The U.S. and the Philippines Will Sink a Vessel in the West Philippine Sea


More than a training exercise or military demonstration, it appears that the Philippines and the United States want to drive a message at this year’s iteration of the Balikatan exercises, incidentally, the largest in history, participated in by more than 17,000 troops from the U.S., the Philippines, Australia, and observers from the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

For the first time in the history of the Balikatan exercises, the Philippines and the U.S. will demonstrate their ability to sink a target at sea. And it will be done at the hotly contested Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), the main flashpoint that started the 2012 naval standoff between the Philippines and China and triggered China’s rapid militarization of the West Philippine Sea thereafter. 

“We will be sinking a target vessel using a combination of artillery naval gunfire and aviation weapons… We will be firing HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), our artillery … a combination of Philippine Air Force and US Air Force rockets and bombs, and our frigates,”Balikatan spokesperson Col. Michael Logico said in a statement. 

The U.S. and the Philippines have significantly boosted military cooperation in the past five years amid the increased aggression and assertiveness of China in the West Philippine Sea, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea. 

The 2023 Balikatan, unlike its previous iterations that focused on counterinsurgency, seems to be focused on responding to security issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea. Much of the exercises will be held at sea. Apart from sinking a vessel in Panatag Shoal, there will be live-fire exercises off the coast of Zambales, and “an interoperability exercise to test our concepts for maritime defense, for coastal defense and maritime domain awareness,” added Logico


It was not mentioned whether the American and Filipino troops will simulate amphibious assaults as a preparation for the possible retaking of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea. In 2018, U.S. and Philippine Marines conducted amphibious assaults and landing, succeeded by live-fire exercises on the landed islands. 

In an Inquirer report, Logico did not mince words when he was asked if the Balikatan 2023 exercises were a preparation to respond to China’s expansion in the West Philippine Sea. “We have the absolute, inalienable right to defend our territory. We are here to show that we are combat-ready.” 

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