India, Philippines boost cooperation with cruise missile deal

India, Philippines boost cooperation with cruise missile deal

Mandeep Singh

The forthcoming sale of an Indian-made cruise missile system to the Philippines demonstrates the strengthening defense ties between New Delhi and Manila at a time when Beijing is challenging their territorial sovereignty, experts said.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to finalize the purchase of the anti-ship cruise missile system, manufactured by New Delhi-based BrahMos Aerospace, as part of a defense cooperation and procurement agreement when he meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in early 2021, India’s Hindustan Times newspaper reported. The Philippine Army’s first land-based missile system battery, which was deployed in October 2019, is expected to be fitted with the cruise missile to defend against external threats by 2028.

“The acquisition of the supersonic anti-ship missile, which can be mounted on multiple platforms, would signal the arrival of Delhi as a new security partner for the Southeast Asian country,” Lucio Blanco Pitlo III, a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, wrote in a December 2020 commentary for the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Pitlo said the expected deal follows the fourth meeting of the India-Philippines Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation, pictured, held online November 6, 2020, and co-chaired by Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

The parties agreed to further enhance their commitment to defense and maritime cooperation, particularly in the areas of military training and education, capacity building, defense equipment procurement and goodwill visits, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

“India-Philippines bilateral relations are now reaching new heights in the political, defence, and economic domains,” Don McLain Gill, a Manila-based international affairs analyst, wrote in a November 2020 article for the India-based Observer Research Foundation. “The continuous elevation of this partnership will have strong and positive implications for the Philippines’ strategic policy vis-a-vis China’s increasing assertion in the region.”

In July 2020, Locsin demanded Beijing’s full compliance with a ruling under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that found Chinese encroachments into Philippine territorial waters to be unlawful, The Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, Indian and Chinese troops clashed in mid-2020 along the nations’ shared border in the Himalayas over what Indian authorities called efforts “to protect its territorial integrity,” reported Voice of America.

Defense cooperation between India and the Philippines has been on the rise since March 2018, when a Philippine delegation including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana traveled to India for the first bilateral defense minister-level visit, according to the Indian embassy in Manila. That was followed by the Philippines’ participation in India’s DefExpo defense trade fair in 2018 and 2020, and several port visits by Indian Navy ships to Manila, including one in 2018 and two in 2019.

Armed force personnel from both nations also have increasingly trained in each other’s countries in recent years.

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.