US and Philippine forces sink decommissioned warship in South China Sea war games Ship’s crew

Reuters

By Karen Lema

SAN ANTONIO, Philippines, April 26 (Reuters) – US and Philippine forces fired a volley of missiles at a mock enemy warship in the South China Sea on Wednesday, in a show of military might and a strengthening alliance at a time of rising regional tension.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. watched from a four-story tower as a highly mobile artillery rocket system (HIMARS) fired missiles at a decommissioned naval corvette in the waters just a few miles off the western province of Zambales.

It was the first time the annual “Balikatan” drills between the US and the Philippines have included live fire drills at sea, at a location just a few boat hours from one of the world’s most contested maritime features, the Scarborough Shoal, which has occupied China for more than a decade.

Military officials from both countries said the drills in the Philippines, which include sites facing Taiwan, were not targeted at any country.

This year’s war games end on Friday and with 17,000 soldiers, the largest edition to datea sign that ties between the defense contractors have been revived after a period of tension under previous, anti-US President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The Alliance is alive,” said Colonel Michael Logico, a Filipino spokesman for Balikatan.

Accompanied by his Defense and Army chiefs, Marcos boarded and inspected a HIMARS cabin on display at San Antonio Naval Base before observing the exercise through binoculars and on a television screen.

The moment the first missile was fired, he smiled and left a trail of smoke in the sky, part of a coordinated coastal, inland artillery and air attack that obliterated the enemy’s decoy.

“The President walked away with a deeper appreciation for joint and combined operations,” added spokesman Logico.

Marcos is due to meet US counterpart Joe Biden in Washington next week and plans to discuss a 1951 mutual defense treaty that he believes is necessary develop in the face of “heating up tensions”.

China has criticized the military exercises taking place amid what the Philippines describes as “aggressive” Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

Beijing said the US-Philippines alliance should not interfere in naval disputes or harm China’s territorial sovereignty and security interests. The Philippines and the United States say their activities are for defense purposes only.

“There is nothing provocative about training to defend a nation’s territory,” Maj. Gen. Joseph Ryan, commanding general of the US Army’s 25th Infantry Division, told reporters.

“It is the right of every sovereign nation to defend its space.”

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.

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