The Philippine military has announced its intention to acquire BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.
“The BrahMos Missile and Launching System is the most promising alternative for the Shore-Based Anti-Ship Missile System as assessed by the PN Technical Working Group,” Vice Adm. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo told the Philippine News Agency. “The project proposal was already presented to the Senior Leaders, however (it is) still for further approval by the Commander-in-Chief and subsequent funding,” he added.
Adm. Bacordo’s statement follows a March 2 defense agreement between India and the Philippines, paving the way for Manila’s acquisition of the missile.
BrahMos is a supersonic cruise missile jointly developed by India and Russia in the early 2000s. It is closely derived from Russia’s P-800 Oniks anti-ship cruise missile. Widely regarded as the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile, the BrahMos system can reach a top speed of Mach 3 (roughly 2300 miles per hour) and boasts a range of around 450 kilometers. The missile can receive inertial as well as GPS guidance, and is capable of flying at an altitude of as low as five meters. A remarkably versatile system, the BrahMos missile can be launched from submarines, a wide range of surface ships, aircraft, and land-based platforms.
Subsequent revisions have dramatically expanded the missile’s performance and capabilities; though originally conceived as an anti-ship missile, later BrahMos variants can engage land-based targets. The most recent Block III upgrade added new navigation features, as well as steep dive functionality to strike targets in mountainous areas. The BrahMos system supports a 200 or 300 kg high explosive semi-armor-piercing warhead, with an additional option for a 250 kg submunitions warhead depending on use-case.
Aside from these conventional configurations, India’s Air Force has modified as many as forty-two of its Su-30MKI fighters to carry nuclear-capable BrahMos missiles. India reportedly plans to upgrade all of its BrahMos missiles to a range of up to 1500 km, but the current state of those efforts is unclear.
Bacordo added that the Philippine military seeks to procure one BrahMos battery, consisting of three systems. It appears that the Philippines intends to operate BrahMos as a land-based system, though future ship-based deployments have not been ruled out.
The Philippines’ planned BrahMos acquisition comes amid its ongoing territorial dispute with Beijing over parts of the South China Sea. The BrahMos purchase is part of a broader Philippine military modernization program to boost the country’s lagging coastal defenses; the capability to credibly threaten Chinese vessels encroaching on Philippine-claimed littoral waters is a key part of those efforts. If finalized, the deal would make the Philippines the first foreign client to purchase India’s BrahMos system—a victory for India’s nascent defense export industry.
Beyond its prospects as a regional arms seller, there are geopolitical factors at play for India. New Delhi, which is currently engaged in a border dispute of its own with Beijing, looks to pressure China on a separate front by bolstering its competitors’ capabilities. Vietnam, another maritime rival of Beijing and also a player in the South China Sea dispute, has recently expressed interest in signing a BrahMos acquisition deal with India.
Mark Episkopos is the new national security reporter for the National Interest.