U.S., Japanese and Australian Warships Join Philippine Forces in South China Sea Patrol

April 7, 2024 9:12 PM
USS Mobile (LCS-26), HMAS Warramunga (FFH-152), JS Akebono (DD-108), BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS-15), BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) and BRP Valentin Diaz (PS-177) sail in formation off the coast within the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone on April 7, 2024. Royal Australian Navy Photo

Six warships and four aircraft from Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States conducted a joint patrol in the South China Sea on Sunday following Chinese harassment of Philippine Navy resupply missions in the region.

Officially dubbed the Australia – Japan – Philippines – United States Maritime Cooperative Activity, these joint patrols began last November in response to violent incidents between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea, particularly around Scarborough Shoal and the resupply missions to BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57) at Second Thomas Shoal.

China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia have blasted water cannons, conducted blocking maneuvers, deployed long-range acoustic devices, and rammed vessels in a series of increasingly aggressive moves against Philippine vessels.

Last month, Philippine Navy sailors were injured by Chinese water cannons as a result of these attempts to block a resupply mission to Sierra Madre on two separate encounters. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said there would be “a response and countermeasure package” to counter the “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks by agents of the China Coast Guard and the Chinese maritime militia.”

While not explicitly linked to be a part of the response and countermeasure package, Manila originally pitched the idea of joint patrols with allies to show support and demonstrate deterrence against further Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, officials said.

“I am confident that this collaboration will contribute to a more secure and stable environment for our people,” Marcos said in November regarding the first joint patrol with the U.S. in response to Chinese harassment. Since then, and with incidents ramping up in scale and intensity, Manila has invited more countries to join these efforts. Canada, France and India have expressed their interest in being involved.

Sunday’s joint patrol not only marks the first combined multinational patrol but also the first time Japanese vessels and aircraft participated. Tokyo and Manila have expanded their defense ties over the last year, most notably through trilateral exchanges with the U.S. and the provision of naval radars to the Philippine Navy via Japan’s new military aid program. According to the Financial Times, the Philippines, Japan, and the U.S. are expected to strengthen their security cooperation during this week’s trilateral summit in Washington.

Alongside the number of involved nations, the joint patrol also included the most assets to date. Warships included Littoral Combat Ship USS Mobile (LCS-26), HMAS Warramunga (FFH-152), JS Akebono (DD-108), BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS-15), BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) and BRP Valentin Diaz (PS-177). Shipborne helicopters as well as Two P-8 Poseidon aircraft from Australia and the U.S. were also involved.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Col. Xerxes Trinidad stated there were “no untoward incidents” during the joint patrol. Concurrently with the combined activities, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced that Chinese forces in the South China Sea would conduct their own joint naval and air patrol. The Chinese statement further added that “all military activities disrupting the South China Sea situation and creating buzzes are under control.”

In a joint statement released by defense officials from the four nations, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated that this patrol “underscores our shared commitment to ensuring that all countries are free to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”

Similar sentiments were communicated by his Australian, Japanese, and Philippine counterparts, with Philippine Secretary of National Defense Giberto Teodoro emphasizing that these actions show “the enduring friendship and partnership among the peace-loving peoples of the Philippines, United States, Australia, and Japan.”

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa is a freelance defense journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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