Filipino troops fire their howitzer cannons during live-fire exercises April 12 at Crow Valley, Tarlac province north of Manila, during the annual joint Philippine-U.S. military exercise. (Ted Aljibe / AFP pool)
CAPAS, Philippines — U.S. and Filipino Marines staged armored assault maneuvers Friday as part of annual military exercises the Philippines have deemed vital in building its capacity to defend itself.
This year’s edition is taking part amid a tense territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea, as well as bellicose anti-U.S. rhetoric by North Korea. More than 8,000 soldiers from both countries, 30 military aircraft, including a dozen US F/A-18 Hornets, and three naval vessels are taking part in 12 days of military exercises that will end Wednesday.
The exercises, part of annual large-scale war games, highlighted how two allied armed forces with unequal military capability can work together to defeat a common enemy, said 1st Lt. Garth Langley, a U.S. participant.
“They didn’t have their own vehicles, but we put them inside our vehicles and showed them what we can do with inter-operability,” Langley told AFP, speaking of their Filipino Marine counterparts.
About 60 U.S. and Filipino Marines aboard four US AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles ploughed through the volcanic ash of Crow Valley, a gunnery range laid waste by the 1991 eruption of nearby Mount Pinatubo. The Marines fired live rounds from the armored vehicles’ mounted machine guns, after which occupants got off and used their automatic rifles to hit designated targets, said Langley, a 25-year-old from California.
Afterward, a US F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet screamed atop the Crow Valley canyons in a related military exercise being conducted from the nearby Clark air field.
At a time of rising regional tensions, the Philippines has sought closer diplomatic and military ties with the United States, its former colonial ruler. The two countries share a 61-year-old mutual defense pact, which requires the U.S. to come to the aid of the Philippines if it is attacked.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said at the opening of the maneuvers last week that the war games are an important contribution to building his country’s capacity to defend its territorial integrity. However, Langley said Friday’s live-fire exercise was not conducted with a specific enemy force in mind.
“We’re focused on what we’re doing. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world,” he added.