Russia Offers the Philippines Lethal ‘Black Hole’ Submarines With Kalibr Cruise Missiles

Could provide its navy with a much needed asymmetric enhancement to its combat capabilities and a deterrent against China and the US both

Amid growing defence ties between Moscow and Manilla, with Russia providing the Southeast Asian state with advanced armaments and even military aid, Filipino Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has reported a Russian offer to provide his country’s navy with advanced Kilo Class diesel electric attack submarines.

Among the most advanced warships of their kind in the world, dubbed ‘Black Hole’ by NATO for their near complete silence and resulting high survivability, the Improved Kilo Class are reportedly being offered with a soft loan, under which Russia would provide partial financing for the Filipino acquisition either interest free or at below market interest rates. 

Kilo Class submarines represents a highly potent asymmetric asset, one which a number of small states have invested in to counter threats posed by larger and more capable adversaries. Iran and China have both acquired the vessels to counter the threat posed by the vastly larger surface fleets of the Western Bloc and their allies in the Middle East and East Asia respectively - and at the time of acquisition the Kilo Class were possibly the most capable asset in the Chinese Navy’s for countering threats posed by the U.S. Navy’s vast surface fleet.

Russia for its part has similarly invested heavily in the relatively inexpensive warship as a means of undermining the naval supremacy of the NATO alliance, which combined fields a surface fleet several times that of the Russia’s own. Vietnam too has invested in acquiring half a dozen of the Improved Kilo, an asset aimed largely at countering the far larger Chinese Navy which the small Southeast Asian state could not hope to threaten with purely symmetric assets. 

With the Philippines’ defence budget paling in comparison to those of major powers such as the United States and China, the former which has a long history of imposing its will on the country through force and the latter with which it has an ongoing territorial dispute, investment in the Kilo Class could well be key to providing the country’s navy with a much needed asymmetric enhancement to its combat capabilities and a viable deterrent against both these larger powers. Armed with the latest Kalibr cruise missiles, torpedoes, mines and on some variants even surface to air munitions, the Black Hole submarines will if acquired likely become the country’s most formidable deterrence asset.

With Russia seeking to expand its influence in Southeast Asia and find new clients for its advanced new weapons systems, the Philippines will likely be able to acquire the platforms on excellent terms. Whether Manilla will be willing to endure the inevitable pressure and retribution that will ensue from the United States, recently applied to clients for high end Russian arms from Indonesia and Indiato Turkey and Iraq, remains another key factor - one which is likely to be key to determining the future of the arms deal.

The Untied States for its part has strongly opposed the sale as part of its campaign to undermine Russia's defence industry and stop the proliferation of Russian arms. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver warned Manilla: "should think very carefully about that. If they would have to proceed purchasing major Russian equipment, I don’t think that is a helpful thing to the alliance."

Threatening the Philippines with a downgrading of its defence partnership with the United States, the official further noted a number of the Western Bloc's grievances with Moscow - which he indicated Washington was eager to see Manilla take its side on, stating:  “I think more than that, I mean let us understand the nature of this regime in Russia. I don’t need to go to the full laundry list… Crimea, Ukraine, the chemical attack in UK, so you are investing in not only platforms but making a statement about our relationship.”

Ultimately by politicising the issue of an arms sale, the United States may well succeed in undermining the sale and defence cooperation between its former colony and its major adversary - despite the U.S. itself being poorly placed either to ensure Filipino security against Chinese forces or to provide a comparable platform to the Kilo Class.

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