US defense chief says US will stay in South China sea
At least 200 American servicemen will remain in the country after the Balikatan exercises, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter of the US said.
The servicemen and many more took part in a mutual joint military exercise called the Balikatan which is held to foster solidarity and cooperation with the Philippines' strongest Western ally, the USA. Soldiers take part in drills, evacuations, and staged assaults.
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Along with his Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin, Carter revealed that the Philippines and the USA will start joint maritime patrols in the disputed region. This was made possible because of a ministerial meeting between Carter, Gazmin, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and former Department of Foreign Affairs head Albert Del Rosario in Washington last January.
Additionally, the joint patrols will also have air support. A contingent of US aircraft, complete with US servicemen, will stay in the country. These aircraft will also conduct their own air operations. This is the first time that the US will have this many units readily on standby in the Philippines, Carter admitted.
"These patrols will continue to help build our interoperability and improve the Philippine Navy. Even as these patrols contribute to the safety and security of the region's waters... With these steps, we'll make a strong alliance, even stronger" said Carter, emphasizing an enduring alliance between the Philippines and the US.
These agreements were made possible after a Supreme Court case regarding the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement's legality, a revival of the Visiting Force Agreement, was upheld.
This agreement has allowed the US to strategically place rotational troops and maintain a strong presence in the South East Asian region.
Also included in the agreement is that it will build facilities in five Philippine bases, spreading American military hardware in strategic parts of the country. The chosen bases include the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan near the South China Sea. The other facilities are Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in the Visayas, Lumbia Air Base in Mindanao, Subic Bay and Clark Air Base.
The air unit assigned in the country will be five A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft, three HH-60G Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopters and one MC-130H Combat Talon or special operations plane.
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, nicknamed Thunderbolt or Warthog, is one of the USA's most iconic airplanes. Characterized by it's loud and powerful guns and ability to deliver close air to ground support crucial for infantry on the ground to make advances, this plane is well known for the strength and durability of its armor and its shelf life. It has been in service since 1977, and is still on active duty despite some US officials calling for an upgrade or cease production. The low cost combined with its efficiency and power remains to be challenged by current generation planes. The plane has served in many notable conflicts, including the Gulf War, Balkan War, as well as some middle-east and African sorties.
The HH-60G Pave Hawk is a special operations helicopter, specializing in tactical insertions, personnel extraction, and search and rescue. The Lockheed MC-130H Combat Talon will be the backbone of special support operations in the air force. It specializes in infiltration, resupply of planes and air refueling. It is based on the C-130 Hercules support craft.