By Mei Jingya, Sina English
The Philippines and the United States kicked off this year’s Amphibious Landing Exercise on Oct.8 to strengthen their defense partnership amid ongoing tensions over Huangyan Island and other disputed islets in the South China Sea.
Kyodo said the Philippine navy and air force personnel will for the first time participate in the exercise, which is expected to last until Oct.18.
The exercise will include a simulated helicopter raid, live-fire exercises and amphibious landings to be conducted in several Philippine provinces. The planned humanitarian assistance, disaster response drills will be held in coastal Palawan.
A Philippine official said about 2,600 American Marines and 1,200 Philippine troops participated in the exercise, now in their 29th year.
The naval training is aimed to increase Philippine marines’ amphibious combat capabilities, for the priority of the country’s armed forces has shifted from homeland security to territorial defense.
Edilberto Adan, a former general who heads the Philippine government’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) commission, said at the opening ceremony that the exercise comes at a timely manner because Manila is considering buying more amphibious vehicles. And marines need to be trained on how to operate them, he said.
US Deputy Chief of Mission Brian Goldbeck said at the opening, “The Republic of the Philippines is a longstanding treaty ally of the United States.
Today, our nations stand together in a partnership to make the Pacific region more secure and prosperous.
“These projects provide our young men and women a chance to make positive contributions to the local community by providing much needed services to remote areas.”
Cherry Tindog, director of the Philippine Marine Corps public affairs office, was quoted by the Daily Inquirer as saying the exercise also provides an opportunity to launch a joint drill among the air, ground and naval forces. Media reports said it’s the first time the Philippine naval and air personnel joined such an amphibious exercise.
US amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard and two other ships arrived in Subic Bay, a former US naval base, on Oct. 5. Bonhomme Richard was carrying amphibious assault vehicles, light armored vehicles, artillery, helicopters and Harrier fighter jets.
On Oct.4, the USS Olympia, a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine, coincidentally docked in Subic Bay for a port call. Unlike the Bonhomme Richard, it’s not yet known whether Olympia would take part in the ongoing Philippines-U.S. amphibious landing exercise.
The Philippines has been upgrading its military capability to maintain its territorial claim in the South China Sea, especially viewing China as an adversary.
According to media reports, Manila is now waiting for the United States to deliver a frigate similar to the one that patrolled in Philippine waters last year.