PHL, US TROOPS SINK ‘ENEMY’ WARSHIP AS MARCOS WATCHES; Show firepower at sea, land in biggest war drills amid growing China tension
By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief
SAN ANTONIO, Zambales – As Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., United States Ambassador to Manila MaryKay Carlson and other officials watch ashore, Filipino and American troops blew up a “mock enemy warship” miles away in West Philippine Sea off Zambales in the first live fire drills at sea of the soldiers from both nations.
The event was part of the troops of the Philippines and US largest joint military exercises with almost 18,000 participants in 40 years since undertaking the annual “Balikatan” war drills using various weapons platforms, including missiles which were used for the firs time.
Troops of other countries allied to US and the Philippines also joined the drills held also in Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija; in Ilocos Norte, Mr. Marcos’ home province, and Palawan as tension with China continues to grow leader top generals to predict a possible war by 2025 which some officials, however, downplayed.
It was the first time that the US and the Philippine troops sank a target ship, a decommissioned Philippine Navy corvette, in a joint littoral exercise to the delight of Mr. Marcos as he prepared for next week’s trip to the White House for longer bilateral talks with US President Joe Biden.
Marcos watched as the US and Philippine combat units participate in a combined joint littoral live-fire exercise involving the sinking of an old Philippines Navy ship some 2.8 kilometers from the Naval Education Training Doctrine Command (NETDC) in San Antonio, Zambales.
Marcos expressed hope the country could benefit from enhanced cooperation with the United States through these joint military drills.
Both Filipino and American military officials believe that the training event represented a tangible demonstration of the US-Philippine commitment to strengthen military capabilities and interoperability to meet shared modern-day security challenges.
Among key Philippine officials who attended were AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, Zambales Rep. Doris Maniquiz, Zambales Governor Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. and acting Defense Secretary and Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. (See related stories.)
Joining Ambassador in the US side were US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Lindsey Ford and US Exercise Director Lt. Gen. William Jurney.
The exercise featured U.S. and Philippine weapons platforms delivering coordinated fires on a target ship, a decommissioned Philippine Navy corvette towed into Philippine territorial waters.
The bilateral weapons systems used in the war games consisted of U.S. and Philippine artillery, High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and the Avenger air defense systems.
State-of-the-art combat aircrafts were also mobilized including AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, Philippine Air Force FA-50 Golden Eagle fighter-attack aircraft, F-16 Fighting Falcons, U.S. Marine F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, and the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command AC- 130 Spectre gunship.
One of the most anticipated weapons from the U.S. arsenal was the HIMARS, a full-spectrum, combat-proven, all-weather, 24/7, lethal and responsive, wheeled precision strike weapons system.
HIMARS is a C-130 air transportable wheeled launcher mounted on a 5-ton Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles XM1140A1 truck chassis organic/assigned to Field Artillery Brigades.
Built to support an expeditionary, lethal, survivable and tactically mobile force, the HIMARS carries one launch pod containing either six Guided MLRS (GMLRS)/MLRS rockets or one Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missile.
During the littoral live-fire event, a U.S. Marine Corps command and control and sensor network enabled the various firing platforms to sense their target, develop firing solutions and deliver precision integrated fires against the target vessel.
Balikatan 2023 aims to develop interoperability and enhance bilateral capabilities in the areas of maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban and aviation operations, cyber defense, counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness.