Analysts: Philippines Would Make Leap in Coastal Defenses with Indian Missiles

J.C. Gotinga
Manila
2021-03-22
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Analysts: Philippines Would Make Leap in Coastal Defenses with Indian Missiles The Indian Army displays BrahMos weapon systems during a full-dress rehearsal for the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, Jan. 23, 2015.
Reuters

Updated at 2:15 p.m. ET on 03-22-2021

The Philippines has a deal in the works with India for the potential acquisition of supersonic BrahMos missiles that would represent a leap for Manila’s defense of its territorial interests in the contested South China Sea, analysts say.

In early March, the government of the archipelagic Southeast Asian nation inked a general agreement with New Delhi to procure defense assets which would possibly include a battery of the Indo-Russian-made missiles.

Philippine officials, however, have not disclosed a price-tag or other details about the potential deal. But if it goes through, it would mark the country’s first acquisition of major military hardware from India, China’s regional rival, as part of a multi-billion-dollar program by Manila to modernize its military.

“As of this time, there are no substantial developments regarding the project as it is still in the initial stages of the acquisition process,” Arsenio Andolong, a spokesman for the Philippine Department of National Defense, told BenarNews late last week.

The BrahMos PJ-10 missile, the world’s fastest cruise missile, flies three times faster than the speed of sound and can be deployed and fired from land as well as from navy ships and submarines, according to reports.   

The possible acquisition is being seen as a value-for-money choice for a country that needs to be more judicious about its defense spending, analysts said, adding that acquiring the BrahMos system would help Manila build a credible defense posture.

“It’s a cost-effective solution for the navy to have a sea-denial capability. Right now Chinese vessels are operating with impunity in our EEZ,” said Rommel Jude Ong, a retired Navy admiral now affiliated with the Ateneo School of Government in Manila, referring to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

“The BrahMos, with a 290-km [180-mile] range, will provide a defensive buffer across a certain extent of the EEZ,” Ong told BenarNews.

The potential acquisition comes amid tensions in the South China Sea and Beijing’s expansionist activities in the maritime region. The Philippine government confirmed it had lodged a new diplomatic protest on Sunday against Beijing over reports that about 220 boats manned by Chinese militia had been spotted within Philippine territorial waters.

Between January and August 2019, the Philippine defense department recorded at least 25 instances in which vessels of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy had passed through the Philippine EEZ and territorial waters without official notice to Manila.

The BrahMos would be the first weapon in the Philippine arsenal that could substantially hurt an aggressor out on the contested waters, according to Ong.

“It gives the navy a ‘mission-kill’ option in case of conflict. In peacetime it will provide strategic deterrence,” he said.

However, some observers believe that the Philippine military would do better to make it a priority to improving its surveillance capability and integrating a missile system into that.

“A missile system provides a deterrence. A requirement of a deterrent and defense system is the need for eyes and ears,” Edilberto Adan, a retired Philippine military general, told BenarNews.

“It has to be integrated with a surveillance and intelligence capability for the simple reason that what you cannot see or what you cannot detect, you cannot engage.”

Modernization program

The Philippines, meanwhile, is set to spend more than U.S. $6 billion (291 billion pesos) between 2018 and 2022 through the current stage of its military modernization program.

Last month, the country acquired its second brand-new, Korean-made naval frigate, the BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), which is capable of being armed with missiles. The Luna and its sister ship, the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150), together cost the Philippine government roughly $330 million (16 billion pesos).

Before these acquisitions, the Philippine naval fleet consisted mostly of dated hand-me-downs from other countries, including long-time defense ally, the United States.

Despite the spending spree, the country’s defense expenditure falls below the global average ratio to gross domestic product (GDP). In 2019, even with military acquisitions under way, Manila spent slightly under 1 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, compared with Beijing’s 1.9 percent, and Washington’s 3.4 percent, according to data from the World Bank.

Acquiring new aircraft and ships should remain a priority, even if it takes longer to shore up the funds to buy them, analyst Adan said.

While ships and planes can act as eyes and ears for the military, missiles cannot, he said.

“A missile system would require a robust command-and-control [facility] in place, meaning there is detection, there is analysis, then there is a decision process for the government to engage either by sending ships or aircraft, or firing the missiles,” he said.

That is true especially when dealing with a potential adversary of far superior might in China, the retired general warned.

“Knowing our adversary, it has infinitely more capability than us. Expect a robust retaliation once you fire a missile,” Adan said, noting that the cost of acquiring a missile would run into the millions of dollars. “And that is [just] for one shot.”

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