In their largest war drills, which are sure to enrage China, American, and Filipino soldiers on Wednesday sunk a ship in Philippine waters bordering the disputed South China Sea with a barrage of high-precision rockets, warplanes, and artillery fire.
The latest sign of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s steadfast support for the treaty alliance between the Philippines and the United States was his viewing of the American display of firepower from an observation tower in the coastal town of San Antonio in northwest Zambales Province.
China’s escalating aggressive moves in the South China Sea have become Marcos’ primary concern. He has ordered his military to shift its emphasis from decades-long domestic anti-insurgency battles to exterior security.
The shift in Philippine defense priorities aligns with the Biden administration’s goal of strengthening an Indo-Pacific alliance arc more effectively to fight China.
By constantly harassing its naval and coast guard patrols and chasing away fishermen in waters close to Philippine beaches but which Beijing claims as its own, China has enraged the Philippines. Since last year, the Philippines has lodged more than 200 diplomatic protests against China, at least 77 of which were done so since the June election of President Marcos.
Marcos is seated next to the U.S. Using a pair of binoculars, Ambassador MaryKay Carlson and his top defense and security officials watched as American missiles rocketed into the clear sky.
The HIMARS multiple rocket and missile launcher, mounted on a truck, has become vital for Ukrainian troops fending off Russian invading forces.
As AH-64 Apache attack helicopters soared overhead, the seaside area in front of Marcos resembled a smoke-shrouded battle zone and thudded with artillery fire.
According to Col. Mike Logico, a Philippine military spokesperson for the drills, a private light plane that momentarily interrupted the exercises by flying past during them was asked to leave. Fishermen have warned against the location.
According to Lt. Gen. William Jurney, commander of U.S. forces, “this training increased the exercise’s realism and complexity, a key priority shared by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military.” force of the Marine Corps.
The yearly joint exercises are named Balikatan, which is Tagalog for “shoulder-to-shoulder,” According to Jurney, the U.S. director, “we are strengthening our capabilities in full-spectrum military operations across all domains.”
The drills are the largest since Balikatan began three decades ago and involve some 12,200 U.S. military personnel, 5,400 Filipino forces, and 111 Australian equivalents. U.S. and Philippine military authorities said the drills featured U.S. warships, fighter planes, Patriot missiles, HIMARS, and anti-tank Javelins.
A decommissioned Philippine military warship towing 18 to 22 kilometers (11 to 14 miles) out to sea was the vessel the Allies’ forces targeted.
To portray a fighting scene involving a U.S. ship, smaller floating objects, such as empty drums lashed together, were also used as targets. The Marine Corps, command and control center allowed dispersed allied forces to track down and locate enemy objectives before launching pinpoint rocket and missile attacks.
According to Philippine military authorities, the exercises would improve the nation’s capacity for coastal defense and disaster response and were not directed at any nation. China has warned that expanding American military deployments and drills would ratchet tensions and undermine regional security.
Washington and Beijing are at odds over China’s increasingly aggressive moves to protect its expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea and Beijing’s intention to seize Taiwan, using force if necessary.
President Marcos authorized a more significant U.S. military presence in the Philippines in February by empowering American forces to stay in four additional Philippine military facilities in phases. His predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, concerned that a more robust American military presence may enrage Beijing, shifted sharply in the opposite direction.
China was adamantly opposed to the plan, which would have allowed American soldiers to set up staging areas and observation posts in the western and northern Philippine provinces that border the South China water and across the water from Taiwan.
Sa bisperas ng pagtatapos ng Balikatan exercises, personal na pinanood ni Pangulong Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. ang live fire exercise ng mga Pilipino at mga Amerikanong sundalo sa karagatang sakop ng Zambales. pic.twitter.com/vdx87JtXPV
— TV Patrol (@TVPatrol) April 26, 2023