By Aritra Banerjee
The tides of the South China Sea (SCS) have been historically turbulent, bearing witness to several disputes and aggressive postures. In recent years, however, these waters have garnered significant global attention as China has amplified its maritime ambitions, often treading on the sovereignty of smaller nations like the Philippines. In response, the Manilla has found an ally in New Delhi, and their partnership materialises in the form of the BrahMos missile—a defensive weapon and a significant geopolitical statement.
Among the array of modern missiles, the BrahMos stands in a class of its own. With its capability to consistently sustain a Mach 3 speed throughout its trajectory, adversaries are provided with a substantially reduced window for reaction. Miguel Miranda, a Philippines-based aerospace and defence industry analyst, pinpoints the strategic advantage, stating, “The BrahMos, once operational with the Philippine Marines, is primed to deny and discourage China’s encroachment on national waters.” In a realm where seconds can determine outcomes, this supersonic edge might be the difference between deterrence and conflict.
Enhanced Capability & Response Time
The BrahMos Supersonic Cruise Missile boasts a staggering speed of Mach 3, enabling it to generate nine times more kinetic energy than its subsonic counterparts. Highly credible sources have disclosed to IADB that the BrahMos has the capability to cover three hundred kilometers in a mere five minutes, displaying a reaction time that significantly outperforms other advanced missile systems.
The BrahMos missile acquired by the Philippines has a of 290 km; however, integration with major naval vessels could see a substantial enhancement in its operational range. Some experts have highlighted that this could increase the missile’s range to approximately 550 km upon integration with the country’s warships.
Moreover, the strategic deployment of these missiles across Filipino islands can function as a dual-function tool: serving as a powerful deterrent while also establishing a responsive staging area to address any future transgressions against the country’s islands.
But speed is not its only forte. The BrahMos boasts a two-stage propulsion system, a blend of a solid propellant booster and a liquid ramjet. Its ability to carry warheads weighing between 200-300 kg across 290 kilometer gives it an operational advantage. Additionally, its stealth technology ensures a low radar cross-section (RCS), making detection challenging. In essence its technical prowess does not just offer defence; it is a substantial deterrent against Chinese aggression.
Defensive Prowess on Multiple Fronts
The archipelagic nature of the Philippines makes its coastal defence crucial. Given China’s maritime transgressions, the BrahMos plays a pivotal role in Manila’s security strategy. As Miranda points out, “The importance of shore-based defences is paramount for Manila.” The missile does not just guard against naval threats; it ensures the protection of strategic sea lanes like the Luzon Strait—a critical artery for trade and naval vessels. In these contested waters, the missile serves as both a protector and a statement against sovereignty violations.
Elevating The Defensive Posture
This acquisition is not just about a missile—it is about modernising and solidifying the Philippines’ defence apparatus. From potential integration into the Philippine Army to the readiness and technical skill enhancement via training provisions, the BrahMos deal is comprehensive. It is not merely about acquiring a weapon system but about assimilating it seamlessly into the broader defensive strategy.
The Symbolism of Partnership
Beyond the tangible benefits lies the symbolism of this alliance. Miranda sheds light on the matter, stating, “It’s the very first export of a premium weapon system from India to an Asian partner and India’s very first export of a premium weapon system to an ASEAN member.” This is not merely a transaction; it underscores India’s reliability as an ally in the face of regional threats.
Building on this, Principal Advisor to the Ministry of Defence, Lieutenant General VG Khandare (r), notes: “This sale transcends a mere business transaction; it symbolises a strategic alliance. BrahMos Aerospace conducts the deal, offering supervision and support to the Philippines, which consequently boosts their defense capabilities. This empowers them to confront regional threats with confidence and assert a stance of “enough is enough!” India fully endorses the Philippines’ decision to procure this weapons system, offering them the advanced technology of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile.”
By partnering with India, the Philippines is not merely bolstering its defence but is strategically diversifying its defence portfolio. Such a move reduces Manila’s dependence on traditional defence suppliers like the United States and South Korea, introducing a balanced power dynamic in the region. This diversification, Miranda believes, is indicative of a larger shift, “For an arms deal that took years until it was confirmed and paid for, the BrahMos acquisition of the Philippine Navy was transparent. It proved India is a worthy ally.”
An Asymmetric Edge
Given China’s dominant military and technological capabilities, smaller nations like the Philippines often find themselves at a disadvantage. Here, the BrahMos provides an asymmetric advantage, giving the Philippines a credible defence against a more technologically superior adversary. With its versatility of being launched from multiple platforms, be it ship, aircraft, submarine, or land, it elevates the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy. This ensures that any potential adversary, including China, would think twice before operating within the Philippines’ territorial waters.
Not Just a Procurement Deal
The BrahMos missile deal is not just about defence procurement; it is a strategic alignment in a rapidly evolving geopolitical environment. As China continues its assertive posturing in the Indo-Pacific, partnerships like that of India and the Philippines, symbolised by deals such as the BrahMos, become crucial for bilateral relations and the stability and peace of the entire region. As nations brace for the challenges ahead, the BrahMos stands as a testament to the collaboration, resilience, and strategic foresight of those who seek to preserve their sovereignty and peace in these turbulent waters.
“This move extends beyond just exporting arms. It signifies the evolution of a relationship based on deep trust between two nations, embodying a form of South-South cooperation aligning perfectly with India’s foreign policy and its leadership’s vision,” highlights Lt Gen. Khandare (r) before going on to share, “This underscores a crucial aspect of geopolitics: arms sales, purchases, or agreements are not always conditional. Especially when dealing with a nation like India, these engagements are not purely transactional. They originate from India’s civilisational ethos of collaborating for humanity’s betterment.”