The Philippines has been scouting the international market for high-end weaponry to build necessary capability to deter China. It is also diversifying its acquisition sources away from the traditional supplier i.e. United States. In that context, Japan and South Korea have emerged as important suppliers of military hardware for the Philippines Armed forces.
Simultaneously, Philippines has been closely observing the Indian military industrial complex. In 2019, during the visit of Philippines Defence Secretary to New Delhi, a proposal was mooted for export of the land-based version of Brahmas missiles. In late 2020, the Deputy Chief of Mission of Russian Embassy in Delhi had indicated that the Indo-Russian joint venture Brahmas would reach the Philippines as first destination of exports. The COVID-19 had resulted in a decrease in thePhilippines defence budget and therefore the order for the supply of could not be take place. India had offered a US$ 100 million line of credit but the Duterte government was not keen as it would mean multi-year obligation and his government does not want the liability to be passed on to next administration for political reasons.
In early November 2020, India-Philippines joint commission on bilateral cooperation held its meeting through video conferencing. The two foreign ministers highlighted the need for training and undertaking joint mission in maritime security. Philippines counterpart Teodoro Locsin Jr, expressed the need for expediting the export of the defence equipment. In January 2021, it was reported that the case for exporting Brah Mos missiles to the Philippines was with the Cabinet Committee for Security for final approval. Apparently, Philippines has also shown interest in the Indian Akash missile systems to intercept hostile aerial platformsat a range of 25 kilometers using subsonic cruise missiles.
The Brahmosmissile programme is a successful model of cooperation between Russia and India. There are three versions of the Brahmos missile (Mach 2.8), and these have undergone different phases of development. Efforts are on to develop the version II which could be the most potent of all future hypersonic missiles up to the speed of Mach 7.0 with deep dive capabilities. The missile is seen as a force multiplier and being a cruise missile offers an extra edge to the forces so that surprise element can be used in case of a stronger enemy such as China. Brahmos was never meant to be used against Pakistan as the conventional superiority over Pakistan was well known and further a range of only 290 kilometers(which can now be enhanced because of India signing the MTCR agreement) makes it the most suitable weapon meant to destroy supply and the logistical lines of the enemy while at the same time inflicting damage to the progressing lines of troops. The Brahmos is now included in the list of export items that India plans to export to few countries. As noted earlier, the Philippines is enlisted as the first one of receive this strategic missile.
The US administration under Joe Biden has clearly stated that it would be supporting its allies in South China Sea and East China Sea referring to Japan and the Philippines. The arming of the Philippines military with Brahmos would mean that China would have to face an effective deterrence against its activities in Philippines EEZ particularly Scarborough Shoal and also intimidation by the Chinese maritime militia.
China recently published a revised Coast Guard law which permits the use of force to enforce China’s maritime claims. The law notes “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons, when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea."
It has already alarmed the ASEAN claimants who argue that the new ‘rules of engagement’ for the Chinese Coast Guard are incompatible with international law. In fact the new Chinese Coast Guard law has set in motion a dangerous trend in the region and will trigger regional law enforcement agencies to arm their vessels. Japan has decided to authorize its Coast Guard to “directly fire a weapon against foreign official vessels aiming to land on the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea”.
Meanwhile, Pamalakaya, the Philippines Philippine artisanal fishermen' association has called on the UN to declare China's new Coast Guard Law "null and void," as it threatens the “ livelihood and security of claimant nations’ respective fisher folk,”
Philippines has very limited naval capability and it would be interesting to see how Philippine uses the Brahmosmissile. The Brahmos could be installed on the Philippines held islands in the South China Sea and deter China against any intimidating tactics.
Dr. Pankaj KumarJha is Professor of Defence and Strategic Studies,JSIA, Jindal Global , University, New Delhi.