By Dr Pooja Bhatt and Dr Aparaajita Pandey
The Philippines is set to acquire two batteries of shore based, anti-ship BrahMos Missile as a government-to- government deal. This is to be noted that India had offered a line of credit of $100 million for defence purchases. However, according to the reports, the Department of Budget Management (DBM) issued two special allotment release orders (SARO) costing P1.3 billion and P1.535 billion for the Philippine Navy’s on December 27. With this deal, India is moving towards being a reliable regional security partner in addition to its increasing proactive partnerships in the regional security organisations such as ASEAN, SCO and so on. New Delhi is seeking an increase in defence exports as a part of strengthening its defence manufacturing and production. An additional SARO of 31 million USD has also been sanctioned to cover the initial payment towards the purchase of combat utility helicopters for the Philippines Navy.
This is not the first time that a country in the ASEAN region has shown an interest in the BrahMos. Previously Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand have also shown an interest in the BrahMos. The negotiations that had initially stalled due to the economic crisis in the Philippines brought on by the spread of Covid – 19 has now once again started to move towards fruition. The mention of the possibility of BrahMos negotiations between India and Philippines had predictably raised some initial concerns about CAATSA; however, the Indian steadfastness on the complete control over its sovereign decisions has negated such suspicions.
As Philippines gears up to be the first country to acquire the BrahMos it can not be ignored that this acquisition will have an impact on the strategic dynamics of not just between the ASEAN nation and China, but also between India and China. The two maritime zones of the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean Region; both stand to feel the reverberations of this deal.
Philippines is the only Non – NATO ally of the US and their relationship has seen its fair share of peaks and valleys; it’s important to notice that given the current situation of the region vis – a vis China, it is mutually beneficial for the US and Philippines to maintain a cordial relationship with regards to security and defence cooperation.
As the Philippines has attempted to build its military arsenal and build capacity, the island nation has also agreed to the purchase of 15 Black Hawk Helicopters in February 2021. It is quite clear that the Philippines is beginning to equip itself against the constant and the predominant presence of China in the region.
The forthcoming sale of the BrahMos is a logical next step for the Philippines and at the same time a logical step for India. To begin with, the sale fulfills a purely economic interest for India. The sale of BrahMos to the Philippines does not just signify the immediate economic gain, it also is a part of the greater Indian strategy to expand its defence trade sector. At present India is the 24th largest exporter of major arms in the world and between 2016 to 2020, the Indian sales accounted for .02 per cent of the total arms sales in the world. India has a vision of expanding its defense manufacturing sector and also becoming a bigger arms exporter generating a revenue of 5 billion USD by 2025. Moreover, as India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime, it widened India’s own arms sales portfolio.
There is quite an obvious strategic angle to this deal. While for the Philippines it is important to be equipped to defend itself in the region, India also stands to gain from countries with greater defense capabilities against China for a more even keel. The Philippines is aiming at domestic defense modernization and has been purchasing new weapons and defence platforms from several countries including South Korea; the BrahMos will play a crucial role in its coastal security upgradation especially against the external threat from China. While it is naïve to believe that the Philippines can match the Chinese military and/or naval prowess it is important to note that there are greater emblematic connotations to this deal.
While the militarization of the region has become an inevitable reality the sale of the BrahMos missiles seems like an organic next phase. While China has flaunted its superior combat capabilities for decades, the Philippines might just set the proverbial ball rolling for other countries of the region to work towards a better security portfolio. Both economic and strategic opportunities for India are clear. More allies in the region and greater check on the Chinese expansion could be some of the long-term effects of such a trade deal.
(Dr Pooja Bhatt is a Maritime Security Expert and has a Ph.D. in Disarmament Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University and Dr Aparaajita Pandey is an Asst. Professor of Public Policy at Amity University and has a Ph.D. in Latin American Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).