Philippines Fires First Anti-Ship Missile in South China Sea Strike Test with U.S. and Australian Forces

May 8, 2024 10:19 PM
BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) fires an SSM-700K C-Star anti-ship cruise missile at the decommissioned BRP Lake Caliraya (AF-81) during Balikatan 2024’s maritime strike activity in the South China Sea. Armed Forces of the Philippines photo

The Philippine Navy sank a decommissioned tanker in the South China Sea with an anti-ship cruise missile during Balikatan 2024’s climactic maritime strike exercise on Wednesday morning.

BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150), the flagship of the Philippine Navy, fired a C-Star anti-ship cruise missile at the decommissioned tanker BRP Lake Caliraya (AF-81). Donated to the Armed Forces of the Philippines by the Philippine National Oil Corporation in 2014 for underway replenishment duties, the Chinese-built tanker was decommissioned in 2020 due to maintenance issues.

Lake Caliraya was scheduled to be sunk during last summer’s Marine Aviation Support Activity, but bad weather canceled the SINKEX and beached the tanker. For Balikatan 2024, the ship was reused as a target.

Among other highlights, the exercise saw the first deployment of the Army’s Mid-Range Capability in a simulated maritime strike on the first island chain and the refinement of a combined sensor-to-shooter kill-chain network between the three participating forces.

“This exercise was about the collective capability of our combined fires networks and increasing interoperability to sense and shoot targets from a variety of Philippine, U.S. and Australian land, sea and air platforms,” said Marine Col. Douglas Krugman, the U.S. director of the drill’s combined coordination center, in a press release.

Last year’s iteration also involved the sinking of a decommissioned ship in the South China Sea, though not with an anti-ship missile. This year, the exercise planners focused on linking sensors to missile systems and aircraft. A variety of platforms, both on the ground and in the air, passed data to the combined coordination center, which was located hundreds of kilometers south of the maritime strike activity in Manila.

A Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, a Royal Australian Air Force E-7A Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft and a Marine Corps TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar helped provide data to the command center to target of the decommissioned tanker.

For the exercise’s “shooters,” the three countries deployed a myriad of platforms and munitions. U.S. Air Force F-16s from the Misawa-based 13th Fighter Squadron dropped multiple JDAM guided bombs and Philippine Navy fast-attack boats fired off Spike missiles against the 325-foot-long tanker. An AC-130J Ghostrider also took part in the drill.

A list of “U.S. Critical Capabilities” from the Philippine military stated that B-52H, MQ-1 and MQ-9 drones were expected to be present.

Lake Caliraya slipped beneath the waves after being hit by missiles, bombs and artillery shells for two hours at 10:59 Philippine Standard Time.

Despite the firepower deployed, a press release said the maritime strike was designed “[t]o maximize the training value, the goal was to keep the target vessel afloat for as long as possible before ultimately sinking it.”

U.S. Marine Capt. Colin Kennard, a public affairs officer covering the exercise, highlighted to USNI News that this maritime strike activity came from an Indo-Pacific Command effort called the Pacific Multi-Domain Training and Experimentation Capability program. According to Kennard, the program’s “modernized and distributed training capability will enhance warfighting readiness to compete against peer-level adversaries at speed, scope, scale, and operational distances – both in the near term and in the future.”

This simulation of what was described as “adversarial air and maritime threats” elevates training between U.S. and partner forces across the region that “matches real-world conflict as much as possible.”

Kicking off two weeks ago, Balikatan 2024 took a higher-end approach to training with its focus on four combined joint all-domain operations simulated in field training exercises in key locations across the country. The drills accompany Manila’s new Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept, which pushes the boundaries of Philippine defense to cover the country’s exclusive economic zone. This year’s Balikatan also saw the first activities in the South China Sea and the northernmost territories in the Luzon Strait near Taiwan.

While Balikatan 2024 is set to wrap up on Friday, this summer will see more joint military drills between Washington and Manila as the two pledge to strengthen defense ties in the face of an increasingly assertive China.

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

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

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