India and the Philippines have reached a military agreement according to which New Delhi will supply the archipelago with its BrahMos anti-ship cruise missile system. The defense deal is expected to help the Philippines counter an increasingly aggressive China that seeks to dominate the South China Sea. This is the first time that India is exporting BrahMos.
According to Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the $375 million deal involves the delivery of three batteries of the missile system. Each battery comes with a radar, two missile launchers, and a command and control center.
A battery can fire two missiles in 10 seconds. The deal also includes the supply of maintainers, integrated logistics support packages, and training for operators. BrahMos missiles acquired through the deal will mostly be operated by the Philippine marine coastal defense regiment.
Retired Rear Adm. Rommel Ong, who served the Philippine navy till 2019, pointed out that the Indian missile was specifically designed to counter China. The missiles will be deployed to the northern and southern regions of the archipelago, which is expected to shield the country’s west coast that faces the South China Sea.
At present, the Philippines does not have the industrial capacity that can support its own massive shipbuilding program. “In terms of threat perception, our concern is the rapid increase in the PLA navy… Based on those considerations we developed what we called an asymmetric solution to the problem, and that means looking for a sea-denial capability that doesn’t require much resources,” Mr. Ong told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Richard Javad Heydarian, an academic from Manila, does not believe the BrahMos deal will provide the Philippines any significant benefit against China since Beijing has been deploying cutting-edge missile defense systems in recent years.
Writing for the Asia Times, Heydarian points out that BrahMos tops out at Mach 3 while China’s interceptor missiles have speeds of up to Mach 4.2. However, what is crucial is that India and Russia are working together on BrahMos II which is estimated to have a speed of Mach 5 and a range of 1,100 kilometers (683.5 miles).
By signing the $375 million deal, the Philippines has become a key customer of India, thereby positioning themselves to buy the next generation of BrahMos missiles. Moreover, the deal is also an “opening act” for India’s emergence as a major defense supplier in Southeast Asia, Heydarian says.
“Philippines is potentially a geo-strategically important strategic partner in the region. It is being considered a beginning of India’s arms sales within the ASEAN member nations… [The] deal will lead to greater militarization of the region, which most definitely will be noticed by Beijing,” Dr. Aparaajita Pandey, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Public Policy at Amity University, told Asianet News.
ASEAN nations like Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia have all shown interest in acquiring BrahMos missiles. In addition, Latin American countries like Brazil, Chile, and Argentina as well as Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE have held discussions with India to secure BrahMos.
On Jan. 11, India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) test fired a naval version of BrahMos successfully. “Advanced sea to sea variant of BrahMos Supersonic Cruise missile was tested from INS Visakhapatnam today. Missile hit the designated target ship precisely,” DRDO said in a Jan. 11 tweet.
Sreeram Chaulia, dean at O.P. Jindal Global University’s School of International Affairs, in Sonipat, India, pointed out that China has been selling arms to India’s rival Pakistan for many years. By arming the Philippines or Indonesia or Vietnam, India will be sending an indirect message to Beijing that Sino-Pakistan military deals will have “broader regional consequences.”