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India Delivers BrahMos Missiles to the Philippines: What's New for the Region?

The BrahMos missiles deal adds to the region's deterrence power and marks a new era since India will now be a major security partner of the Philippines.



A view of a marketing slogan at the BrahMos booth during the Singapore Airshow at Changi Exhibition Centre in Singapore February 21, 2024. (@Reuters/Edgar Su)

The recent delivery of BrahMos missiles from India to the Philippines marks a big development. It is important not only for India's defense sector but for the Indo-Pacific region as a whole. 

This is the first major export of its kind from India. The Philippines ordered three batteries of the shore-based, anti-ship variant of the BrahMos. Developed by BrahMos Aerospace, they were a joint venture between India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Russia's NPO Mashinostroyeniya. 

A $375 million deal for the supply of the missiles was signed in January 2022. As a part of the deal, India is providing the Philippines with an integrated logistics support package and training for operators and maintainers. 

Delivery of the BrahMos missiles comes amidst growing tensions between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea. (It should be noted that the Philippines refers to it as the West Philippine Sea). Philippine patrol boats have been at the receiving end of brutal tactics employed by the People's Liberation Army-Navy (PLA Navy), the China Coast Guard, and the Chinese maritime militia.

The BrahMos delivery also comes amidst the deployment of a mid-range capability (MRC) missile system by the United States. Also known as the Typhon system, it arrives in the Indo-Pacific theater as a part of the US-Philippines Balikatan drills. The 1,600-km MRC missiles were deployed in northern Luzon, where they can easily reach targets on China's coast. 

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos (@Reuters/Carlos Barria)
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (@Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)

What Does it Mean for India?

This actually opens a whole new dimension when it comes to India's arms exports. In a recent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report, New Delhi is listed as the world's biggest arms importer from 2019-23. For India's sake, this has to change in the years ahead.

The missile deal is also a part of New Delhi's increasing engagement in Southeast Asia. It is already teaming up with Indonesia to develop the Sabang Port in that country.  It is worth noting that the Aceh Province in Indonesia is barely 90 km away from India's Andaman and Nicobar chain of islands. 

New Delhi also conducts a range of naval exercises with Southeast Asian countries. In addition, New Delhi supports the legitimacy of the 2016 international arbitration ruling in favor of the Philippines' sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. It is noteworthy that India co-hosted the first-ever ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise in the South China Sea in May 2023. It featured Indian-made destroyers, frigates, and helicopters.

India's Foreign Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar shakes hands with Philippines's Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo after a joint press conference on March 26, 2024. (@Jam Sta Rosa/Pool via Reuters)

What Does it Mean for the Region?

The Philippines has already been collaborating with countries like the US and Japan. However, the BrahMos missile deal marks a new era since India will now be a major security partner of the Philippines.

Southeast Asia is a major area of focus for India as part of its Act East Policy. New Delhi has a long historical connection with Southeast Asia which it is trying to reinvigorate. At the same time, India has had several issues with China, especially on its border. Earlier in 2020, the two countries were involved in a spate of clashes in the Himalayas, marking the first fatal clash between the two countries in over 45 years. In addition, China has been stalling India's quest to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). 

The Japan Factor

Japan is also slowly but steadily expanding its role in the Indo-Pacific. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida paid a visit to the Philippines in November 2023. At that time Tokyo agreed to provide coastal surveillance radar systems to the Philippine Navy. It was the first cooperative project under Japan's newly established Official Security Assistance (OSA). 

In addition, during PM Kishida's visit, Tokyo and Manila agreed to commence formal negotiations on a Japan-Philippines reciprocal access agreement (RAA). 

It is worth noting that there is already a 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in place. That agreement explicitly says that the two countries will come to each other's aid if one is attacked by a third country.

US President Joe Biden escorts Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to their trilateral summit at the White House in Washington on April 11, 2024. (©Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

The Road Ahead

The recent India-Philippines deal could also become a template for Indian defense exports in the future.   Currently, many private sector companies in India are entering the defense industry, which is a good sign. New Delhi has stressed increasing indigenous components in the weapons systems in its arsenal while pushing for arms exports.

Meanwhile, Beijing reacted cautiously to the delivery of these BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles by India to the Philippines. A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said, "security cooperation between countries should not harm the interest of any third party and should not harm regional peace and stability." 

However, there are many challenges before New Delhi can secure a bigger foothold in the region. For a start, New Delhi will need to demonstrate reliability when it comes to supplies and spares of the BrahMos missile batteries it has sold to the Philippines.

In addition, given the relaxation of sanctions by Japan on the export of offensive weapons, including fighter jets, there could be a possibility of future Indian and Japanese companies collaborating e in the realm of defense for exports to third countries. This possibility is worth exploring as both Tokyo and New Delhi have been vouching for a free and open Indo-Pacific


Author: Rupakjyoti Borah

Dr Rupakjyoti Borah is a Senior Research Fellow with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, Tokyo. The views expressed are personal.