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After BrahMos, Philippines Looks To Acquire 7 ALH MKIII Choppers From India; President Marcos Keen On Offer

During the maiden visit of the Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) Chief to India in August this year, the demonstration flight onboard Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) MKIII piqued the interest of the Southeast Asian country.

On Sunday, Filipino President Ferdinand R Marcos Jr. said India has offered to provide the PCG with seven helicopters.

A release from the Presidential Communications Office on November 5 said that President Marco will be discussing the proposal with the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and PCG. The statement was preceded by a meeting between the Philippines President and the Indian Ambassador to the archipelagic country Shambhu Kumaran.

If the deal goes through, the Philippines will be the first country to buy ALH MKIII. Earlier, it was the first export customer of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles manufactured under a joint venture with Russia.

The communique said that the chopper would help in building up the “search-and-rescue” capability of the country’s Coast Guard and would also augment its maritime security capabilities.

The ALH Mk III is a variant of the indigenous Dhruv Helicopter. The Mk III variant has been inducted into the Indian Navy and Coast Guard. It is a multi-role, multi-mission, and versatile helicopter in the 5.5-ton category.

File Image: Dhruv Helicopter

“We’re trying to build up our capacity – our capabilities in terms of our coast guard, in terms of our – of course, the search and rescue is always the primary consideration,” Marcos said.

“As you heard the news, there is a continuing problem really that we have to deal with, and we have to increase our capabilities,” he furthered. The Indian aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) conducted a Customer Demonstration Flight onboard ALH MK III at Goa for Filipino Coast Guard Chief Admiral Artemio M Abu in August 2023.

Ambassador Kumaran has confirmed that talks are ongoing between the Indian government, the PCG, and the DOTr for the supply of seven helicopters for the agency’s maritime search and rescue operational and humanitarian services.

“The discussion is going on very well. The (Philippines) Coast Guard is very interested – they have flown the helicopter… I would request your consideration because that would be a very positive (program),” Kumaran told President Marcos.

The ALH MKIII is currently deployed with the Indian Navy and Coast Guard. Kumaran underscored this during the meeting, suggesting that the helicopters can be used for more active security operations that can carry people and loads.

“So, these (seven helicopters) is an optimal solution, given the changing requirements for the Philippines Coast Guard to play a more active role in its security,” Kumaran added.

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.

The Coast Guards of India and the Philippines also inked their first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in August 2023, paving 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 ALH Mk III and the indigenously built warships.

The delivery of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is scheduled for the first quarter of 2024.

File Image: BrahMos supersonic cruise missile

Philippines Scrambles To Modernize Military

A marooned ship in the remote shallow waters of the fiercely contested South China Sea, carrying the Philippine flag, has become the symbol against Chinese expansion and a growing flashpoint in the world.

The ship was marooned by the Philippines in 1999. It is dilapidated and requires repair. But the Chinese blockade has made the repair impossible. It is often dubbed as the most unlikely kind of military base. The World War II era ship has been standing in the shallow waters, deliberately grounded on the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

Sierra Madre is now a shipwreck ravaged by the vagaries of sea and weather. But the Philippines cannot retreat from it and concede the South China Sea to Beijing.

It is strategically too important not just for the Philippines but also for other sea-faring countries. So, the Philippines continued to deliver supplies to a handful of marines living on the ship, a move that has been repeatedly blocked by China, demanding the ship’s removal.

China has been growing aggressive to support its claims. Besides using a water cannon against a Philippines Coast Guard vessel earlier this year, this month, Philippine and Chinese vessels collided twice as Manila attempted a resupply mission.

Bringing construction materials, even to partially repair the Sierra Madre, is logistically complex – whether by air or water. Second, Thomas Shoal has only one very narrow entrance, which can easily be blocked, and Chinese ships can be quickly deployed from nearby Mischief Reef, which has been occupied by China since 1995.

Now, the Philippines has come up with a road map to modernize its military – it is buying new fighter jets for the Air Force and contemplating submarines for the Navy.

  • 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
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