Philippine Coast Guard Enhances Ties with Indian Coast Guard, Navy Amid SCS Tensions

BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), INS Ranvijay (D55), and INS Kora (P61) maneuver during a PASSEX in the South China Sea in 2021. (Indian Navy Photo.)

On August 27, 2023. The Philippine Coast Guard strengthened its maritime collaboration with the Indian Coast Guard and Navy in New Delhi. These agreements have taken place against the backdrop of tensions in the South China Sea and as both Manila and New Delhi aim to further develop their security partnership.

On important Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) focusing on enhanced maritime cooperation was signed between the Philippine Coast Guard and the Indian Coast Guard. This event coincided with the initiation of the second resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre. The MoU's primary objective is to strengthen professional ties between the two Coast Guards in areas including Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE), Maritime Search & Rescue (M-SAR), and Marine Pollution Response (MPR). Additionally, the MoU outlines provisions for joint exercises and collaborative training efforts.

PCG Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu after a demonstration flight on an ICG ALH Mk-III Dhurv. The PCG is reported to be interested in the helicopters. (Indian Coast Guard Photo.)

Before the signing of the MoU, a delegation consisting of senior personnel from the Philippine Coast Guard, led by Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu, visited the facilities of the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) in Goa. During this visit, the Philippine delegation had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with various Indian-manufactured aircraft and ships that are utilized by the ICG. Among the highlights was a demonstration flight on an ICG ALH Mk-III Dhurv, in which PCG Commandant Abu participated.

As indicated in the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited Annual Report for 2020-21, the Philippine Coast Guard is anticipated to acquire 7 of these helicopters and 8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft based on the domestically produced Dornier 228 model, utilizing a Line of Credit. During the visit, Commandant Abu also toured Goa Shipyard Limited, known for its construction of numerous offshore patrol vessels utilized by both the Indian Coast Guard and Indian Navy.

Geopolitical analyst Don McLain Gill, who is based in the Philippines and lectures at the Department of International Studies at De La Salle University, highlighted the significance of the PCG-ICG MoU. Gill noted that the agreement signifies an expansion of the relationship between the Philippines and India concerning their strategic interests in Southeast Asia. He further emphasized that the MoU holds the potential to lay the groundwork for more comprehensive and extensive maritime security collaboration between the two democratic nations in the near future. Gill stressed that the Philippine Coast Guard is instrumental in safeguarding the country's sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.

“The goal is for both agencies to maintain consistent coordination to improve both operational and symbolic elements of their maritime cooperation. Both countries share significant experiences in both traditional and non-traditional maritime security issues; hence, this familiarity will allow Manila and New Delhi to smoothly harness their collective potential in the maritime domain,” - Don McLain Gill

Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu boards ICGS Sujeet. Indian Coast Guard Photo.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Indian Coast Guard (ICG), resulting from their first-ever bilateral discussions, had its plans announced in June during the 5th India-Philippines Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation. This joint commission not only paved the way for enhanced collaboration between the coast guards but also explored the concept of a "White Shipping Agreement" between the Philippine Coast Guard and the Indian Navy. This agreement facilitates the exchange of maritime traffic information between the two forces. Remarkably, this agreement was established just a day after the signing of the PCG-ICG MoU.

During the same day, the PCG delegation also engaged with Indian Defence Secretary Shri. Giridhar Aramane. A notable development is New Delhi's recent shift in its stance on the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration, a significant counteraction by Manila against China's expansive maritime assertions in the area. Don McLain Gill pointed out that while the foundation for closer ties was already present, it's only recently that both parties displayed a robust political determination to maximize this partnership.

The discussions also delved into broader defense cooperation, particularly in the naval sector. This included exploring the potential for joint exercises with an emphasis on maritime security. India also explicitly reiterated its offer to provide military equipment, including naval vessels, to the Philippines through loans. Gill highlighted the mutual benefits of this strengthening security partnership, stressing that the Philippines could leverage its ties with India, a rising power with substantial material capabilities and no vested interests in the region. Similarly, New Delhi stands to gain from establishing strong relations with the Philippines, considering its growing importance in Southeast Asian and Indo-Pacific geopolitics.

BrahMos Aerospace displayed its BrahMos Mobile Autonomous Launcher at the Philippine Fleet Defense Expo in May. Three batteries of BrahMos will be operated by the Philippine Marine Corps. Photo from JV Ejercito.

In 2022, the Philippines achieved the distinction of being the inaugural international customer for the Indian-manufactured BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missile. This procurement marked a significant milestone for the Philippines, entailing the acquisition of three batteries of BrahMos missiles for the Philippine Marine Corps Coastal Defense Regiment. Anticipated delivery of the initial batch of these missiles is slated before the end of the year, a commitment reiterated this week by the Indian Ambassador to the Philippines to ensure their punctual arrival. Furthermore, the Philippine Army is also projected to secure BrahMos missiles this year to bolster its coastal defense capabilities.

India has been notably intensifying its security partnerships with other regional nations, particularly in the domain of maritime and coastal defense. New Delhi has been actively supporting Vietnam in enhancing its naval capabilities, as evidenced by the recent transfer of INS Kirpan to the Vietnamese People's Navy in the preceding month. Additionally, there are reports indicating that Indonesia and Malaysia have also exhibited interest in acquiring the BrahMos missile system.


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