New Delhi is confident now of its role as an exporter of high tech defence weapons

by Girish Linganna

The escalating maritime tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea have significant implications for India's maritime trade interests. As a major player in the region, India has a vested interest in ensuring the safety and security of its maritime commerce. In response to these growing concerns, key stakeholders including the United States, Japan, Australia, and now India are actively supporting the Philippines' efforts to enhance its defence capabilities and deter potential threats from China.

India is helping the Philippines strengthen its defences by providing advanced weapons. In 2022, India agreed to sell BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles to the Philippines, a deal worth $375 million. The first shipment of these missiles and launchers arrived in the Philippines on April 19, 2024, and will be used by the Philippine Marines. India used its Globemaster transport aircraft to deliver the first batch of BrahMos coastal defense systems to the Philippines. The delivery took place at Clark International Airport. The ground systems for these missiles were shipped to the Philippines in March. Concerned by China's assertive actions in the Indo-Pacific region, including the South China Sea, India has been strengthening its military partnerships with ASEAN countries.

The agreement signed in January 2022 was a significant step forward for India's ambitions to become a major exporter of defense equipment. This is the first time the BrahMos missile, jointly developed by India and Russia, has been sold to another country. The delay in delivery was due to the lack of a non-disclosure agreement between India and Russia.

The BrahMos cruise missile is renowned for its incredible speed, reaching Mach 2.8, which translates to almost three times the speed of sound, or approximately 1,000 kilometers per second. The BrahMos missile system is versatile, with versions capable of being launched from land, air, and sea. All three variants are currently in use by the Indian armed forces. The BrahMos missiles sold to the Philippines have a range of 290 kilometers. However, India has also developed a longer-range variant with a reach of nearly 500 kilometers. India's Cabinet Committee on Security has approved the purchase of over 200 BrahMos missiles and related systems to equip its warships. This significant upgrade for the Indian Navy is estimated to cost around 19,000 crore rupees. India has set an ambitious goal of reaching 35,000 crore rupees in defense exports by 2024-25.

To strengthen military cooperation with the Philippines, India has decided to station a defense attaché in the country. As part of a broader strategy to enhance strategic partnerships worldwide and promote arms exports, India plans to appoint 15 to 16 new defense attachés from the Navy, Army, and Air Force in various key locations globally. In addition to the Philippines, India plans to establish defense attaché positions in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Poland, Ivory Coast, Armenia, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Djibouti. This strategic realignment involves reducing the number of military officials stationed at larger embassies in Russia, the UK, and France.

India hopes that its first BrahMos export to the Philippines will open doors for future deals with the Philippines and other ASEAN nations, such as Indonesia and Vietnam. The delivery of BrahMos missiles to the Philippines marks a major achievement for India's defense export aspirations. This development highlights India's advanced technological capabilities and its dedication to becoming self-sufficient in defense production. As India pursues opportunities to expand its defense exports, overcoming challenges and strengthening its capabilities will be crucial to achieving its goal of becoming a leading defense supplier in the region.

The delivery of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles to the Philippines marks a major stride for India in its efforts to boost defense exports and achieve self-reliance in defense production. This action underscores India's commitment to the ‘Make-in-India' initiative and its ambition to become a leading defense supplier in Asia.

India's sale of BrahMos missiles to the Philippines is a big deal, showing how close the two countries are becoming in terms of military cooperation. This is especially important because of China's growing influence in the region. The $375 (Approx. ₹3,075 Crores) million deal is also a historic moment because it's the first time India has exported these advanced missiles.

Each BrahMos missile costs less than $5 million (Approx. ₹41 Crores). Its outstanding capabilities have attracted a lot of attention from buyers in India and abroad. Recognized as a strategic asset, India is deploying the BrahMos at the Minicoy military base to oversee Chinese movements in the Indian Ocean.

Minicoy Island is located in the southern part of the Lakshadweep archipelago, which is a group of islands in the Arabian Sea off the southwestern coast of India.

India's progress in space technology, highlighted by the recent Chandrayaan launch, mirrors its achievements in locally producing the BrahMos missile. This underscores the country's significant technological advancements. Currently, over 76% of BrahMos missiles are made in India. Efforts are underway to raise this to 85% by using Indian-made seekers and boosters, with a goal of achieving 100% local production by 2026.

Seekers are components in missiles that help them find and lock onto targets, while Boosters are the engines that provide the initial thrust to launch the missile and accelerate it toward its target.

India's strategy to enhance defense ties with the Philippines indicates that New Delhi is expanding its influence beyond the Indian Ocean, aiming to help uphold stability in the Indo-Pacific region. During his visit to Manila in March 2024, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar reaffirmed India's commitment to supporting the Philippines in safeguarding its national sovereignty. Enrique Manalo, the Philippine Foreign Minister, responded by expressing his country's strong desire to collaborate with India in creating a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Manalo emphasized that “our ongoing discussions on defence and security cooperation are particularly important in this region and within this context.”

Coinciding with the Indian minister's visit, an Indian Coast Guard ship made a port call to the Philippines. The two nations are also planning to conduct more joint naval exercises in the future. The Philippines recognizes that India is a close security partner of its key allies, like the United States, Japan, and Australia. This makes it even more beneficial for the Philippines to strengthen its relationship with India.

Official sources say that India and the Philippines are natural partners, united by their shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. Both countries believe in a region that embraces diversity, upholds democratic values, and promotes prosperity for its people through economic cooperation.

Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defence at Frontier India