In December 2021, Secretary of Defense Lorenzana announced that the Philippines would purchase $374 million in Brahmos anti-ship missiles from India. The missile has a range of 156 nautical miles, allowing it to range the Bashi Strait if deployed in northern Luzon and part of the Spratly Islands if deployed on Palawan. This may be bad news for a country that has been actively asserting control over disputed areas of the South China Sea in recent years. But one of the missing pieces in the Philippines’ introduction of Brahmos is a common challenge for anti-ship missiles: targeting. Analyst Ben Ho has noted that the Philippines’ survivable maritime surveillance and command and control capabilities are limited. Hence, he does not believe that Brahmos will be a deterrent to China.
The Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) announced by the Quad late last month has the potential to improve the effectiveness of these anti-ship missiles for the Philippines. Expectations were low for security cooperation among the Quad due to differences in the security environment and threat perceptions of the four countries. But as Zach Cooper and Gregory Poling put it, IPMDA “is a substantial addition to the Quad’s agenda and one of its most promising initiatives to date.” They assess that many countries will benefit from this support to build maritime domain awareness in this region using space-based sensors.
According to the Quad Leader’s Tokyo Summit 2022 fact sheet released by the White House, “IPMDA will offer a near-real-time, integrated, and cost-effective maritime domain awareness picture…this initiative will transform the ability of partners in the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean region to fully monitor the waters on their shores and, in turn, to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific.” The most notable component of this initiative is its future potential. At the moment, since it uses existing technology and leverages commercially available (rather than classified) data, the Quad can offer it to a wide range of partners who could benefit from the increased ability to track illicit actors in their waters, especially vessels engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. But once the platform is established and data sharing normalized, the Quad may seek to enter into special agreements with individual countries in the future to acquire and share more accurate and sensitive information.
If the Philippine Brahmos missiles are deployed as planned in 2023, the kill chain—which consists of a series of steps including find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess to neutralize distant targets—will still require another aircraft or ship to locate the target and send data to the gunner to initiate a missile attack. But this is not enough to make the Brahmos function effectively, as the targeting part of the chain is vulnerable: there is a risk that the friendly sensors that locate the position will be neutralized. If a framework can be established in the future that builds on the IPMDA to allow near real-time sharing of threat information gathered from satellite-based remote sensing systems, it would improve deterrence in the region by creating a more resilient targeting system and, thus, a more reliable kill chain.
Ukraine’s GIS Arta, nicknamed the “Uber of the battlefield”, may provide a hint how such a future targeting system could work. Uber assigns customers who want a ride to the most suitable vehicle from its fleet of vehicles driving around the city. Similarly, GIS Arta assigns attack orders to platoons with the most effective weapons from among its own forces distributed across the battlefield. In a tweet, Trent Telenko, a retired U.S. Department of Defense civil servant, opined, “Ukraine’s ‘GIS Art for Artillery’ app combined with Starlink actually gives the Ukrainian military measurably better than US Military standard artillery command and control.” However, the U.S. military’s efficient integration of sensors and shooters is also underway under the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept to connect sensors from all of the military services into a single network. If such digital transformation on the battlefield is advanced in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), there would be no need to worry about the kill chain of Brahmos.
Of course, technology alone is not enough. Current JADC2 efforts are primarily focused on achieving basic interoperability among U.S. military services, and integration with allies and partners has only just begun to be discussed. Agreements are needed to enable real-time data sharing, which is essential to establishing an integrated combat network in the Indo-Pacific region.
The introduction of Brahmos in the Philippines has been described as the “most strategic purchase the AFP has made in years.” Indeed it does have vital geopolitical implications, but making the missile system work sooner and more effectively will require not only the efforts of the AFP itself but also the cooperation of its partners, especially the Quad. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, released in February 2022, states that “our single greatest asymmetric strength” is “our network of security alliances and partnerships.” IPMDA may be the first step toward even deeper data sharing initiatives that can realize the full potential of such strengths.