash, a research fellow at New Delhi-based Centre for Land Warfare Studies highlighted Beijing’s concerns over India in its decision to deploy the S-400 missile system.

China sees India as a threat which is qualified by the fact that India has always resisted Chinese actions at the LAC. Eastern Ladakh has been a reality check not just for India but for China as well. China can no longer treat India lightly,” she told The Eurasian Times.

Commenting on the ongoing border standoff, she said that, unlike China’s other border disputes that have been settled, the border settlement with India is a harder bargain for Beijing, which it is aware of.

Russia's S-400 air defense system
S-400 Triumf missile systems

Thus, the continuous attempts remain in changing the status quo at the LAC,” she said.

On being asked whether India is likely to deploy its own S-400 system at the LAC, Dr. Jash said that India’s acquisition of S-400 is mainly aimed at building its own defenses against its adversaries.

For India, to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, the wisdom lies in deploying the S-400 at the LAC. Here, the keyword is deterrence,” she added. Dr. Jash also noted how Beijing is now eyeing S-500 missile systems- further spiraling the security dilemma.

Meanwhile, India has been adapting to the changing realities of aerial warfare by investing in newer technologies such as the HAMMER missiles, a medium-range air-to-ground weapon.

In another step taken towards boosting air defense capabilities, India is in the process of integrating the armed forces into joint theater commands.