FOUR US A-10C “Thunderbolt” II and two HH-60G “Pave Hawk” aircraft flew out of the former American air base in Clark, Pampanga on April 19 on what the US Embassy in Manila called their first “maritime situational awareness flight.”
The aircraft, part of the US Pacific Command’s Air Contingent deployed to Clark, stayed behind in the Philippines after participating in this year’s Balikatan joint military exercises.
Their mission will include conducting operations such as air and maritime domain awareness, personnel recovery, combating piracy, and helping to assure that all nations have access to air and sea domains throughout the region in accordance with international law, the US Embassy said Friday.
The operation took the aircraft through international airspace to the west of Luzon to promote transparency and safety of movement in international waters and airspace, and showcase US commitment to allies and partners as well as to the region’s continued stability, it added.
The embassy did not specifically mention the West Philippine Sea, however, which is the focus of a simmering territorial dispute between China and the Philippines.
“Inter-operability with the Philippine military is at the forefront of our mission,” Air Contingent head Col. Larry Card said. “The standup of the Air Contingent promotes this collective focus as we build upon our already strong alliance, and reaffirm our commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”
All personnel in this deployment are airmen assigned to various Pacific Air Forces bases, and include aircrew, maintainers, logistics and support personnel, the embassy said.
The announcement came as China defended as “normal” its test firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile Thursday.
The US media site Washington Free Beacon, citing unidentified Pentagon officials, reported that China had carried out a test of its DF-41 long-range missile on April 12.
The report linked the tests to tensions between Washington and Beijing over the South China Sea, noting that it came three days before a visit by US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
The DF-41 missile has a range of some 14,000 kilometers and could, according to some experts, carry up to 10 nuclear warheads.
In a brief response, China’s defense ministry did not deny a test had been carried out, but dismissed media reports of a specific location as “pure speculation.”
“It is normal for us to carry out scientific research tests in our own territory, according to our plans, and they are not aimed at any specific nations or targets,” said a statement on its website.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, which is home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and is believed to contain vast oil reserves.
But many of its Southeast Asian neighbours have overlapping claims, and tensions have risen over China’s construction of artificial reefs in the disputed waters.
On Monday, China’s defense ministry gave its first confirmation that Beijing had landed a military flight on the Fiery Cross reef in the Spratlys archipelago, also claimed by the Philippines.
On the day of Carter’s trip, Beijing said that one of its top military officials had visited a South China Sea island. –
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