With the Indian military set to induct five units of the S-400 air defence system into service, a number of the new weapons systems are likely to be deployed on India’s north-western borders where the bulk of India’s forces are currently stationed. The S-400, widely considered as the most advanced long range surface to air missile system in the world, is set to become a game changer in the balance of power between India and Pakistan, with its deployment seriously undermining Pakistani security. The weapon’s 400km range when deploying highly precise 40N6 hypersonic missiles in particular, poses a considerable threat to Pakistani aircraft deep inside the country’s home space. The S-400 will provide India with coverage over almost the entire northern and western Pakistan and would allow the Indian forces to shoot down Pakistani fighters at will.
Should India choose to deploy the system as far west as Amritsar, the S-400 would be able to threaten Pakistani aircraft even over Peshawar. Pakistan’s territory is long, but not deep, and this plays into Indian hands. With the S-400 capable of engaging up to 36 targets simultaneously, including a combination of aircraft and both ballistic and cruise missiles, the weapons system poses a considerable threat to Pakistani forces in the event of a shooting war. With the S-400 designed to shoot down some of the fastest, highest flying, stealthiest and most manoeuvrable fighters in the world including the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter, Pakistan’s older, lighter and unstealthy aircraft should provide the system with little challenge—and the PAF could well suffer heavy losses in the opening hours of a conflict should they be deployed within range of the S-400.
With just two units of the S-400 able to cover more than half of Pakistan’s territory, this poses a considerable threat. Even the Pakistani fifth generation light fighter jets currently under development (Project Azm) are unlikely to fare well against the S-400. Pakistani support aircraft including Il-78 aerial tankers, Y-8 AWACS platforms, and Falcon 20 electronic warfare aircraft, large and unmaneuverable as they are, would also be denied access within most of the country’s own airspace and are highly vulnerable even at extreme ranges.
Compounding this threat, the Pakistani ballistic missile arsenal which has heavily relied upon as an asymmetric measure to neutralise larger Indian forces, which includes advanced platforms such as the Ghauri, Ababeel and Shaheen 3, would also be vulnerable to the S-400, with each Indian air defence unit well able to intercept and destroy dozens of these missiles at a time. The result would not only be an inability of the Pakistan Air Force to protect its own skies, let alone engage Indian forces on an offensive, but also the blunting of the country’s retaliator capabilities. The implications of the S-400 therefore are truly severe for Pakistan’s security.
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