WASHINGTON — China has received its first Russian S-400 anti-missile defense weapons, a milestone delivery of a system with the potential to dispute and divide longstanding US. military alliances.
According to news reports, China signed documents accepting the delivery and taking ownership last week. A second delivery is scheduled for the near future, according to the Tass news service.
“The Department of Defense monitors China’s development of its military capabilities,” Lt. Col. David Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesperson, told TMN.
The S-400 is considered somewhat akin to the U.S. Patriot system. Some version of the S-400 are in Syria and were taken into account when U.S., French and British forces launched air strikes in April in retaliation to a chemical attack blamed on Damascus.
None of those missiles hit any western aircraft, Pentagon officials said then.
The delivery of the anti-missile system to China has a potential tactical impact in the event of a future conflict. However, more critically, that delivery foreshadows others planned for several nations — including several allies or partners with the United States. It is those impending deliveries that have triggered strategic and political consternation.
Nations considering purchase of Russian S-400s include India, Turkey and Qatar — all key U.S. allies.
Turkey is a member of NATO and its purchase of the Russian system appears to be closest to happening. That planned purchase has infuriated some members of Congress, since its installation could diminish interoperability with NATO systems and make NATO systems vulnerable to Russian skullduggery.
Because of that, the just-finalized 2019 defense bill includes language that would place a hold on F-35s purchased by Turkey but not yet delivered until the S-400 issue plays out.
Trying to thwart Turkey’s purchase of the S-400, the State Department is attempting to woo Ankara to instead buy the Patriot, Tina Kaidanow, acting assistant secretary for political-military affairs, told reporters last week in a press conference call.
Additionally, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the sale of F-35s is critical to Turkey, despite its flirtation with the S-400s.
House and Senate members did not agree with Mattis on Turkey but they did agree on not shutting the door on nations that buy Russian weapons systems. Also in the defense bill is language for the Pentagon to grant national security waivers for nations that have bought Russian hardware but now wish to obtain U.S. systems. Such a waiver would require presidential certification.
Mattis named India, Vietnam and Indonesia as examples. He plans to travel to India in September.
“The fundamental question we must ask ourselves is: Do we wish to strengthen our partners in key regions, or leave them with no other option than to turn to Russia, thereby undermining a once-in-a-generation opportunity to more closely align nations with the U.S. vision for global security and stability,” Mattis said in his letter to Congress.
Meanwhile, the U.S. may soon face a similar issue with another ally in the same region. According to news reports, Qatar is in discussions to purchase the S-400. Qatar and Russia have already inked a deal for Moscow to send Doha items such as Kalashnikov assault rifles and anti-tank weapons.