The director general of Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main defense exporter, recently confirmed the existence of a contract to sell S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to China. Based on anonymous sources, the Russian media began reporting on the sale as early as November 2014. The contract itself had likely been signed even earlier. It is useful to keep this timeline in mind when estimating the probable date by which China will obtain the missile systems—most likely sometime in 2016. It will then take another few months to get the first S-400 divisions ready for combat and to conduct live-fire exercises to test their readiness.
Concurrently with this deal, China itself has been more and more actively promoting its own HQ-9 long-range surface-to-air missile systems in foreign markets. According to still unconfirmed reports, in addition to winning the tender for an air defense system in Turkey—which was subsequently annulled under strong pressure from the United States—China is also delivering HQ-9 complexes to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Such a state of affairs naturally gives rise to apprehensions that China will copy the Russian system and become a serious competitor for Russia in the market for long-range surface-to-air missile sales.