China has just reasserted itself in its island dispute claim by deploying new fighter jets into an island that it still contesting for ownership. In response, the U.S. has decided to increase its presence significantly along the South China Sea.
On April 7, U.S. defense officials have detected and authenticated two Chinese Shenyang J-11 fighter jets or “Flankers” flying on Woody Island. The island is largest in the Paracel chain of islands in the South China Sea and the Chinese have long claimed that the said island belongs to its country. Since the 1950s, however, China has had to fight with Taiwan and Vietnam over it.
Moreover, a recent report from Fox News also found that satellite photos taken by U.S. defense officials revealed that China has just installed a fire control radar system on Woody Island. This means that the China’s surface-to-air missile launchers is now fully operational, which would allow the country to track U.S. fighter jets and bombers who are monitoring movement from the Chinese military.
Meanwhile, the Woody Island is not the only island China has been aggressively laying claim on. Recent reports have also indicated that the Chinese is now in the process of building another island in the Scarborough Shoal, an island China is trying to stake a claim on against the Philippines. It seems that for the U.S. military, these actions have been enough to convince them to increase their presence in the area more significantly.
According to a report from The New York Times, the U.S. has decided to increase and strengthen its presence in the Philippines in response to Chinese aggressiveness in the area. The new agreement will include the development of facilities in five Philippine military bases. Moreover, this also means that there will be more American troops that will be deployed to the island nation.
As of the moment, the U.S. and Philippine military are conducting their annual military exercise along the Philippine islands of Luzon, Palawan and Panay. According to the Pentagon, this year’s Balikatan Exercise includes as much as 5,000 U.S. military troops along with 3,500 Philippine military troops. Furthermore, they are also joined by 80 Australian Defense Force personnel and observers from 12 other nations.
Moreover, the U.S. military troops also included marines who conducted a nighttime training amphibious raid with the goal of capturing the high value target. Sgt. Alan Villarreal, leader of the U.S. Marines of 1st Platoon, Company A, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, admitted there was some language barrier between the two troops. Nonetheless, he said that the “everything was running really smooth.”
On the other hand, observing from the beach during the raid was U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Grady Harmon who was impressed by how the Philippine reconnaissance plan was executed. “They were good; in fact they were really good. I was surprised at how fluid and how solid of a force they were when they hit that beach – it was impressive,” he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is scheduled to arrive in the Philippines on April 13 where he will observe the firing of a long-range missile system. The said system may give the Philippines significant advantage in its territorial dispute with China. The U.S., however, has not made any confirmation if the said missiles will be deployed in the Philippines.