Defense Deal Brewing – Philippines Shows Interest In India’s Advanced Light Helicopter As Navy Warships Docks At Manila

The docking of three Indian Navy warships in Manila has sent a loud and clear message to the powers in the South China Sea. However, what is noticeable is the Philippines’ interest in Indian weapons. After the successful delivery of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, the archipelagic country seems to have set its eyes on Indian-made helicopters.

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Indian Navy warships INS Delhi, INS Shakti, and INS Kiltan have been docked at Manila since May 2024. The warships in the Southeast Asian country as part of their operational deployment.

A contingent comprising officials from the Philippines Navy, Coast Guard, and Department of Defense got onboard INS Shakti and interacted with the crew that operates the home-grown helicopter Advanced Light Helicopters.

The Indian Navy shared photos on the social media platform X with the caption: “A delegation from the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and Department of Defense interacted with the crew of the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter onboard INS Shakti to understand the capabilities of the Indian helicopter.”

The guided-missile destroyer INS Delhi, fleet tanker INS Shakti, and anti-submarine warfare corvette INS Kiltan have been on an extended tour of the South China Sea. Under the command of Eastern Naval Command Chief Rear Admiral Rajesh Dhankar, the warships visited Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam before docking at Manila.

In anticipation of potential export orders, HAL is ramping up its helicopter manufacturing capability from 30 helicopters per annum to 90 helicopters per year.

Earlier this year, the Chief Managing Director of the Indian aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), CB Ananthakrishnan, expressed hope that the company would have a “breakthrough” sooner or later in terms of export orders.

ALH has been one of the major success stories for HAL, which has supplied 300 plus of these rotary-wing aircraft to the Indian forces. Now, the helicopter has an Mk4 variant that is an armed version.

During the first-ever visit of a Filipino Coast Guard chief to India last year, he conducted a Customer Demonstration Flight onboard Advanced Light Helicopter MK III at Goa.

The ALH Mk III is a variant of the indigenous Dhruv Helicopter. It 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, which can detect and identify ships and boats up to a range of 120 nautical miles. This enables 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 perform long-range search and rescue operations. ALH MK III is also fitted with a heavy machine gun to undertake constabulary missions.

In 2023, the Philippines Coast Guard inked its first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with its Indian counterpart, paving the way for more information sharing in the maritime domain.

A delegation from
had an interaction with crew of the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter onboard #INSShakti to understand the capabilities of the Indian helicopter.

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.

The Philippines has displayed a keen interest in the military hardware India has to offer, including the Advanced Light Helicopter Mk II and indigenously built warships. During his maiden visit to India, 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 three warships’ recent visit came shortly after India delivered shore-based BrahMos to the Philippines.

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The interest of the Philippines Coast Guard in Indian helicopters and surface vessels stems from its continuing confrontation with China over the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

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Rear Admiral Dhankar said: “India and the Philippines share common interests, particularly in maintaining peace and order in the Indo-Pacific region. The two navies share strong bonds of friendship, and both have endeavored to participate in maritime partnership exercises at every available opportunity.”

The relations between the two countries are veering towards dangerous water as the Chinese Coast Guard has been using water cannons against a Philippines Coast Guard vessel carrying food, water, fuel, and other supplies for its military personnel stationed at the Second Thomas Shoal or blockading the protesting civil vessels with its maritime militia.

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 power disparity between China and the Philippines is huge. China’s GDP per capita is roughly 3.5 times larger than the Philippines’. From 2012 to 2022, the Philippines spent an average of just 1.15 percent of its GDP on defense, compared to China’s estimated 1.70 percent. Regarding maritime power, the capability gap is even more glaring.

China’s navy operates 59 submarines and 92 principal surface combatants; its navy and coast guard operates nearly 700 patrol and coastal combatant ships; and its maritime militia is estimated to have around 400 ships. Compare that to the Philippines’ two frigates and 125 patrol and coastal combatant ships.

The Philippines has no choice but to form strategic alliances with like-minded countries interested in maintaining freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • The author can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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