SAN ANTONIO, Zambales: The Philippines said Tuesday it would soon ask the United States for more military equipment and training to build its defenses, as it faces Chinese “aggressiveness” in disputed waters.
As hundreds of Filipino and American Marines simulated an amphibious assault to reclaim territory from invaders during annual war games, military chief General Gregorio Catapang told AFP he was drafting a “wish list” for US aid.
Catapang said the Philippines would ask for “equipment and training”, when Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario traveled to the US in about a week’s time.
“The US has told us that they will help us develop our capabilities, and now, we are focused on maritime security,” Catapang said as he watched tanks emerge from the sea and roll onto the beach.
“We want to have capability on wetland, marshland, and beach landings,” he said when asked to elaborate on the contents of the “wish list”.
He said he hoped the US military would train his men on the operation of amphibious tanks, which the Philippines is buying for the first time this year as part of a defense upgrade.
The US is already the biggest military supplier to the Philippines, a former colony to which it remains allied by a mutual defense treaty.
Tuesday’s drills, among the first of annual war games between the allies, took place 220 kilometers east of the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
The shoal is a rich fishing ground China has controlled since the end of a maritime standoff with the Philippines in 2012.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma alleged on Monday that a Chinese vessel recently used a water cannon to drive Filipino fishermen away from the shoal.
On Monday, Catapang criticized China’s “aggressiveness” as he showed satellite photos of “massive” reclamations on seven reefs in the West Philippine Sea.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes and also believed to hold vast mineral reserves.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have often overlapping claims.
During Tuesday’s drills, 21 amphibious tanks rolled out of the US Navy’s giant warship USS Green Bay to battle troops from the fictitious country “Calabania”, which invaded a Philippine island.
As the first batch of tanks approached the beach, they created a smokescreen setting fire to diesel to hide the others moving behind them. Six attack helicopters flying overhead provided air support.
The tanks then beached and marines in full battle dress swiftly ran ashore and advanced inland. Troops fired mortar rounds towards enemy positions to make way for the ground assault.