Missile Developments in ASEAN Countries

By Debalina Ghoshal

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries have focused on ‘defence by denial’ capabilities to possess credible deterrence against the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

In addition, Scud category ballistic missiles are also possessed by countries like Myanmar and Vietnam.

Missile developments in the Korean Peninsula and South China Sea and East China Sea region will bear repercussions for ASEAN countries.

Vietnam possesses anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) like the VCM—01 that are locally produced. Vietnam is also in possession of the Russian Kh-35 Uran-E anti-ship missiles.  There are also reports that Vietnam could buy BrahMos cruise missiles from India. Soviet era Scud missiles that are operational and ready for use are also present in the missile arsenal.

Reports also claim that Vietnam possesses North Korean Hwasong-6 missiles. All these missiles are deterrence against China.

Vietnam has maritime disputes with China in the SCS region over the Spratly and Paracel Islands also known as the Trong Sa and Hoang Sa Islands in Vietnam.

Since Xi Jinping came into power, China’s plans to control the waters of SCS region have strengthened.

Philippines will acquire BrahMos cruise missiles from India to owing to China’s assertive posture in the SCS region that required Philippines to respond with strengthened military posture.

Philippines seeks for “unimpeded” access to natural resources within waters in the SCS according to the Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro.

In 2023, Ferdinand Marcos, the President of Philippines, expressed concerns that, “the Philippines now finds itself on the frontline against actions that undermine regional peace, erode regional stability, and threaten regional success.”

Moreover, in 2024, Philippines entered into maritime cooperation agreement with Vietnam in the SCS region becoming strategic partners in the region. This move could annoy Beijing and result in adverse assertiveness from China in the region.

As the state seeks for more defiant strategy vis-à-vis China, anti-ship missile capabilities that could strengthen its anti-access area denial (A2/AD) mechanism in the SCS region would become an asset.

Such technological developments would assert Philippines’ position in the SCS region, an agenda clear in its foreign policy objectives to “not allow any foreign power to take even one square inch” of the sovereign territory.

Indonesia is also focusing on ballistic and cruise missile capabilities and has showed interest in BrahMos missile capability.

In 2022, Indonesia also signed an agreement with Turkey to acquire the 280kms range Khan ballistic missile capability, which is the export version of the Bora missile.  Indonesia also possesses the Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missile capability.

Though Indonesia shares strong economic ties with Beijing, it is also entangled in maritime dispute with China over Natuna Island.

Indonesia is also entangled in maritime dispute with Vietnam over Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and even though progress on stability in being made by the two countries, these are only initial developments.

Malaysia also seemed to have showed interest in buying the BrahMos missile.

They could also acquire the Spear miniature cruise missiles for the Royal Malaysian Air Force.

The Air Force chose the FA-50 as their new combat aircraft and this aircraft’s strength would be proved with technologically advanced missile capabilities.

Other options could include Brimstone precision strike missile.

The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) equipped with the littoral combat ship (LCS) could strengthen deterrence for the Navy in the near future.

In 2023, during the TAMING SARI exercise 22/2023, Malaysia conducted series of missile firing exercises including the French Exocet MM 40 anti-ship missiles from the KD LEKIU warship. T

hese tests would strengthen Malaysia’s anti-surface capabilities.

In 2021 also, the Royal Malaysian Navy conducted missile firing exercises from the Kasturi class corvette and the KD lekir. The Exocet SM 39 also underwent testing exercise to prove its deterrence mettle.

Thailand possesses the Chinese YJ-83 ASCM and in 2020, there were reports that the Royal Thai Navy was set to possess the U.S. Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles. T

hailand too could acquire the BrahMos cruise missile.

Thailand has maritime disputes with Cambodia and Myanmar and with Chinese naval base in Cambodia,

Thailand would seek for sophisticated deterrence assets to protect its own security interests and sovereignty.

Thailand has claims with Cambodia on overlapping region in the Gulf of Thailand.


In 2023, there were reports that the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) could replace the Harpoon missiles existing in its arsenal with a 290kms range subsonic Israeli made Blue Spear surface-to-surface missile capability.

This is not the first time that RSN would use Israeli made missile systems. In the 1970s, RSN has used Israeli made Gabriel missile systems.

Myanmar in the near future, could acquire the BrahMos missile system.

However, it must be noted that according to the present delivery platforms, Myanmar lacks a credible platform to deliver BrahMos. Reports suggest that there are no credible aerial platforms for BrahMos launch while the naval platforms have fired missiles of fuselage 5m like the Chinese anti-ship missiles.

BrahMos’ fuselage length is of 8m and can be launched from vertical launch systems (VLS).

In contrast, Myanmar has technological capability to launch missiles from horizontal launch systems.

Myanmar possesses the C-801 missiles, C-802 missiles, C-802A missiles, HY-2 and the Kh-35U anti-ship missiles. Short Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM) capabilities like the SY-400s also exist in the arsenal. There are also reports that Myanmar possesses North Korean Hwasong-5 and 6 ballistic missiles.

Myanmar faces threat from China’s growing influence and with the intensification of chaos in the Myanmar owing to the military coup of February 2021, Chinese influence in the country might increase.

This is because widespread violence has taken place in places in Myanmar bordering China, for example, Mandalay-Lashio Road near southwestern border of China or northern Shan state bordering China.

Myanmar is also observant of the growing maritime power projections of South East Asian countries as well as China and the United States in the Indo-Pacific region.

The country too would aim to strengthen its own maritime power projections, though its own internal conflicts could delay its progress in maritime power projection.

While Cambodia does not possess long range missile capability, China’s military base in the territory, the Ream naval base, to exert greater influence in SCS region could result in missile capabilities of medium and short range being fielded in the territory.

Already in December 2023, Chinese warships have docked for the first time at the Ream naval base. Cambodia shares cordial relations with China at present, and in 2024, there were also plans of diverting its shipments through Chinese funded Funan Techo canal that would directly connect Phnom Penh with Cambodian ports on Gulf of Thailand.

According to the He Weidong, a vice chairman of China’s top military body, the Central Military Commission, China and Cambodia have shared “high-level cooperation in high level exchange, mechanism building, joint drills and exercises, and personnel training.”

Hence, in future, there could be joint missile and missile defence drills to strengthen both Cambodia’s defence posture and Chinese ability to assert its influence in the region. Already in 2023, both the countries have participated in joint military naval exercise, Gold-Dragon-2023 for the first time in Cambodian waters. Cambodia has territorial and maritime disputes with Vietnam and Thailand and hence, Cambodia could view partnership with China as a perfect deterrence vis-à-vis these countries.

ASEAN countries are members of South East Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone known as the SEANWFZ Treaty or Bangkok Treaty signed in 1995 and came into force in 1997.

The Treaty obliges state parties to “not to develop, manufacture, or otherwise acquire, possess or have control over nuclear weapons, station or transport nuclear weapons, or test or use nuclear weapons.”

The missiles being possessed or acquired by ASEAN countries are meant to strengthen conventional deterrence, however, dual-capable missiles of adversaries, could put a stress on ASEAN countries’ own commitment towards NWFZ.

Nevertheless, ASEAN states like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam are proud of their contributions in strengthening the notion of nuclear disarmament by accepting a NWFZ despite the threat perceptions.

Missile capabilities could strengthen their deterrence in the South East Asian region as well as in the Indo-Pacific. Such capabilities also add them to elite club of countries possessing advanced technologies.

In fact, with hypersonic weapons capturing the deterrence postures of many states, ASEAN countries could also venture into possessing such capabilities.

Photo: Ten countries flags in the ASEAN region isolated on white background.

Credit: Photo 88171540 | Asean © Kwanchaichaiudom | Dreamstime.com