India has taken a major step towards becoming an arms exporter. India has signed a key pact with the Philippines for the sale of “defence material and equipment”, which are likely to include BrahMos cruise missiles.

This is a significant development for two reasons. One the Philippines could be India’s first client for its missile system and second those Indian arms could protect the Philippines against Beijing in the South China Sea.

This region the South China Sea has become one of the biggest flashpoints, not just in Asia, but the entire world. China claims the whole of the South China Sea. Five other countries make overlapping claims– the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Vietnam.

And that is the essence of the conflict over the South China Sea. So the Philippines is pitted against China. India is selling arms to the Philippines. That should explain the strategic significance of this deal. A country that’s responding to the Chinese threat with a call for self-reliance.

India and the Philippines have signed what is called an “implementing agreement”. It dictates the terms and sets the foundation for government to government contracts. But as far as the Philippines is concerned, It wants the BrahMos Missile. The country’s defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana witnessed the signing ceremony on Tuesday. In no uncertain terms he has declared and I am quoting.

“We are buying the BrahMos missiles”. Now the next step for the Philippines is to discuss a deal to procure the BrahMos.

Why does Manila want this Indian missile?

The BrahMos is considered to be the fastest supersonic missile in the world. Supersonic, means faster than the speed of sound and the BrahMos is known to be a leader in that category of missiles.

Reports say it travels at three times the speed of sound. It can be fired from ships, submarines. Aircraft and ground launchers, the missile itself has a range of 290 kilometres. The Philippines wants to use the BrahMos system for coastal defence and ground attack. A clear vulnerability considering the growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. In January China had passed a law. It gave its coastguard powers to open fire on foreign vessels.

The Philippines filed a strong diplomatic protest over the move. Its foreign minister shot off a tweet. Calling the law “a verbal threat of war”. The Philippines feel the need to step up its defences along the coast.

And India wants to help experts believe the BrahMos is will be a good fit for the Philippines.

The Philippines can launch these missiles, not just from land, but also from its ships.  India has conducted several tests on the BrahMos. The missiles have been deployed in several strategic locations along the line of control with China.  

Reports say they are being integrated for use on the Sukhoi fighter jets too and reason numbers three the cost. India is helping out the Philippines here too.

New Delhi had offered Manila a 100 million dollar soft loan to acquire the missiles in December. That credit line could be extended if required. So it looks like a win-win situation for the Philippines.

What about India?

New Delhi has a lot to gain if this agreement goes through. It gains a footing as a major arms exporter. The agreement in the Philippines is a step towards establishing India’s credentials as a competitive exporter in the global defence market.

Already, there is a lot of global interest around the BrahMos. Beyond the Philippines, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates are said to be keen on buying the Brahmos. Reports say India has held similar conversations with Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa as well.

The aim is to touch the target of five billion dollars worth of defence exports by 2025. And it seems like the BrahMos will be the backbone of this mission. But this deal is not just about the arms trade. India’s move to sell defence equipment to the Philippines ups the stakes against China. 

Indian missiles will allow the Philippines to assert their territorial right in the South China Sea.

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