By next month, our military should finally find itself in the advanced missile age.
That’s when deliveries of the India-Russia-made BrahMos supersonic missile system consisting of three batteries and the missiles will be completed.
Contracted in 2022 for US$375 million, the pricey coastal defense missile system is also, as one respected geopolitical analyst calls it, the “most strategic purchase the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) has made in years.”
According to its manufacturer, the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles are “two-stage. A propellant booster engine brings the missile to supersonic speed and separates, and then a liquid ramjet brings it up to Mach 3 speed.
BrahMos’ “fire-and-forget” self-guided capability has a flight range of up to 290 kilometers and can be launched from land, ship, or fighter aircraft. The flight range is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
News reports indicated that three anti-ship variants of the BrahMos batteries should have arrived this month. The missiles will arrive in March.
A single BrahMos battery has three transporter erector launch vehicles, each with three launch tubes.
The Marine Corps’ Coastal Defense Regiment will operate the coastal missile system. Last year, 21 Navy personnel completed their shore-based anti-ship missile system training.
The Philippine Army has also ordered land attack variants of the missile system.
It’s not yet clear where the anti-ship missile systems will be deployed. But a report said military planners were considering Basco in Batanes, the Bashi Channel, San Felipe in Zambales, Culio and Tagbita in Palawan.
If those sites are correct, the BrahMos system will stand guard over the troubled West Philippine Sea.
But wherever the BrahMos system is deployed, the missile system will significantly upgrade the country’s defensive arsenal.
As former defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana touted in 2022, the missiles would “provide deterrence against any attempt to undermine our sovereignty and sovereign rights, especially in the West Philippine Sea.”
Undoubtedly, the BrahMos missile system will have geopolitical implications. The country having anti-ship capabilities will grab China’s attention and response, requiring China to reconsider how it will go about its expansive “nine-dash-line” maritime claim.
The BrahMos missile system, for instance, would make the China coast guard “think twice” before assaulting Filipino vessels or blatantly taking over features in the WPS.
In strategic terms, the deployment of the BrahMos system will allow the country its own version of what defense and geostrategic analysts call the “anti-access/area denial” strategy.
“The BrahMos is one way to apply China’s own strategy against itself. Over the last two decades, China has emphasized anti-access/area denial (A2AD) with the US, building capabilities that threaten the stronger US Navy in the South China Sea. Anti-ship missiles such as the BrahMos help ensure that smaller countries can employ their own A2AD strategies against China,” as one geopolitical analyst put it.
Despite the BrahMos’ sophisticated weaponry, it isn’t a stand-alone game changer. For it to be truly effective, many things must be in place.
Having the BrahMos means also having “an effective intelligence, surveillance, target-acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) system to find and track targets, and a resilient command and control complex to ensure that the command can use it,” said one local defense analyst.
But “the AFP’s C2ISTAR system is hobbled by a still-developing C2 complex and a limited number of vulnerable observation aircraft and drones. Even if it were fully operational, a C2ISTAR complex could be disrupted… it could be an adversary would do its utmost to disrupt and destroy the Philippines’ C2ISTAR capabilities.”
This possibility of disruption partly explains why the Marcos administration recently exhorted government agencies to beef up their cyber defenses.
Nonetheless, an AFP with a BrahMos system is better than an AFP without it. The AFP now stands a better chance of at least inflicting a bloody nose on any potential external aggressor.