Philippines Raises Stakes With Purchase of BrahMos Anti-Ship Missile

Ministry of Defense
The shore-launched variant of the BrahMos missile system (Indian Ministry of Defense)

Published Jan 3, 2022 2:57 PM by Paul Benecki

The government of the Philippines is set to become the first foreign buyer of the Indian/Russian BrahMos cruise missile, one of the fastest anti-ship missiles in the world. As tensions rise in the South China Sea, the acquisition gives Philippine forces a new coastal-defense asset in the event of a conflict with a larger navy. 

BrahMos has a top speed in the range of Mach 3, a surface-launch range of about 160 nm and a payload of about 440 pounds of explosives. It is designed with naval warfare in mind, and it can fly just 30 feet off the surface and carry out evasive maneuvers to evade air defenses. It can be launched from shore, surface, submarine and aircraft platforms.

Reporting indicates that the Philippines is primarily interested in the shore-battery version, which would give its forces coverage of the majority of the Spratly Islands from bases on Palawan. Competing maritime claims in the Spratlys are an area of constant friction between China ad Philippines, with defense implications for the Philippine-aligned United States.

Manila has been in talks with New Delhi over the possibility of buying BrahMos for years, but the discussion was put on hold in 2020 due to COVID-driven budgetary limitations. According to the Philippine Inquirer, the money is now available, and the Philippines' defense department has set aside a total of $55 million to buy missiles and launchers. The funding has not yet been formally announced, but officials confirmed the deal to the Inquirer and the Hindustan Times.

BrahMos will add considerable proven capability to the Philippines' coastal defenses, and it compares favorably with the anti-ship missiles in service with other navies. It is far faster than the U.S. Navy's Tomahawk or the Chinese PLA Navy's YJ-18, though it has less range than either. Emerging hypersonic anti-ship missile technology is beginning to outcompete "slow" supersonic designs, but only Russia and China currently deploy unclassified hypersonic weapons, and only with a limited number of specialized units. 

The purchase is the latest of several related capability improvements for the Philippine Navy unveiled in recent weeks. In December, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced the purchase of six patrol ships from Austal for $600 million and two corvettes from Hyundai Heavy Industries for $550 million.