US and Philippine Marines jointly took part in the Balikatan 2019 exercises

During the Balikatan 2019 naval drills that were jointly held by the U.S. and Philippine Marines, US and Filipino forces trained for a potential island invasion scenario. The 35th edition of the annual event took place from April 1 to April 12 on and off the Thitu Island, the only Philippine-controlled Island in the South China Sea.

US and Philippine Marines jointly took part in the Balikatan 2019 exercises Task Force Regulars, headed by 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division and the 1st Brigade Combat Team, Philippine Army, completed a Combined Arms Live-Fire Exercise during Balikatan 2019 at Colonel Ernesto Ravina Air Base, Philippines, April 10, 2019 (Picture Source : U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class John Etheridge)

During these exercises, the joint forces practised for a real-world situation in which a foreign power seized control of an island in the Philippines. No doubt that China may be considered as such foreign military power by the U.S.A. and the Philippines.

This drill comes indeed as tensions between the Philippines and China increase, due to China’s military expansion in the area. Until recently, Manila accused China of sending paramilitary forces to swarm this particular Island.

As one of the Philippines main military allies, and because of the need they have to maintain free access through the South China Sea, the U.S.A. also increased their presence in the area, by both enhancing their cooperation with Pacific countries and pursuing their freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in this maritime region. This was the first time that the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) took part in the Balikatan, notably increasing the power the U.S. armed forces are able to deploy so far from their homeland, and remembering China that the U.S.A. would not let this Asian powerful country claim the area as part of any national territory.

"If they [the Filipinos] were to have any small islands taken over by a foreign military, this is definitely a dress rehearsal that can be used in the future," Maj. Christopher Bolz, a US Army Special Forces company commander involved in planning the exercises, told CNA. "I think the scenario is very realistic, especially for an island nation such as the Philippines," he added.

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