The Philippines could emerge as the maiden buyer of BrahMos supersonic missile systems, jointly produced by India and Russia, amid China's aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea region.

Both sides are in an advanced stage of negotiations and Manila has set aside a budget for the purchase of the missiles, ET has learnt. The pandemic had hit the Philippines exchequer delaying its order for the BrahMos missiles, Manila-based sources said.

Export orders by the Philippines are likely to be placed soon and Manila is expected to purchase BrahMos missiles under a “government-to-government deal”. Earlier this year, both sides signed a defence arrangement that would enable export of defence equipment to Manila from India.

Other countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, have also expressed their interest to buy BrahMos from India to secure their defence architecture amid Chinese ambitions in SE Asia.

BrahMos is a supersonic missile for the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force. This universal missile can be launched from ships, mobile launchers, submarines and aircraft. It has network-centric architecture, multiple trajectories, way-point capability, and is capable of engaging any kind of land or naval targets beyond the horizon in a minimum deployment time. It is the only supersonic cruise missile in the world that flies at three times the speed of sound.

Earlier this week, Manila also signed a contract with South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries for building two corvettes for the Philippine Navy.

India’s ties with the Philippines have been upgraded over the past few years with the two countries expanding their defence partnership and are negotiating a PTA.

Indian Navy and coast guard ships regularly visit the Philippines and hold consultations with their counterparts. The participation of officers of the armed forces of both countries in various specialised training courses in each other’s countries has intensified.

Earlier, India extended a $100-million defence-related LoC to Manila. The Philippines, a US ally for decades, has been keen to diversify sources of its defence hardware including from India. In 2018, a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Defence and Logistics was signed. An MOU on Sharing of White Shipping Information—non-military/non-government shipping vessel information—was inked last year.

The Philippines has been at the receiving end of China's expansionist plans in the South China Sea region. The Philippines is also a claimant in the South China Sea region and is the only country that went to the UN tribunal on the issue. In 2019, the Philippines Navy joined its counterparts from India, the United States, and Japan for a group sail in the South China Sea.