Why India is Purchasing Igla-S?

by Dr. Shahid Hameed

The recent procurement of the IGLA-S defense system illustrates India’s interest in enhancing strategic and operational tactics within its new military doctrines. These new military doctrines have not only resulted in rapid advancements in medium and long-range missiles but have also sparked an increase in focusing the manufacturing, deployment, and export of Very Short-Range Air Defense Systems (VSHORAD) by India.  The procurement of IGLA-S, along with its licensing for indigenous production, holds significant implications for altering the nature of conflicts in contemporary South Asia by indigenization of Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS).

Before this, India invested $5.4 billion to bolster its air defense capabilities by finalizing the S-400 deal with Russia. Five S-400 air defense systems were contracted for delivery to India, of which three have already been supplied and deputed. India had already matured another contract with the US with an estimated investment of $1.87 Billion to purchase the National or Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), however, the IGLA-S is an upgraded type of MANPADS and has specific operational aspects.

The IGLA-S also referred to as the SA-24 Grinch, represents a highly capable MANPADS, equipped with infrared homing capabilities complemented by additional sensors, laser-based contact, and sophisticated algorithm functioning. The IGLA series was first introduced into service in 1981 by the Russian army, running parallel to the US Stinger and North Korean Hwasung-Chong systems. The previous versions of IGLA-S include IGLA-1 (SA-16 Gimlet) with an export version known as IGLA-1, IGLA SA-18 Grouse,  IGLA-M (SA-N-10 Grouse), IGLA-V (air to air missile), and IGLA-N.

In recent years, two notable operational failures of the Indian military compelled the military establishment to reassess its battlefield capabilities in low-intensity conflicts or direct cross-border engagements. The first was Operation Swift Retort executed by the Pakistan Air Force and the Pakistan Army in response to an Indian false flag operation in 2019. The second event was the Doklam crisis, during which China rapidly responded and acquired a significant territory in the Doklam region. These events prompted the Indian military to reassess and enhance its specific aerial combat as well as relevant defense capabilities for potential future scenarios of a similar nature. Consequently, man-portable systems for engaging low-flying aircraft, military helicopters, and missiles are considered the most essential equipment. There are two possible scenarios for the decision to include IGLA-S under make in-India project.

Ostensibly, nuclear deterrence has reduced the risk of full-scale warfare; however, the new equations do not guarantee complete peace. The risk of small-scale skirmishes and low-intensity conflicts has become an essential component of updated war doctrines of India, encompassing surgical strikes, false flag operations, and hoax strategies. Consequently, the heavy procurement, deployment, and domestic production licensing of IGLA-S may be an early indication to forge small-scale military engagements with China and Pakistan in the near future. The second proposition is based upon emerging Indian interests in expanding its defense exports. According to India’s Department of Defence Production (DDP), the sum value of defense exports during the year 2017-18 was 4682 crore Indian Rupees. During the year 2022-23, these exports reached 16000 crore Indian Rupees. The 24% surge during the year 2023 in military exports signifies India’s pursuit of new revenue streams and its commitment to investing in line with the requirements of purchasing parties, predominantly comprising underdeveloped countries. The actual amount of this upward defense cash inflow touched $12 billion. The licensing of IGLA-S production will enhance India’s domestic capabilities, elevating its standards for producing very short-range air defense systems intended for export.

Finally, India’s ‘Look West’ policy, aimed at bolstering its strategic presence in the regional landscape, has significantly impacted its longstanding non-alignment stance and historical ties with Moscow. The recent arms deals with Russia could be viewed as a strategic maneuver to mitigate this impact and keep normalizing the lowering of military cooperation with Moscow.

The IGLA-S is not capable of targeting objects that do not emit infrared signatures, however, the old generations with laser-guided options can be used for such other objects.  By and large, the S-variant, belonging to the third generation of MANPADS, may not directly impact strategic stability as medium and long-range surface-to-air missile systems do. However, its emergency procurement in large quantities may contribute to tactical ambiguity.



Dr. Shahid Hameed is currently working as Director of Research at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) AJK, Pakistan.

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir