The Philippines will be ringing in a new year filled with deterrence against China in the South China Sea as it receives the Indian-made BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, the contract for which was signed in 2022. The missile systems will bulwark the Philippines Navy’s ability to safeguard its sovereign claims in the region.
Sources told the EurAsian Times that the BrahMos missiles, named after the Indian Brahmaputra and Russian Moskova rivers, will be delivered to the South East Asian country in a week. The missile units will help secure the country with one of the longest coastlines in the world.
“Not only does the BrahMos Missile system placed at its coastline add to the Philippines military’s capabilities to respond to a threat, but it also sends a strong geostrategic signal to its adversaries of a strong intent to defend its territorial sovereignty in the West Philippines Sea,” Maritime Security & Asian Security Architectures expert Dr. Pooja Bhatt told the EurAsian Times.
Following the delivery, the Philippines will join a small club of Southeast Asian nations with supersonic anti-ship cruise missile capability. Indonesia has operated the ship-based Russian-origin Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missile since 2011; in 2015, Vietnam’s army also purchased from Russia two land-based Bastion-P mobile coastal defense missile systems.
On February 17, 2023, a batch of twenty-one Philippines Marines completed hands-on training focused on operating and maintaining the newly purchased BrahMos anti-ship supersonic cruise missile. The training took place between January 23 and February 11, 2023.
The batch of personnel was presented with interim missile badges and pins by the Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy, Admiral Radhakrishnan Hari Kumar, at the valedictory ceremony for the Operator Training of the Shore Based Anti-Ship Missile System.
It was on December 31, 2021, that the Philippines Ministry of Defense announced that it had issued a notice of award to BrahMos Aerospace Pvt Ltd, accepting its proposal to supply the shore-based anti-ship missile system for the price of $374 million.
It was the culmination of a long-drawn hunt on the part of the Philippines to equip itself with the BrahMos weapons system, jointly developed in a joint venture between India and Russia that was set up in India in 1998.
The pandemic has thrown a spanner on the archipelagic country’s military modernization plan. The BrahMos is the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile and can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft, or land platforms. It cruises at three times the speed of the sound, making it difficult for the enemy to bring it down.
The delivery of the missile system is coming at a time when the tension between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea is resulting in aggressive military confrontations. China’s claim over 90 percent of the South China Sea has been an intrusion over the territorial waters of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
In the past decade or so, China has asserted ever greater control over these waters, using two island chains called the Paracels and the Spratlys. Beijing has expanded its military footprint by building and fortifying outposts and airstrips. Manila has now started offering more forceful resistance to territorial designs.
The deployment of the BrahMos cruise missiles would provide the island country with a semblance of deterrence against the Asian Giant. The delivery, seen as an opening act in the purchase of more military hardware from India, also signifies New Delhi overcoming its reticence to become a player in the South China Sea.
Besides the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia have shown keen interest in the purchase of the BrahMos missile system.
The missile system in the Philippines will address the military weaknesses and vulnerability of the country in the realm of sea control, anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD), and coastal and island defense operations as guided by the PN Active Archipelagic Defense Strategy and Philippines Marine Corps Archipelagic Coastal Defense Concept.
“Supplying missiles such as the BrahMos is one way to apply China’s strategy against itself. Over the last two decades, China has emphasized anti-access/area denial (A2AD) with the US, building capabilities that threaten the stronger US Navy in the South China Sea. Supplying anti-ship missiles such as the BrahMos helps ensure smaller countries can also employ their own A2AD strategies against China,” Director of the Centre for Security, Strategy & Technology (CSST) at the Observer Research Foundation, Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan wrote for Diplomat.
BrahMos is also aiming to land a follow-on order of around US $300 million with the Philippines, where its missiles are scheduled to be delivered to the Philippine Marine Corps starting at the end of 2023, Rane said. The Philippines Army is expected to order a land-based version of the missile system.
Defending Against The Goliath
Amidst China’s growing assertion, the Philippines embarked on a military modernization effort in 2013. However, the progress was snail-paced due to budgetary limitations.
The Philippines Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro told lawmakers that 10 percent of Horizon 1 (the first phase of the modernization program) is meant to take place from 2013 to 2018, and about 53 percent of Horizon 2, scheduled from 2018 to 2022, is complete.
In the face of growing clashes with the Chinese Navy, the Philippines, in recent weeks, has sped up its acquisition plans as indicated in its legislature, earmarking 45 billion pesos (US $793 million) for the defense budget for 2024.
Senators have expressed support for supplemental budgets for intelligence and materiel acquisitions related to South China Sea operations.
In October 2023, the Philippines ordered three C-130J-30 Super Hercules tactical airlifters scheduled to be delivered in 2026. The Philippines is expecting to receive more Acero-class gunboats next year under a deal with Israel; two new landing dock platforms from Indonesia next year; two corvettes from South Korea in the next two years, and six offshore patrol vessels also from South Korea in 2028.
Manila has also committed to acquire its first-ever submarine. The decision stems from the increasing Chinese aggression and Gray Zone tactics in the region. The French Naval Group, which has emerged as one of the top contenders, has offered its Scorpene submarines to turn the Philippines Navy into a major force. The Southeast Asian country also has an offer from South Korean DSME, Russia, and Turkey to build submarines for its navy.
The Philippines is not only looking to acquire a submarine but also manufacturing within the country. Along with the building capability, the country is looking at training capabilities.
Lure Of BrahMos For Southeast Asian Countries
BrahMos is a modification of Soviet-era anti-ship missiles (Oniks, Yakont) developed by the Reutov Design Bureau in the late 1980s. The name is derived from India’s Brahmaputra and Russia’s Moskva rivers. The first test launch was conducted on June 12, 2001, at the Chandipur range in Odisha, India, and subsequently, the missiles began production at enterprises in both countries.
BrahMos is technically a ramjet-powered supersonic cruise missile with a solid propellant booster that can be launched from land-based canisters, submarines, ships, and now aircraft. It travels at speeds of Mach 2.8 to 3.0 but is being upgraded to travel faster than Mach 5.0. for the hypersonic variant.
One of its special features is its ability to fly extremely close to the ground to avoid missile defense systems. In fact, during the terminal phase, the missile can fly as low as 10 meters to the ground. In the final phase, the missile relies on active radar seeker or inertial guidance.
As India and Russia reached an in-principal agreement on potential export to third nations in 2016, there has been great interest from abroad in BrahMos. Potential users may include South Korea, Algeria, Greece, Malaysia, Thailand, Egypt, Singapore, Venezuela, the UAE, Chile, South Africa and Vietnam.
Delegations from these nations have shown serious interest. But, of course, every possible deal would have to be decently proven and processed along the guidelines in place in the JV.
In March 2023, BrahMos Aerospace CEO Atul D. Rane said that the company was in advanced discussions with Jakarta on a deal worth US $200 million to US $350 million under which it had offered to supply shore-based missiles and a version that can be mounted on warships.
- 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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