US and Philippine troops are training to repel an island invasion amid South China Sea tensions

news

U.S. and Philippine troops have reportedly been training for a potential island invasion scenario, which is a real possibility as tensions rise in the disputed South China Sea.


On Wednesday, U.S. and Filipino forces conducted a joint airfield seizure exercise on a Lubang Island, located adjacent to the sea, in what was a first for the allies, Channel News Asia reported Thursday.

The drill was practice for a real-world situation in which a foreign power has seized control of an island in the Philippines, taking over the its airfield, GMA News reported.

"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," Bolz added.

U.S. Marines and Philippine marines land on the beach in assault amphibious vehicles during an exercise in Subic Bay, Philippines, October 3, 2018(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Christine Phelps)

The Philippines requested this type of training last year. "The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) must be ready to any eventualities," Lt. Col. Jonathan Pondanera, commander of the exercise control group with the AFP-SOCOM, explained.

Balikatan exercises are focused primarily on "maintaining a high level of readiness and responsiveness, and enhancing combined military-to-military relations and capabilities," the Marine Corps said in a recent statement. Balikatan means "shoulder to shoulder" in Tagalog.

Both the U.S. military and the Marines have stressed that the ongoing exercises are not aimed at China, although some of the activities, such as the counter-invasion drills, seem to suggest otherwise.

Thitu Island, known as Pagasa in the Philippines, is the only Philippine-controlled island in the contested South China Sea with an airfield, and the current drills come as Manila has accused China of sending paramilitary forces to "swarm" this particular territory.

"Let us be friends, but do not touch Pagasa Island and the rest," Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said in a recent message to China. "If you make moves there, that's a different story. I will tell my soldiers, 'Prepare for suicide mission.'"

The Philippine-occupied Thitu island, known as Pagasa, in the South China Sea, April 21, 2017(Reuters)

The Philippines lacks the firepower to stand up to China, but it is protected under a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

In March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaffirmed U.S. commitment to defend the Philippines, stating that "any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations."

For the 35th iteration of the Balikatan exercises, the U.S. sent the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp with 10 F-35s — an unusually heavy configuration of the stealth fighter. This marks the first time the F-35 has participated in these exercises.

Recently, the Wasp was spotted running flight operations in the vicinity of the disputed Scarborough Shoal, territory China seized from the Philippines by force roughly seven years ago.

The Philippines took the dispute before an international arbitration tribunal in 2016 and won. Beijing, however, rejected the ruling, as well as the tribunal's authority.

Read more from Business Insider:

SEE ALSO: Marines Just Seized A Small Island In The Pacific As Training For A Looming China Fight

WATCH NEXT: An F-35 Lands On The USS Wasp In The South China Sea

U.S. Marine rifleman Lance Cpl. Hunter Bell during a live-fire range at Colonel Ernesto Ravina Air Base in the Philippines, April 6, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Isaiah Campbell)
Jeff Schogol

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.

Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.

Read More Show Less

U.S. Special Operations Command may be on the verge of making the dream of flying infantry soldiers a reality, but the French may very well beat them to it.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron shared an unusual video showing a man on a flying platform — widely characterized as a "hoverboard" — maneuvering through the skies above the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris armed with what appears to be a dummy firearm.

The video was accompanied with a simple message of "Fier de notre armée, moderne et innovante," which translates to "proud of our army, modern and innovative," suggesting that the French Armed Forces may be eyeing the unusual vehicle for potential military applications.

Read More Show Less
(New Jersey National Guard photo by Mark C. Olsen)

If you've ever wondered if the Pentagon has ever exposed the American public to ticks infected with biological weapons, you're not alone.

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) authored an amendment to the House version of the Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act would require the Defense Department Inspector General's Office to find out if the U.S. military experimented with using ticks and other insects as biological weapons between 1950 and 1975.

If such experiments took place, the amendment would require the inspector general's office to tell lawmakers if any of the ticks or other bugs "were released outside of any laboratory by accident or experiment design."

Read More Show Less

There's no one path to military service. For some, it's a lifelong goal, for others, it's a choice made in an instant.

For 27-year-old Marine Pvt. Atiqullah Assadi, who graduated from Marine Corps bootcamp on July 12, the decision to enlist was the culmination of a journey that began when he and his family were forced to flee their home in Afghanistan.

Read More Show Less
(Facebook photo)

The Air Force has administratively separated the Nellis Air Force Base sergeant who was investigated for making racist comments about her subordinates in a video that went viral last year, Task & Purpose has learned.

Read More Show Less