The naval forces of the Philippines and the United States resumed joint exercises in the West Philippine Sea off Palawan province on Monday, Setpember 4. This marked the revival of an activity that had been put on hold during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had sought warmer ties with China.
The joint endeavor unfolded with the Philippine Navy’s guided-missile frigate, BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150), and the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114), engaging in a “bilateral sail” off the coast of Palawan.
During the joint exercises, the two warships conducted division tactics exercises, which involved steaming together in various formations, communication drills, and maneuvering. The AFP stated that this event aimed to provide an opportunity for both navies to test and refine existing maritime doctrine, demonstrating their commitment to upholding peace and security in the Indo-Pacific Region.
A core objective of this event is to offer both the Philippine Navy and the US Indo-Pacific Navy an opportunity to test and refine existing maritime doctrines. By doing so, they underscore their shared commitment to upholding peace and security in the Indo-Pacific Region.
The exercises were conducted under the framework of the Mutual Defense Board–Security Engagement Board, designed to enhance operational interoperability between the two navies. These exercises took place outside the country’s territorial waters but within the contiguous zone, around 44 kilometers (24 nautical miles) off the coast.
Interestingly, a People’s Liberation Army (Navy) ship, DDG-161, was spotted over the horizon during the Philippine-US naval exercises, according to unnamed officials privy to the operation.
This joint sail occurred against the backdrop of renewed tensions between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea. Recent incidents, including the use of water cannons by a Chinese coast guard vessel to block Philippine boats delivering supplies to troops, have escalated the situation.
The United States, while maintaining a neutral position in territorial disputes, has consistently expressed support for its treaty ally, the Philippines, in the face of China’s continued harassment in the region. The US has reaffirmed its commitment to defend the Philippines under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty in case of an armed attack.
These joint exercises also come as China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a waterway crucial for global trade. The Philippines, along with other nations, has been actively engaging in joint military exercises with allies to address China’s assertiveness in the region.
In addition to the US, the Philippines recently conducted its largest military exercises with Australia called “Alon,” and it participated in quadrilateral joint exercises with Japan, the United States, and Australia to strengthen regional cooperation and deter aggression.
Amid these efforts, the Philippines has filed a protest against China’s new map claiming almost all of the South China Sea, calling on Beijing to abide by international law.