The United States fired long-range missile Thursday in the Philippine sky as part of war games amid a growing territorial dispute in South China Sea, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. The war games are being carried out to fortify the military alliance between Washington and Manila to counter an assertive China.
The drills were performed by 5,500 U.S. and Philippine soldiers and included U.S. Marine Cobra attack helicopters, Philippine S211 jets and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which fired six missiles at distant targets, according to AFP.
“The truth of the matter is we are allies and as allies, we need to work together,” Lieutenant-General John Toolan, U.S. Marine Corps Pacific commander, reportedly said, referring to the missile system. “I think we will be more than happy to share,” Toolan said, when asked if the U.S. would deploy HIMARS to the Philippines in case of an armed conflict over the disputed region.
The missile’s range is 1,864 miles and can hit vessels far from the Philippine landmass, Toolan reportedly said.
Earlier this month, Jose Cuisia, Manila's ambassador to Washington, said that the U.S. allocated over $120 million as military assistance to the Philippines this year. The Southeast Asian country was also in discussions with Washington to acquire a fourth Hamilton-class cutter to strengthen Philippine capability to patrol the waters.
The South China Sea region has been long been disputed, with Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam laying claim to various areas. Beijing has been expanding its presence in the disputed region and has built three runways on the Spratly archipelago. However, China has consistently defended its actions, saying it does not have any intentions of starting a conflict and that its aircraft facilities will maintain safety in the region.