New Delhi: Plans for the possible sale of the Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles to the Philippines have hit a roadblock with Manila Monday citing budgetary limitations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Filipino Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has told media in his country that the economic impact of coronavirus has led the government to prioritise its citizens over the cruise missile.
“Because of the pandemic, we lost the budget to procure it. We need to prioritise our citizens instead of the cruise missile, so there are no funds yet,” the Defence Secretary was quoted as saying by The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“Negotiations were underway, it was already in the advanced stages of the procurement process, but it stopped because of funding issues… The procurement process stopped because we no longer had funds for it,” he said.
Roman Babushkin, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Russian Embassy in India, had said earlier this month that BrahMos Aerospace — the Indo-Russian joint venture (JV) firm manufacturing the missiles — is looking at exporting the weapons to other countries, starting with the Philippines.
The statement had come as a surprise to the Indian security and defence establishment, because while talks were underway with the Philippines, the modalities were yet to be worked out.
BrahMos is the only supersonic cruise missile in the world that flies at three times the speed of sound (2.8 Mach). It is much sought-after because it can be used for both coastal defence and ground attack.
Multiple countries have expressed their interest in acquiring the missiles, but talks were said to be most positive with Vietnam and the Philippines. Such an acquisition would mean a major enhancement in the firepower of the countries, both of which are locked in territorial disputes with the Chinese in the South China Sea.
‘Don’t want to enter loan agreements’
India had offered a $100 million line of credit for the purchase of the weapon but Lorenzana remained sceptical.
“The problem is, it’s a multi-year obligation. The President does not want us to enter into loan agreements that would be inherited by the administration after him… So, we are caught with two dilemmas: How do we buy one when we don’t have money, and what if we acquire one through a loan, but the next administration might criticise us,” he said.
Asked if there is any plan to sweeten the deal further for the Philippines, defence sources said there is no such discussion on the issue as of now.
Sources said while India is working to extend the range of the BrahMos missile, the weapons that will be be exported will be the ones with a “normal range” of 290 km.
India and the Philippines had earlier this month resolved to strengthen defence engagement and maritime cooperation, especially in military training, as well as in procurement of defence equipment.
This came about after the fourth meeting of the India-Philippines joint commission on bilateral cooperation, co-chaired by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Philippines counterpart Teodoro Locsin Jr, which was held via video link.