US, Philippine troops fire rockets at ship in biggest drills in history – Digital Journal

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos has sought stronger defense ties with the United States – Copyright AFP/GREG BAKER File

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US and Philippine troops fired a salvo of rockets at a warship representing an enemy ship in the disputed South China Sea on Wednesday, in the final exercise of the largest military exercises ever conducted by the allies.

It was the first time the countries had held a joint live-fire exercise in the hotly contested waters, which China claims almost entirely.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, who has sought stronger defense ties with the United States, sat in an observation tower with US and Philippine officials watching the event north of Manila.

“No Hollywood effects this morning, this is outdated training,” said Lt. Col. Nick Mannweiler, a public affairs officer for the US Marine Corps.

The live-fire drill began with the US HIMARS precision rocket system firing a series of rounds at a decommissioned Philippine Navy corvette anchored about 22 kilometers (14 miles) offshore.

The goal was to sink the decades-old ship, which represented an enemy vessel approaching the Philippine coast.

That was followed by artillery units lined up along a grassy field firing rockets at floating drums 10 kilometers offshore.

The exercise was briefly interrupted when a small private plane entered the exercise area, Mannweiler told AFP.

– ‘Armored Alliance’ –

The drills are aimed at boosting Manila’s military capability while serving as a show of US support for its Asian ally as China’s assertiveness in the region strengthens.

Nearly 18,000 soldiers have participated in the annual exercises called Balikatan, or “shoulder to shoulder” in Filipino.

Wednesday’s event “demonstrated new potential and reinvigorated the strength of our militaries as we continuously forged an iron alliance,” Balikatan’s director for the Philippine military, Major General Marvin Licudine, said in a statement.

The drills, which began on April 11, involved helicopter landing on a Philippine island off the northern tip of the main island of Luzon, nearly 300 kilometers from Taiwan.

The Americans also showed off their Patriot missiles, considered one of the best air defense systems in the world.

This year’s Balikatan follows an agreement announced earlier this month for US forces to use a greater number of bases in the Philippines, including one near Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.

The exercises and increased US access to Philippine bases have angered China, which has accused the United States of endangering regional peace and trying to drive a wedge between Manila and Beijing.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, ignoring an international ruling that the claim has no legal basis.

It is the first Balikatan to be held under Marcos, who has leaned toward the United States since taking office last June.

Relations had soured under his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who had favored China over his country’s former colonial master.

Marcos is scheduled to meet US President Joe Biden at the White House next week to discuss, among other things, the rising tension over the South China Sea and Taiwan.

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