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US, Philippine troops fire rockets at ship in largest-ever drills

SAN ANTONIO (AFP) – The United States (US) and Philippine troops fired a salvo of rockets at a warship representing an enemy vessel in the South China Sea yesterday, in the final exercise of the allies’ largest-ever military drills.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, who has sought stronger defence ties with the US, sat in an observation tower with US and Philippine officials watching the event north of Manila.

“No Hollywood effects this morning, this is old-fashioned training,” said US Marine Corps public affairs officer Lieutenant Colonel Nick Mannweiler.

The live-fire drill kicked off with the US HIMARS precision rocket system launching a series of rounds at a decommissioned Philippine Navy corvette anchored about 22 kilometres (km) off the coast.

The ship, which represented an enemy vessel approaching the Philippine shore, was sunk by guided bombs dropped by US Marines F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft, a US military spokesman said in an e-mail.

Photos show US and Philippine troops carrying out military drills. PHOTOS: AFP

Artillery units also lined up along a grassy field to fire rockets at floating drums 10km offshore.

F-16 Fighting Falcons, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and Philippine Air Force FA-50 fighter jets also took part. The drill was briefly interrupted when a small private aircraft entered the exercise area, Mannweiler told AFP.

IRONCLAD ALLIANCE

The drills aim to boost Manila’s military capability while serving as a US show of support for its Asian ally.

Nearly 18,000 troops have taken part in the annual exercises dubbed Balikatan, or “shoulder to shoulder”, in Tagalog.

Yesterday’s event “demonstrated new potential and revitalised the strength of our militaries while we continuously forge an ironclad alliance”, the Balikatan director for the Philippine military Major General Marvin Licudine, said in a statement.

The drills, which began on April 11, have involved helicopters landing on a island off the northern tip of the main island of Luzon.

The US military also showed off its Patriot missiles, considered one of the best air defence systems in the world.

This year’s Balikatan follows a deal announced earlier this month for US forces to use an increased number of bases in the Philippines.

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