Talks for Saudi Arabia to acquire the Russian S-400 SAM system are continuing, even as the Kingdom threatens military action against Qatar if that country should also acquire the weapon. Turkey, India, and Iraq have also bought the weapon or expressed a desire to buy it. Meanwhile, a senior U.S. commander has decried the potential acquisitions, and sanctions could follow from Washington.
Having become operational 11 years ago, the S-400 remains Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft weapon in service. It was designed to detect and shoot aerodynamic and ballistic targets. The S-400 employs the 48N6 family of missiles with a launch weight of about two tons (4,400 pounds) and a range of up to 240 km (130 nm). The latest 40N6 missiles extend that range up to 400 km (215 nm). For engaging targets at shorter ranges, the system may use the smaller 9M96 and 9M100 families, weighing from 240 kg (530 pounds) upwards.
Saudi Arabia signed a memo of intent to acquire advanced Russian weaponry during King Salman’s visit to Moscow in October last year with intent to formalize a deal in 2018. The Saudi ambassador in Moscow has told reporters that negotiations for the purchase of the S-400 system “proceed well.” Raed Bin Khaled Qrimli was quoted as saying that the parties have been holding meetings on a regular basis. This coincides with recent statements by the Rostec corporation, in which Almaz–Antey is a member, about Moscow and Riyadh having agreed on all major topics of the future contract except technology transfer and the degree of local production.
But according to Le Monde newspaper in Paris, Saudi Arabia has threatened military action against Qatar should the latter finalize its own deal to acquire the S-400. Qatar’s intent was revealed late last year by its ambassador in Moscow, Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, who told reporters that his country was holding “advanced negotiations.” Le Monde reported that King Salman had written to French President Emmanuel Macron to inform him that Saudi Arabia would apply “all measures possible” to eliminate the threat this Russian-made weapon may pose to the Kingdom.
Iraq has also too expressed a desire to purchase the system. Visiting Moscow in February, foreign minister Ibrahim Jaafari said such a deal was “being studied in every detail”
Earlier this year, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Joseph Votel told a Congressional hearing that certain allied nations are now looking to fulfill their arms needs elsewhere due to political considerations, cost, or delivery speed. "When our partners go elsewhere, it reduces our interoperability and challenges our ability to incorporate their contributions into theater efforts," he explained. Joint operations become harder to plan and manage, as the difference in weapons’ performances, handling procedures, and training of personnel mounts.
According to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, Washington has contacted “many countries” to explain the significance of the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, CAATSA. This became law in August 2017 and imposes economic sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, as well as those nations that buy from the trio.
Nauert warned the intended customers of advanced Russian weaponry, such as the S-400, that sanctions can be applied to them in case they persist with the purchase.