The Philippines, facing increasing tensions in the South China Sea, has embarked on a military modernization drive
In a significant move to enhance its maritime security and search-and-rescue capabilities, India has offered to supply seven Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) MKIII helicopters to the Philippines Coast Guard (PCG). The offer was officially extended during the maiden visit of the Philippines Coast Guard Chief to India in August this year.
President Ferdinand R Marcos Jr. confirmed the proposal on November 5, stating that the discussions on the offer would involve the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and PCG. The potential deal marks a milestone for India’s defence exports, with the Philippines becoming the first country to consider purchasing the DHRUV MK-III.
The DHRUV MK-III, a variant of the indigenous Dhruv Helicopter, has been in service with the Indian Navy and Coast Guard. President Marcos expressed the importance of building up the country’s Coast Guard capabilities, particularly in the context of search and rescue operations and maritime security.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Indian aircraft manufacturer, conducted a Customer Demonstration Flight onboard the DHRUV MK-III for Filipino Coast Guard Chief Admiral Artemio M Abu in August 2023, showcasing the helicopter’s capabilities.
Ambassador Shambhu Kumaran confirmed that discussions are progressing well between the Indian government, PCG, and DOTr regarding the supply of seven DHRUV MK-III helicopters. Kumaran emphasized that these helicopters could play a crucial role in more active security operations, including personnel and cargo transport.
The DHRUV MK-III is equipped with modern surveillance radar with a range of up to 120 nautical miles, enhancing the Coast Guard’s maritime surveillance capabilities. It also features an electro-optical sensor for monitoring vessels at a distance of up to 30 nautical miles. In addition to maritime reconnaissance, these helicopters can conduct long-range search and rescue operations and constabulary missions, being fitted with a heavy machine gun.
The Philippines and India’s Coast Guards signed their first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in August 2023, facilitating information sharing in the maritime domain. The Philippines has shown a keen interest in India’s military hardware, including the DHRUV MK-III helicopters and indigenously built warships. The delivery of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to the Philippines, manufactured under a joint venture with Russia, is scheduled for the first quarter of 2024, further enhancing the country’s defence capabilities.
The Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands has become a symbol of the Philippines’ resolve against Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. The marooned World War II era ship, Sierra Madre, has stood in the shallow waters, deliberately grounded as a military outpost. China’s blockade has made its repair impossible, but it remains strategically crucial for the Philippines and other sea-faring nations.
Despite challenges, the Philippines continues to deliver supplies to a small Marine detachment stationed on Sierra Madre. China’s aggressive actions, such as using water cannons against a Philippines Coast Guard vessel and vessel collisions, have escalated tensions in the region. Logistical complexities, including a narrow entrance to Second Thomas Shoal and China’s proximity at Mischief Reef, occupied since 1995, make it challenging to bring construction materials to repair Sierra Madre.
In response, the Philippines is actively modernizing its military capabilities, including the acquisition of new fighter jets for the Air Force. The country is also exploring the possibility of acquiring submarines for the Navy, a move aimed at strengthening its defence posture in the face of growing security challenges in the South China Sea.