India and the Philippines are looking to sign an agreement on the BrahMos cruise missile during a planned summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Rodrigo Duterte next year, making the Southeast Asian country the first customer for the weapons system developed jointly by New Delhi and Moscow.
A team from BrahMos Aerospace, the New Delhi-based India-Russia joint venture that produces the weapons system, is expected to visit Manila by December to sort out a few remaining issues for the deal to supply the missiles to the Philippines Army’s first Land Based Missile System Battery, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity on Thursday.
“The BrahMos team is expected to iron out a few kinks and address some small issues so that the deal can be signed during the upcoming summit. Everything else has been worked out,” one of the people cited above said.
Though dates for the summit between Modi and Duterte are yet to be finalised, the meeting is expected to be held in February. Several other agreements, including on cooperation between India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) and its Philippines counterpart, ICT, and air rights, are also expected to be signed during the meeting, the people said.
India and the Philippines were initially expected to sign a defence cooperation and procurement agreement, which would have covered the BrahMos deal, during the virtual meeting of the joint commission on bilateral cooperation co-chaired by external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his counterpart Teodoro Locsin Jr on November 6.
However, the signing couldn’t go ahead as planned because of a formality, the people said. “One of the signing authorities wasn’t available and it was only a formality,” said the person cited above.
Hindustan Times had first reported in December last year that the Philippines was set to become the first country to buy the BrahMos cruise missile system. Though both sides were keen on finalising a deal earlier this year, the matter was hit by developments related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Russia’s deputy chief of mission Roman Babushkin also said on Thursday that India and Russia plan to gradually increase the range of the BrahMos and begin exporting the missile to “third countries, starting with the Philippines”.
The Philippines Army zeroed in on the BrahMos after extensive trials and much of the negotiations had revolved around the cost of the system and financing for the deal. The supersonic cruise missile with a range of about 500 km will equip the Philippines Army’s first Land Based Missile System Battery, which was raised and activated in October last year.
The Philippines Army expects this battery to be fully ready and for all the equipment to be acquired by 2024. According to the plans, the battery will be fully capable of defending the Philippines against external threats by 2028.
However, some of the recent discussions have focused on the $100-million line of credit offered by India to the Philippines for defence purchases, particularly because of Manila’s perception that the amount should be increased, the people said. The Philippines side has also noted that India has offered larger lines of credit for defence equipment to other Southeast Asian countries, the people added.
India has been in talks with several countries, including Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, over the past few years to sell them land and sea-based versions of the BrahMos. A BrahMos team visited a state-run shipyard in Surabaya in 2018 to assess the fitting of the missile on Indonesian warships.
In recent years, the Philippines has concluded several deals with India for personal protective items or bulletproof gear and armour plating for military vehicles. During Modi’s visit to the Philippines in 2017, the two sides signed an MoU on defence industry and logistics cooperation to provide a framework for the development, production and procurement of defence hardware.