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US HIMARS rockets, PH artillery fired at 'foes' in Balikatan

Even the sound of strong rain failed to hide the roar of rockets and the blast of artillery fired by Philippine and United States forces as part of Exercise Balikatan in Palawan.

In a report by Ian Cruz on 24 Oras, the US Army showcased its vaunted M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) at Campong Ulay in the coastal town of Rizal that faces the West Philippine Sea.

The day’s exercise began with the HIMARS launching several rockets at simulated targets in the WPS.

This was followed by a number of rounds fired by a 105mm howitzer crewed by Philippine Marines.

The sky was also illuminated by a number of star cluster rounds from Filipino and American troops concealed behind camouflage to assist in identifying the targets. 

Soldiers and marines supplemented the already impressive display of firepower with their machine guns, rifles, grenades and rocket launchers. An armored vehicle on the beach also joined the fray.

A number of wooden boats serving as targets did not stand a chance against the show of force and were sunk by the barrage.

“We’re simulating a threat coming from the seas to our shorelines so we are using our multi domain capabilities to defend our sovereignty,” said Philippine Marine Corps Brigadier General Romulo Quemado Jr.,  Deputy Commander, Western Command.

US Army BGen. Bernard Harrington of the 1st Multi-Domain Task Force said, “For our HIMARS, what we do is we work as a close part of that combined joint task force to really look at potential adversaries. We look at protecting the sovereignty here.”

Joining the defenders on the beach were 2 US Navy hovercraft or Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCACs) from an amphibious ship off the coast. Onboard the LCACs were two HIMARS. 

USMC Col. Sean Dynan, commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit said the HIMARS were flown from Luzon to Palawan and placed on a ship via LCAC. The LCACs then transported the rocket system to the beach.

The HIMARS’ performance in a defensive role impressed the senior Filipino officers who were present.  

“Any new equipment will be beneficial to the armed forces not only for the marines. We also welcome those kind of hardware,” said BGen. Antonio Mangoroban Jr., commander, 3rd Marine Brigade.

The firepower all faced the WPS where Chinese aggression has ramped up against Filipino vessels in these waters.

Looking at a map, Rizal, Palawan faces the Ayungin Shoal that is near the Chinese-controlled Panganiban or Mischief Reef which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Asked whether China would take offense with the weapons facing in their general direction, the officers gave a diplomatic reply. 

“That’s very speculative. This is quite a distance and  we are only firing within our maritime zones and territory,” said Quemado Jr.

For the exercise, around 100 households in Campong Culay were temporarily transferred to a safer location. Aid was also provided to affected residents and fisherfolk.—RF, GMA Integrated News