BrahMos supersonic cruise missile provided the necessary thrust to the slow-developing India-Philippines defense ties. Since the contract, the two countries have been courting each other more openly.
The Coast Guards of the two countries inked their first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that paved the way for more information sharing in the maritime domain, and the Philippines has displayed a keen interest in military hardware India has to offer – including Advanced Light Helicopter Mk II and the indigenously built warships.
The MoU between the coast guards was preceded by India becoming more vocal about Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. Seven years after the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), India unequivocally asked China to accept the 2016 tribunal ruling.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his Filipino counterpart issued a joint statement in June 2023 calling for China to abide by the 2016 arbitral award on the South China Sea, departing from its long-standing neutrality on competing territorial claims in Southeast Asia.
The Indian Coast Guard, after signing the MoU, said: “Indian Coast Guard and Philippines Coast Guard have signed an MoU for enhancing maritime cooperation in the presence of ICG Chief Rakesh Pal and his Filipino counterpart Admiral Artemio M Abu yesterday (August 22). The first-ever bilateral meeting between maritime agencies signifies dedication to strengthening professional bonds.”
Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Shambhu Mumaran, while talking about the development to a Filipino TV channel, said: “Maritime is a bridge that connects our very ocean-reliant economies…. We have identified maritime affairs as the focus of our relationships. There has been no structured cooperation between the coastguards.”
This was the first visit of a Filipino Coast Guard chief to India. The Indian Coast Guard, in cooperation with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), conducted a Customer Demonstration Flight onboard ALH MK III at Goa.
The ALH Mk III is a variant of the indigenous Dhruv Helicopter. The Mk III variant has been inducted into the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard. It is a multi-role, multi-mission, and versatile helicopter in the 5.5-ton category.
ALH Mk III is equipped with the most modern surveillance radar that can detect and identify ships and boats up to a range of 120 nautical miles to enable the Coast Guard to keep a vigil across Indian coastal regions.
Its electro-optical sensor allows it to monitor even the smallest vessels at distances as far as 30 nautical miles. Besides maritime reconnaissance, these helicopters can do long-range Search and Rescue operations. ALH MK III is also fitted with a heavy machine gun to undertake constabulary missions.
Besides this, the Filipino Coast Guard Chief also visited Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) to “see the Indian shipbuilding industry and how Indian Coast Guard ships are manufactured. The Philippine Coast Guard delegation visited the Indian Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Vessel Sujeet at Goa and witnessed its “multi-role capabilities” along with the ship’s design.
The MoU will also pave the way for information sharing for better Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). Chinese militia vessels in the South China Sea becoming a menace for regional commercial vessels is one such example. Professor of International Relations at King’s College London, Harsh V Pant, has suggested that the weaker countries would be better off sticking together and sharing their best practices.
“So ultimately, it is the question of the countries working together in convergence groups and about learning from each other. Countries facing similar situations can also learn from how others have responded,” Prof. Pant told the EurAsian Times.
“In particular, start sharing intelligence and information because a lot of Gray Zone tactics China has been able to use against nations are when they are alone, when they don’t have robust partners, and when they don’t have adequate, reliable information to tackle this challenge,” he added.
Experts see this burgeoning friendship as a sign of India being ready to take a more assertive role in the Indo-Pacific. “Indo-Pacific policies were largely seen as major powers/Quad’s vantage point. India, on the other hand, has been vocal that the Indo-Pacific region should not only be ‘free’ from coercion and threats and ‘open’ sea and sea lanes for all the operations but also inclusive of all the regional stakeholders’ interests and aspirations,” Maritime Security & Asian Security Architectures expert Dr. Pooja Bhatt told the EurAsian Times.
The Philippines Bulwarking Itself China’s Gray-Zone Tactics
The interest of the Philippines Coast Guard in Indian helicopters and surface vessels came at a time when it engaged in a dangerous confrontation with China over the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
The relations between the two countries are veering towards dangerous water as the Chinese Coast Guard used a water cannon against a Philippines Coast Guard vessel carrying food, water, fuel, and other supplies for its military personnel stationed at the Second Thomas Shoal.
The Second Thomas Shoal is about 200 km from the Philippine Islands of Palawan and more than 1,000 km from China’s nearest major landmass of Hainan Island.
The signing came as India joined a chorus of nations calling out China’s aggression and incursion into the West Philippine Sea, a part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone that Beijing claims to be its own. More about the Chinese Gray Zone tactics can be read in this EurAsian Times Report.
When the Philippines Coast Guard chief was in India, the Philippines said it completed a resupply mission to its grounded warship on a contested atoll in the South China Sea on August 21, two weeks after it had to abort a similar attempt in the face of Chinese aggression. The Philippines task force on the South China Sea said the mission was accomplished despite the Chinese Maritime Militia’s attempt “to block, harass and interfere.”
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com