US Marines test-fire rocket during Balikatan
Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - April 5, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Unites States Marines participating in this year’s Phl-US Balikatan 2016 joint military exercises test-fired one of their lethal weapons deployed at the gunnery range in Crow Valley, Capas, Tarlac yesterday.

Capt. Celeste Frank Sayson, Balikatan spokesman for the Philippines, said US Marines from the 4th Marine Regiment delivered six rounds containing non-explosive rounds using two M142 High Artillery Rocket System.

“They fired six rounds yesterday using the HIMARS platform at a reduced range of 15 kilometers  in preparation for the final exercises on April 14,” Sayson said.

The testing, part of the ongoing joint war games, was intended to find out possible interference during the conduct of live fire drills, which would be open to the media on April 14.

With a maximum range of 300 kilometers, HIMARS is considered among the newest mobile and land-based lethal weapons in the US Marines’ inventory which they used during their Afghanistan campaign against the Taliban.

“It used non-explosive material and is safe,” Sayson said, adding that this type of rounds will be used in the forthcoming live-fire exercises with the media around.

Aside from HIMARS, the US has committed a number of air and land assets to this year’s Balikatan for the combined beachhead landing in Antique province and other joint maritime, air and land exercises in Palawan, Zambales, Pampanga and at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

Prevent armed conflict

Liberal Party presidential candidate Manuel Roxas II said the stationing of US troops in selected Philippine military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) can help prevent an armed conflict over the West Philippine Sea.

He issued the statement as the Philippines and the US on Monday launched their annual Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games where activities would likely include simulated responses in the event of a shooting war in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.

“For a nation, if we can’t defend our rights through peaceful means – that’s why we brought our case before the United Nations, to the (arbitral) tribunal – to find out if there’s basis to the claims of China on these areas, which are closer to us than China,” Roxas told reporters here.

“I’ll defend our rights. I’ll defend our territorial integrity and enter into treaties or alliances so that we can strengthen our defense of our territory,” he said.

“What’s important is we are under the security umbrella of major allies because our rival in the West Philippine Sea is China, a giant and a nuclear power,” he added.

He, however, maintained that he would not allow permanent foreign bases in country.

“Ask the people, the fishermen here in Zambales. They’re being harassed by Chinese ships and they can’t do their livelihood because they’re being harassed,” he said.

In Washington, a report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research showed the Philippines’ defense spending substantially rising in 2015 in the face of Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea.

Heightened tensions with China over the South China Sea were reflected in substantial growth in military expenditure in 2015 by the Philippines (25 percent), Indonesia (16 percent), and Vietnam (7.6 percent), the Stockholm International Peace Research said.

Japan also began to increase spending in 2015 after years of decline, signaling rising threat perceptions from both China and North Korea, according to the recently updated SIPRI military expenditure database.

China’s spending also rose by 7.4 percent in 2015 to $215 billion, or 49 percent of regional military expenditure, although the rate of increase is beginning to slow in line with weakening economic growth, SIPR noted. – With Paolo Romero, Jose Katigbak/STAR Washington bureau

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