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What BrahMos Deal With Philippines Means for Indo-Pacific

Mr Niranjan Chandrashekhar Oak is a Research Analyst at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • February 23, 2022

    The US$ 375 million BrahMos deal between India and the Philippines signed on 28 January 2022 is not just a one-off arms deal, but a milestone in India’s relations with the Indo-Pacific region. The deal posits a complex geopolitical picture in the region. For the Philippines, the missile batteries will equip the country’s naval forces with much-needed deterrent capacity against China, thus tilting a favourable balance of power towards Manila, contributing to the stability of the Indo-Pacific. Further, the agreement is a testimony to India’s shining record as an adherent of international law. Moreover, it marks a convergence between India’s Act East and Defence Export policies by increasing India’s profile as a defence trade partner of medium/high technology products. The BrahMos Aerospace chief, Atul Dinkar Rane, described the deal as “the first export deal that India had signed for a full major weapon system and would pave the way for many more to come forward”.1 Thus, it would be prudent to take a closer look at the BrahMos missile deal to understand its ramifications for the region.

    Complex Geopolitics

    The BrahMos agreement between India and the Philippines indirectly involves players beyond the two countries. The BrahMos Aerospace is a collaboration between Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), India and Joint Stock Company “Military Industrial Consortium” “NPO Mashinostroyenia”, Russia (earlier known as Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPOM of Russia) with 50.5 per cent and 49.5 per cent stakes respectively.2 The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States (US), and the agreement is aimed at China which is a close partner of Russia in the current times. Thus, the deal can be read in multiple ways. It shows an urge to diversify the defence hardware on Manila’s part. Further, the Philippines’ choice of India–a partner of both Russia and the US–has exhibited the country’s sagacity in selecting strategic partners. As is apparent from the recently published Indo-Pacific strategy, the US perceives India positively, and China’s muted reaction owes to its close partner Russia. By selling defence equipment to China’s adversaries, Russia has sent a subtle message to China that it be treated as an equal. Despite its economic woes, Kremlin remains a force to reckon with.

    Balance of Power in Indo-Pacific

    The BrahMos deal—a part of the Philippines’ modernisation efforts under Horizon 2 (2018–2022)—is a way for the Philippines to maintain a positive balance of power in its favour. The contract signed between Defence Secretary of Philippines Delfin N. Lorenzana and BrahMos Aerospace Pvt. Ltd aims to supply three batteries of an anti-ship variant of the missile to the Philippines Navy. The agreement also includes training for operators and an integrated logistics support package. In the past few years, the Philippines has been under intense pressure from China vis-à-vis its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the South China Sea (SCS), also known as the West Philippines Sea in Manila. The Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague ruling in favour of the Philippines, has failed to restrain China from challenging the country’s territorial sovereignty. To maintain the balance of power in the region, the Philippines, like other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), rely on external as well as internal balancing. While externally Manila has decided to continue its alliance with Washington, the country is on the path to modernise its armed forces.

    The deployment of the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile on the western flank of the archipelagic nation will provide the Philippines an option to employ an anti-access/area denial strategy to safeguard its territorial integrity, especially its exclusive economic zone.3 Thus, the BrahMos deal is likely to enhance the deterrence capabilities of the Philippines, contributing to the stability of the Indo-Pacific. Although three batteries of shore-based BrahMos is too small to deter the mighty Chinese Navy, it shows intent on the part of Manila to defend its territory in the worst-case scenario. Moreover, robust intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities with the help of the US will increase the effectiveness of the missile system manifold.

    Convergence of India’s Act East and Defence Export Policy

    The culmination of the BrahMos deal is a crucial milepost in India’s endeavour to give substance to the Act East policy in the security and defence realm. During the 9th East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared India’s intention to graduate from Look East to Act East policy, indicating a proactive approach towards Southeast Asia. Hitherto, the India–Southeast Asia defence relations were restricted to training, port visits, bilateral/multilateral military exercises and export of low-end technology weapons and non-lethal military equipment. However, with the operationalisation of the Act East policy, India’s defence ties with Southeast Asia have matured to include defence trade of medium/high technology items.

    India has extended defence-related Line of Credit to ASEAN countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines in the past few years. Vietnam has already decided to purchase high-speed guard boats4 while the Philippines has gone for BrahMos cruise missiles. Manila is interested in more BrahMos missiles for its army under Horizon 3 (2023–2027) and is expected to order the same in the coming months.5 In 2017, India had exported Advanced Light Torpedo ‘Shyena’ to Myanmar.6 Moreover, the ASEAN countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines are eyeing export-ready Indian medium/high technology products such as Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’, Advanced Light Helicopter ‘Dhruv’ and a medium-range surface-to-air missile ‘Akash’ for their respective armed forces. India’s draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy 2020 is likely to further boost indigenous defence production and export.7 Although many of these deals have not been clinched yet, India is certainly increasing its profile in the region as a reliable defence trade partner.

    India Walks the Talk on International Law

    The recently held Quad summit emphasised international law and rules-based order. According to the joint statement, the “Quad partners champion[ed] the free, open, and inclusive rules-based order, rooted in international law, that protects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of regional countries.”8 For India, the “international law” and “rules-based order” are not just words, as is evident from the export of BrahMos missile to the Philippines, which is consistent with the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines. The MTCR is a multilateral export control regime “to restrict the proliferation of missiles, complete rocket systems, unmanned air vehicles, and related technology.” It is applicable for systems that are “capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometres (km), as well as systems intended for the delivery of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)”.9 Although India has developed an extended-range version of BrahMos after entering into MTCR in 2016, India’s export variant of BrahMos cruise missile has a range of 290 km, in conformity with the regime’s restrictions. Moreover, even before becoming a member of MTCR, India had harmonised its policies according to MTCR guidelines in 2005.10


    The significance of the BrahMos deal could be gauged from the fact that the signing of the deal was followed up by the External Affairs Minister of India S. Jaishankar’s visit to the Philippines on 13–15 February 2022. The two maritime nations recognised the importance of maintaining stability in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, the Philippines recognised India as a “partner in promoting peace and security in the region, as well as in advocating the rule of law in the face of armed ambition and the anarchy that follows it”.11 More ASEAN countries are likely to be interested in the missile system if the deal meets Manila’s expectations. Moreover, India’s Indo-Pacific formulation includes Africa’s east coast and parts of West Asia. Thus, the defence market in this part of the world also awaits India’s medium/high technology defence products. By establishing itself as a trustworthy defence partner and a responsible international actor, India stands a chance to play a more significant role in the Indo-Pacific.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.