Philippines Purchase of India’s Supersonic Missile Breaks ‘Psychological Barriers,’ Expert Says

By Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.
January 19, 2022Updated: January 19, 2022

NEW DELHI—In its first-ever major military export, India is set to supply supersonic cruise missiles valued at over $350 million to the Philippines.

The move is likely to help the two countries overcome Cold War-era psychological barriers due to their respective affinities to the United States and the Soviet Union, according to Richard Heydarian, associate professor at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

“In a lot of ways, this is about breaking psychological barriers. I think for a long time, the Philippines and India, two of the oldest democracies in the world, very similar countries on so many levels, for some reason were mutually estranged … with India closer to Russia and the Philippines closer to the United States,” Heydarian told The Epoch Times.

Philippines’ decision to import the Indian Brahmos missile, a shore-based anti-ship missile, was announced on January 14. Delfin Lorenzana, Secretary of National Defence of the Philippines, said that the Philippine Marines will be the primary user of the new weapons system. India will train the operators and maintainers and provide logistics support, Lorenzana said.

Heydarian said that in the past decade the two countries have moved closer to each other—both have “strong and populist” national leaders who shared a “lot of rapport” during their meeting in New Delhi in 2018. He was referring to the meeting between Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit.

A year earlier, Modi had visited Manila and a year later, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind visited the Philippines to commemorate 70 years of bilateral relations between the two countries.

“That may have also facilitated this bourgeoning defense cooperation between the U.S. treaty ally, one of the key claimants in the South China Sea on one hand and, of course, India, the other major rising power of Asia, on the other,” said Heydarian.

Pathikrit Payne, a New Delhi-based research consultant on geopolitical affairs, with a specialization in the management of defense technology, told The Epoch Times that the “strategic imperatives” may further help in strengthening relations between India and the Philippines.

“Defence sales itself help in building a different level of trust. It may, later on, grow in other spheres of business,” said Payne.

Epoch Times Photo
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) shakes hands with President of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte ahead of a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN-INDIA Commemorative Summit in New Delhi on January 24, 2018.(Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images)

New Equations in South East Asia

Dr. Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times that, until today, India’s military imports to southeast Asian countries have been in the form of training, maintenance, and logistics support for the Russian imports, or training for the militaries at large.

“For example, in Malaysia, India has trained pilots and ground crews of Russian-made MIG-29 and SU-30 fighter jets. In Indonesia, maintenance of SU-30 fighter jets is implemented by India. In the case of Vietnam, India trained pilots and ground crew of SU-30 and MIG-21 fighter jets and crews of Russian-made Kilo-class submarines,” said Nagao, adding that India has leased its training fields to Singaporeans that use American weaponry.

“When Thailand bought an aircraft carrier, India trained their crew in the 1990s. These ‘software’ supports are the main contribution of India in South East Asia,” said Nagao.

The Philippines and Singapore traditionally depend upon the United States for weapons, while Vietnam depends upon Russia. Indonesia and Malaysia are importing weapons from both the United States and Russia, while Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia rely on China. Laos is dependent on Vietnam, but the Chinese influence is developing, he said.

“That is why Southeast Asia could be an arena for U.S.-China competition. ASEAN is a group of 10 independent countries. China is exerting pressure from the land side of the ASEAN while the U.S. is keeping the sea side of the ASEAN. Vietnam is located between the land side and the sea side. India is not in southeast Asia but India is on the U.S. side. India is also quite independent. India is a great power,” said Nagao. By “great power” Nagao meant an influencer in the region.

As the Cold War equations change, India’s strategic role is evolving in the region because, though the U.S. weapons are high quality, they are expensive for the Southeast Asia nations.

“(The) Russian weapon is not expensive but it demands a high cost of maintenance. That’s why Southeast Asian countries ask India for maintenance and training of Russian weapons with cheap cost,” said Nagao.

For a long time, the Philippines’ military power was limited and its defense imports were limited to the United States. But because of increasing threats from China, the current Philippine government has started to diversify its weapons acquisition and is now importing weapons from India, Japan, South Korea, and Russia.

“It’s just not only that the Philippines has territorial disputes with China, similar to India. There’s also the element of the Philippines actually being a very NATO American weaponry-equipped country. And we know that Brahmos was a joint venture with Russia. So I think this definitely paves the way for the Philippines to have a much more diversified pool of suppliers, including Russian great weaponry and Indian weaponry, which use a lot of Russian inputs and technology,” said Heydarian.

Filipinos march as they mark Independence Day with a protest against continued Chinese intrusions in Philippine waters, outside the Chinese Embassy in Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines, on June 12, 2021. (Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

Indian Defense Exports

Heydarian described it as a “big win” for India, one of the world’s largest arms importers. With a share of 9.5 percent of the total global arms imports, India emerged as the second-largest importer of arms between 2016-2020 and the country has been increasingly trying to change this by promoting indigenous defense manufacturing and exports.

Payne said India is trying to create a niche for itself in the global defense industry. The Indian Ministry of Defense came out with a notification on December 27 declaring a ban on the import of 2,851 items because they have been indigenized and said that the country will save over $402 million annually.

Payne said that India would target those countries for defense exports that traditionally don’t buy strategic weapon systems from China.

“Of course, the larger objective is to wean many of these countries away from China, and thus a certain level of competition can’t be ruled out,” he said.

Heydarian said that India can now credibly claim to become an emerging exporter, especially to other frontline states in Asia and the Indo-Pacific, which is also growing fast economically.

“We are looking also at Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Singapore and other countries are also acquiring advanced weaponry from India in the future. So I think this is definitely a kind of turning point for India’s defense industry,” said Heydarian.

A Brahmos supersonic cruise missile is on display at the International Maritime Defense Show in Saint Petersburg on June 28, 2017. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)
A Brahmos supersonic cruise missile is on display at the International Maritime Defense Show in Saint Petersburg on June 28, 2017. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-Access and Area Denial

Nagao said the importance of the Brahmos acquisition by the Philippines lies in the “anti-access, area denial (A2AD) capabilities” with which the missile system equips the Philippines.

“China is trying to use the South China Sea as a route; Philippines’ effort to stop China’s access to the South China Sea is anti-access. China is also trying to deny the Philippines access to the South China Sea and the Philippines’ effort to maintain their access is area-denial,” he said. To fight the strong Chinese naval power, the weaker Philippines need A2AD capabilities by possessing missiles, he added.

“This is asymmetric defense. Symmetrical defense is naval ship versus naval ship. Asymmetrical defense is naval ship versus missile. Now to deal with China, the Philippines are seeking A2AD by using asymmetric defense by Brahmos missile,” said Nagao.

Heydarian said that the Brahmos will help the Philippines to develop minimum deterrence capability. No country in the region is in a position to match the Chinese head-to-head and they need to use A2AD against China, the way China is using A2AD to overcome its quantitative and qualitative disadvantage with the United States.

“Smaller countries, from South Korea to Vietnam, and the Philippines are also trying to mix and match different sorts of cutting-edge technology in order to develop their own asymmetric A2AD defense deterrence capability against China. So, definitely that’s where the Brahmos comes into the picture,” said Heydarian.

Nagao said affordable Indian missiles could build the long-range strike capabilities of countries surrounding China and help to strengthen the quadrilateral alliance between India, the United States, Japan, and Australia in the region.