Editor’s note: This story was written by AP journalists Jim Gomez and Aaron Favila

CAPAS, Philippines (AP) — Truck-mounted launchers blasted off rockets and U.S. stealth fighter jets streaked across the northern Philippine sky on Thursday in a combat drill that marked the latest display of American firepower in a region where Washington has tried to deter what it warns as China’s growing aggression.

The live-fire exercises at a gunnery and bombing range in a desolate valley in Capas town north of Manila were the highlight of two weeks of combat readiness maneuvers, which included mock amphibious assaults and joint coastal defense tactics involving more than 2,500 American and Philippine marines.

Howitzer artillery shots boomed across the dusty valley hemmed in by a mountain range and hills from U.S. and Philippine marine fire positions, some concealed by camouflage tents.

Filipino and American Marines walks during annual combat drills between the Philippine Marine Corps and U.S. Marine Corps in Capas, Tarlac province, northern Philippines, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. Truck-mounted launchers blasted off rockets Thursday and U.S. stealth fighter jets streaked across the northern Philippine sky in a combat drill and latest display of American firepower in a region where Washington has tried to deter what it warns as China's growing aggression. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Filipino and American Marines walk during annual joint combat drills between the two countries in Capas, Tarlac province, northern Philippines. AP Photo/Aaron Favila/2022

Called Kamandag — a Tagalog acronym for “Cooperation of the Warriors of the Sea” — the military maneuvers ending on Friday were being held simultaneously with combat drills between U.S. Marines and Japanese army forces on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido that involve about 3,000 military personnel from the two sides, U.S. military officials said.

U.S. Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron of the Japan-based 3rd Marine Division has said the exercises were aimed at bolstering the defensive capabilities of the U.S. alliance with the Philippines and Japan, and ensuring that “we are prepared to rapidly respond to crisis throughout the Indo-Pacific.”

America’s High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS rocket launchers, which have recently helped Ukraine gain momentum in its war with Russia, and F-35B supersonic fighter jets were showcased in the military exercises on Wednesday and Thursday.

The HIMARS launchers fire GPS-guided missiles. Depending on the munitions and system configuration, HIMARS are capable of hitting targets up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) away, Stahl said. The highly mobile launchers are hard for the enemy to spot and can quickly change position after firing to escape retaliatory airstrikes.

The military drills were the first large-scale exercise between the treaty allies under newly elected Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June after a landslide election victory.

His predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, was an outspoken critic of U.S. security policies and nurtured closer ties with China and Russia.
Associated Press journalist Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.

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