Delfin Lorenzana, Secretary of National Defense of Philippines, on 14th January 2022 confirmed the acquisition of three batteries of Brahmos missile system to be operated by Philippine Marine Coastal Defense Regiment. With deal almost worth $375 million, the Philippine become the first foreign buyer of the Brahmos missile system. The deal is the culmination of a government-to-government framework agreement, with an intention to use Brahmos as shore-based anti-ship missiles. Conceptualize in 2017, the office of Philippines president “approved its inclusion in the Horizon 2 Priority Projects in 2020”.
Brahmos Missile System
Brahmos is an unmanned, intelligent, medium-ranged, ramjet supersonic, and fire and forget cruise missile, jointly designed and developed by India’s Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM). The name ‘Brahmos’ is derived from the Indian river the Brahmaputra and the Russian river Moskva. As per the agreement, India’s share in the joint venture is 50.5 %, whereas Russia has 49.5 percent.
The first contract was signed in 1999, while the first successful launch of the missile took place in 2001. Missiles equipped with stealth technology can speed up to almost 3 Mach, i.e., three times the speed of a sound. Claimed to be the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile, the missile ranges between 300-500 km with payloads ranging from 2,200 kg – 3000 kg depending on its version. Also, the missile has the Inertial Navigation System (INS), the Global Positioning System (GPS) for guidance, and can be launched from air, sea, land and underwater platforms.
A hypersonic version of the missile, Brahmos II, is under development and will have a speed of 5 Mach. Further, due to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) restrictions, the export version of the missile will have a range of 290 km. Currently, the Indian Army, Navy, and Air force operate the missile system, and the Philippines will use an anti-ship variant of the missile.
Self-Reliance in Defense Equipment
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India remains one of the top five arms importers of the world. In 2016-2020, India remained the second largest arms importer sharing 9.5 percent of global arms export, a 33 percent fall from 2011-2015.On the other hand, India’s defense export has increased from Rs.1,521 crores in 2016-17 to Rs.8,434.84 crores in 2020-21; further, the government has set a target to export about 5 billion in aerospace and defense goods and services by 2025. Currently, India is the 24th largest arms exporter in the world and account for just 0.2 of the total arms sale of the world.
The Centre is working on reducing arms import and boosting domestic production to make the Atamanirbhar Bharat initiative successful in the defense sector. Recently, the Center has banned importing 351 defense items from foreign nationals, increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) limit in defense production to 74 percent through automatic route to achieve self-reliance in defense equipment and reduce imports. The list of banned items released by the Center to make India a manufacturing hub in defense equipment was third in line. Therefore, the sale of Brahmos missile to the Philippines, the talks on deal with Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are in advance stage, is a significant boost to the Indian defense industries, which is eagerly looking for a buyer for other indigenous equipment like Arjun Mk-1A tank, Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) Mk-1A, Astra beyond-visual-range missile, Pinaka missile systems, multi-purpose light transport aircraft, warships, patrol vessels, artillery gun systems, and others.
India’s affordable, reliable, and proven defence equipment can be a game changer in the regional security dynamics; it can help cut India’s defense imports, boost armed force modernization in the long run, and assist in leveraging India’s strategic interest in the region. However, the more significant challenge remains the lack of Indian companies involved in producing intermediate goods, making defense production units rely on imports. It leads to India losing autonomy to export products in the international market. Also, in the case of Brahmos, almost half of the amount will go to Russia for being a joint developer. Therefore, catering to this need, a dependable and durable supply chain for sizable defense production is essential to become utterly self-reliant in defense manufacturing.
Checking China and Fostering India’s Act East Policy
China’s aggressive, assertive and expansionist policy along the LAC and in the South China Sea has forced India and other regional countries to rethink their national security arrangements. The recent fallout is the formation of the informal QUAD and formal AUKUS security alliance in the region. The minor regional player is also working to boost their defense preparedness to face any eventualities in the coming years. From Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines to India, all are wary of China’s actions and advocate for rule-based world order, free navigation for trade and transit, and maintaining peace and stability in the region.
Defence expenditure of Southeast Asian nations in 2020 stands at $45.5 billion, taking a massive leap of 5.2 percent. In the last decade alone, 2011-2020, the military spending in the region rose by 36 percent, preferably because of territorial disputes and growing Chinese assertiveness. Adoption of various modernization plans by SEA nations, lack of proper defense manufacturing industries, and limited spending on Research & Development have made the import of arms a preferable choice among the ASEAN nations. Therefore, providing India with an opportunity to cater to the need and aspirations of the region and brawling with China along its border gave it a psychological and moral advantage.
This deal is more than economic gain for India and a clear signal to China for putting unnecessary pressure on the Indian border. India, over the years, is improving its relationship with ASEAN nations through various military exercises, providing a line of credit, and being involved in various training programs. The increasing arms export will boost India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and possess India as the region’s net security provider. It also enhances the scope of increasing the regional security dynamics by empowering the regional player rather than confronting China directly, thus creating multiple regional stakeholders and providing India with an opportunity to test water for Beijing’s unilateralism in the region.
The missile deal boosts India’s arms export and provides a platform for regional players to look beyond the US, Russia, Israel, and France for reliable defense equipment. It also enhances regional security and leads to a balance of power in the region. However, a lot depends on India’s capability to deliver; otherwise, it will remain a one-time opportunity. The focus must be on clearing the loopholes, removing bureaucratic hurdles, and establishing a robust supply chain mechanism for defense production in the country.
To conclude, the export of Brahmos to the Philippines has huge implications considering the current geopolitical situation in the region:
- It boosts India’s ‘Make in India’, ‘Atamanirbhar Bharat’ initiative and is a step closer to becoming the net defense exporter in the region.
- The move is a signal to China against its aggressive and expansionist policy along LAC and in the South China Sea and also projects India as the net security provider rather than a mere trading partner.
- The move aligns with India’s Act East Policy, which advocates for having closer ties with Southeast Asian Nations and beyond.
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