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Will newly-acquired missiles keep China at bay?

Some experts, however, are doubting whether the BrahMos could be as effective in the wake of improving Chinese missile defenses.

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Reports that the Department of National Defense has acquired the world-renowned BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from India is making military officials giddy over the prospect of finally checking China’s ambitions in the South China Sea.

In a bid to reinforce its weak defenses in the controversial waterway, the Philippines is said to have issued a notice of award to India to acquire the fire-and-forget cruise missile for US $375 million.

The procurement, according to a report, aims to provide the Philippines with three missile batteries and bolster India’s push to become a major arms exporter, including to nations locked in disputes with China.

For the uninitiated, the BrahMos has a 290-kilometer range, Mach 3-speed throughout its flight and a cruising altitude of 15 kilometers to a terminal altitude of as low as 10 meters. The system, to be operated by the Philippine Marines Coastal Regiment, can be launched from air, sea, land and underwater platforms.

The BrahMos combines high speed and evasive maneuvers to evade enemy missile defense systems, and a large 200- or 300-kg conventional warhead to ensure high lethality. It also has Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) and a Global Positioning System (GPS) for guidance, and active radar homing for its terminal phase.

The Philippines plans to acquire the land-based version of BrahMos, a battery of which consists of four to six mobile autonomous launchers (MAL), a mobile command post (MCP) and a mobile replenishment vehicle (MRV).

A joint project between India and Russia, the BrahMos travels at supersonic speed, giving it a shorter flight time to target, quicker engagement and increased difficulty of interception.

It is expected to provide defense against any kind of encroachment into the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Defense officials are, of course, upbeat over the acquisition since the military could also use the system in land attack and anti-ship roles. The Brahmos batteries can thus threaten China’s installations on Mischief Reef in the South China Sea, situated 217 kilometers west of the Philippine Island of Palawan, and well within the missile’s stated 290-kilometer range. In addition, it could be used to deter a Chinese naval presence around Scarborough Shoal, which is 222 kilometers west of Luzon.

Some experts, however, are doubting whether the BrahMos could be as effective in the wake of improving Chinese missile defenses, the obsolescence of the Indian cruise missile and the country’s possibly limited missile stocks.

They claim that China is operating upgraded HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles that are optimized against supersonic threats on Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea.

The Chinese missile system, they say, features advanced guidance systems, multi-target anti-jamming capabilities and interceptor missiles with maximum Mach 4.2 speeds compared to the Brahmos’ Mach 3.

At the same time, China’s Type 052D destroyers and Type 055 cruisers are armed with the HHQ-9B, the shipborne version of the HQ-9B.

All told, an analyst said these missile defenses significantly reduce the probability of a successful Philippine-launched BrahMos attack in the hot spot maritime theater.

Considering China’s missile defenses deployed to its South China Sea islands, features and warships, a huge number of Brahmos missiles, he points out, would have to be fired to guarantee a successful hit, likely far more than the limited number of missiles the Philippines plans to acquire from India.

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