Glowing projectiles lit up the Philippine sky from an advanced US long-range missile system on Thursday, in war games aimed at boosting their military alliance in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) was the star of a simulated assault exercise by 5,500 US and Philippine soldiers, unleashing six missiles at distant targets from a dry riverbed three hours’ drive from Manila.
US Marine Cobra attack helicopters and Philippine S211 jets also buzzed over the Crow Valley training range as Filipino and US troops acted out the capture of imaginary enemy-held territory.
The exercises were staged in the shadow of a festering dispute between the poorly equipped US ally and regional giant China over islands, reefs and waters in the resource-rich South China Sea.
“The truth of the matter is we are allies and as allies, we need to work together,” Lieutenant-General John Toolan, the US Marine Corps Pacific commander told reporters, referring to the missile system.
“I think we will be more than happy to share,” he said when asked if the US would deploy HIMARS to the Philippines in the case of armed conflict over the South China Sea.
‘Don’t target third party’
Military cooperation between the United States and the Philippines should not “target a third-party” or “infringe the interests of the third-party”, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense told China Daily on Thursday.
The comment was made after US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday that US forces will gain access to more military bases in the Philippines than the five already announced, AFP reported.
In response, the ministry referred to the fact that the US military bases in the Philippines were closed in the early 1990s.
The ministry said in a written reply that “now the US army has returned, has reinforced its military presence in the Philippines and has given rise to militarization in the South China Sea region”.
“Reinforcing a military alliance is a sign of Cold-War thinking, and it runs against the trend of this era — peace, development, cooperation and win-win,” the ministry said.
“We urge the relevant parties to break away from the outdated Cold-War thinking, and not to target a third-party, infringe interests of the third-party or impact the regional peace and stability when they embark on bilateral military cooperation,” the ministry added.