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South Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft

India to Turn Russian Anti Stealth Technologies Against China's J-20; Why Delhi Needs the S-400

April 01st - 2018

The United States Air Force was the first service in the world to deploy modern stealth aircraft. The military developed the F-117 Nighthawk strike fighter in the 1980s and deployed the platform extensively throughout the 1990s against Panama, Iraq and Yugoslavia. The development of stealth technology by the U.S. led the country's potential adversaries such as Russia, Serbia and North Korea to invest heavily in the development of counter stealth systems - with Serbia deploying modified S-125 surface to air missiles to successfully target two F-117 fighters in 1999, one of which was destroyed and the other which suffered extensive damage.

The U.S. Air Force inducted the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber into service 1997, which was followed eight years later by the F-22 Raptor stealth air superiority fighter. Russia had by this time developed a number of highly sophisticated counter stealth weapons systems, relying on long wavelength radars, infra red targeting systems and a number of other technologies to detect and target stealth fighters. Perhaps the most renowned of all of these was the S-400 Triumf, a long range surface to air missile (SAM) system based on the S-300PMU-2 with a 400km range and the ability to destroy even the most advanced stealth fighters. The platform's induction into service in 2006, less than a year after the F-22 Raptor, was seen as Russia's response to the new fighter to which it itself fielded no analogue. While the Russian military has since developed more capable systems such as the S-500 SAM system and K-77 air to air missile, the U.S. is yet to develop a stealth platform with superior radar evading capabilities to the F-22 and B-2.

In 2017 China inducted into service the world's first stealth fighter outside the United States, with its Chengdu J-20 air superiority fighter developed to fulfil an analogous role to the U.S. F-22 Raptor. This was cause for particular concern among a number of China's military rivals, which have since sought to develop countermeasures and counter stealth technologies of their own. While the U.S. response to the J-20 was to equip its Naval fighters with anti stealth capabilities, primarily a reliance on infra red targeting to reduce reliance on radar, as well as to accelerate its sixth generation fighter program, India has taken a notably different approach. Unable to develop reliable counter stealth technologies of its own due to its poor military industrial base, India is instead set to rely on acquiring advanced Russian anti aircraft systems with counter stealth technologies to provide some form of defence against Chinese fighters. India's armed forces are thus set to acquire weapons systems designed to counter the F-22 and other U.S. platforms, and to deploy these platforms against the Chinese military. Delhi has shown a great deal of interest in the S-400 system in particular. With the surface to air missile platform having served to seriously impede the freedom of action of the United States and its Western allies, who have as a result harshly opposed its proliferation, India hopes the weapons system will prove equally capable in deterring China and counterbalancing Beijing's technological advantage in the air.

With India finalising plans to acquire the S-400 from Russia in large numbers. Former Indian Air Force vice chief and director general of the Delhi based Centre for Air Power Studies Air Marshal KK Nohwar expressed confidence that India's military could tackle the J-20. Other figures from India's military leadership have named the S-400 in particular as a system India would rely on to tackle the J-20. Complementing the S-400, India already fields a vast fleet of approximately 300 advanced Su-30MKI heavy air superiority fighters. While they lack fifth generation capabilities, the platforms have with Russian assistance been extensively upgraded and carry some of the world's most advanced air to air missiles. India is also set to acquire fifth generation air superiority fighters from Russia, either stealth variants of the Su-35 or jointly produced platforms based on the more costly Su-57 - possibly both. By acquiring the latest Russian weapons systems, many of which were designed with the capabilities of the F-22 Raptor in mind, India can ensure that it does not face a significant technological disadvantage and remains capable of successfully targeting China's J-20 - thus ensuring at least some form of parity remains between the two powers.

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