Philippines Sets Up BrahMos Missile Base In South China Sea Amid ‘High Tensions’ With Beijing – Reports

In a move that could significantly raise the stakes with an overtly aggressive Beijing, the Philippines is constructing the first BrahMos anti-ship missile base at a naval facility that faces the contested South China Sea.

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The construction was revealed by Naval News in an exclusive report, which obtained satellite imagery of the facility. The publication analyzed that the country was building a BrahMos site at the Philippine Naval Station Leovigildo Gantioqui in Zambales, on the coast of Western Luzon.

According to the report, the satellite imagery shows a new camp built south of the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy on a stretch of land where the nation’s armed forces previously trained for amphibious assault and coastal defense. Before the construction started, the only other building in the vicinity was a shed for a few Marine amphibious assault vehicles.

The report further claimed that the excavation for the base had started shortly after Manila ordered BrahMos. As of May 2, 2024, the location had structures resembling those seen at BrahMos facilities used by the Indian Armed Forces, including a protected magazine bunker to store missiles and a high-bay facility supporting system testing and maintenance.

It further stated that the Philippine Navy’s installation seemed smaller than Indian BrahMos bases. That is probably due to Manila’s procurement of BrahMos systems with two missiles per launcher instead of the three like the Indian launchers.

EurAsian Times could not independently verify the report. However, if the claims are true, it could significantly raise the stakes in a region where hostilities between Manila and Beijing have massively increased. The Chinese Navy uses the Luzon Strait, a choke point for passage between the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea, to maneuver carrier strike groups and destroyers into the Pacific.

The BrahMos anti-ship missiles, which have a range of about 290-300 kilometers, will be stationed just 250 kilometers away from the Scarborough Shoal, a disputed site between the two states and also a location where regular hostilities between Filipino and Chinese forces occur.

As reports started doing the rounds, some military bloggers on X suggested that the Philippines could fire an anti-ship missile on a hostile Chinese vessel in the “problem zone” from Luzon.

This, however, is likely to invite China’s ire. As part of the Balikatan 2024 military exercises, the US deployed its Typhon armament system in Luzon, capable of firing both Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles and SM-6 Anti-Aircraft Missiles. China took a strong exception to the deployment and accused the US of attempting to destabilize the region.

A Philippines-based military analyst, Miguel Miranda, told the EurAsian Times, “This year saw the rollout of the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept (CADC), which is a new medium-term doctrine for orienting the entire Philippine military to territorial defense. It must be pointed out that the territory at stake here is maritime routes around the Philippines.

When considering the deployment of BrahMos batteries, the Philippine Navy, along with the Marines (they are subordinate to the Navy), in particular, have an enormous challenge ahead of them. China’s aggressive and suspicious behavior in Philippine waters is now impossible to contain and deter. The events of the past year are hard to dismiss. There’s Chinese aggression against Filipino ships trying to reach the BRP Sierra Madre. The Chinese are creeping around the Scarborough Shoal again. There are Chinese naval ships encircling the Philippines regularly.”

Additionally, Luzon is close to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade Chinese province. In the event of a potential conflict between China and Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would require access to the strait to threaten Taiwan’s eastern coastlines or to encircle the self-ruled island.

While the Philippines has made no bones about its non-interest in entering any conflict involving Taiwan, it has been ramping up its defenses to protect itself against a Chinese threat. Manila does not even recognize Taiwan as an independent state. Thus, the deployment is most likely part of a much larger attempt to build deterrence amid burgeoning tensions in the region.

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BrahMos For The Philippines

The acquisition of the BrahMos anti-ship missile is part of Manila’s significant military modernization program aimed at enhancing its combat capability. In 2013, the Philippines started the program amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. However, because of financial constraints, the progress was sluggish.

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In December 2021, the Philippines Ministry of Defense announced that it had awarded BrahMos Aerospace Pvt Ltd a notice of award, approving its bid to provide the $374 million shore-based anti-ship missile system. The missile was delivered to Manila in April this year, at the height of military confrontation between the two sides.

In light of the escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea, the BrahMos missile system was purchased as part of the “Horizon” 2 Priority Projects to modernize the Philippine armed forces.

The BrahMos is the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile and it can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft, or land platforms. It cruises at three times the speed of sound, making it difficult for the enemy to bring it down.

The BrahMos missile flies at Mach 2.8 to 3.0 speeds but its upgraded hypersonic version will travel faster than Mach 5.0. One of its notable features is its ability to fly extremely close to the ground to avoid missile defense systems. During the terminal phase, the missile can fly as low as 10 meters to the ground, and in the final phase, it relies on active radar seeker or inertial guidance.

File Image: BrahMos Missile. Via: Indian Navy

The Marine Coastal Defense Regiment will use the missile system, which costs US$374,962,800, or around P18.9 billion, to “provide deterrence against any attempt to undermine the country’s sovereignty and sovereign rights, especially in the West Philippine Sea”.

Twenty-one Philippines Marines finished practical training on February 17, 2023. The Marines learned to use and maintain the BrahMos anti-ship supersonic cruise missile.

As previously explained by EurAsian Times in a detailed article, the missile system in the Philippines will address the country’s military weaknesses and vulnerabilities in sea control, anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD), and coastal and island defense operations, as guided by the PN Active Archipelagic Defense Strategy and the Philippines Marine Corps Archipelagic Coastal Defense Concept.

Although the Philippines’ government is yet to officially announce the site of the deployment of these anti-ship missiles, it will likely raise the stakes in a region that remains engulfed with regular confrontations between Filipino forces and China’s Coast Guard vessels.