Updated May 20th, 2024 at 16:40 IST

US Military Tests New EDCA Sites Amid Strategic Military Cooperation with Philippines

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the US and Philippines progresses with the designation of new military sites.

Reported by: Yuvraj Tyagi
Ex Balikatan | Image:AP
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Manila: The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the United States and the Philippines has taken a significant step forward with the designation of new military sites, facilitating joint exercises and bolstering strategic effectiveness. This landmark agreement, signed in 2014, has seen further expansion, underscoring the commitment to mutual defence and cooperation between the two nations.  

The EDCA allows the U.S. to fund infrastructure improvement projects and rotationally deploy troops in designated Philippine military bases. Initially comprising six sites, the agreement expanded in 2023 with the addition of four new locations. These sites play a crucial role in supporting combined training, exercises, and interoperability between the U.S. and Philippine militaries.  

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The strategic importance of new sites against China  

According to U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Oscar Franquez, spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Manila, the Philippines maintains sovereignty and control over the EDCA sites. They are not U.S. bases, and the U.S. does not maintain permanent forces or footprints in the Philippines. The agreement aims to strengthen defence capabilities while respecting Philippine sovereignty.

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The addition of new sites has significantly enhanced the strategic posture of both countries. Three out of the four new sites were utilized during the recent Balikatan exercise, a series of joint military drills conducted annually. These locations, strategically positioned for territorial defence, include Balabac Island, La-Lo airport, and Naval Base Camilo Osias in Luzon.  

Balabac Island, situated south of Palawan Island, holds strategic significance in the defense of Philippine territory in the South China Sea. La-Lo airport serves as a hub for air assault missions into northern islands, particularly those in close proximity to Taiwan. The utilization of these sites during Balikatan demonstrates the commitment to enhancing combined training and interoperability.  

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Training initiatives and capability building  

Following Balikatan, the U.S. Army initiated the second phase of the Salaknib exercise, deploying its Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center Exportable (JPMRC X) to Fort Magsaysay. This deployment marks the first time the JPMRC X is deployed west of the international date line, highlighting the significance of the training centre in the Philippines.

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Gen. Charles Flynn| Credit- U.S. Army Pacific

According to Gen. Charles Flynn, U.S. Army Pacific Command commander, the deployment of JPMRC X aims to assist the Philippine Army in establishing its own training centre near Fort Magsaysay. The collaboration underscores the commitment to capacity building and strengthening the Philippine military's capabilities.  

The U.S. government has allocated over $100 million for improvement projects to modernize the Philippines Armed Forces. Beyond infrastructure enhancements, efforts are underway to improve range facilities at Fort Magsaysay, facilitating more effective joint operations during exercises like Balikatan and Salaknib.   

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Brig. Gen. David Zinn of the 25th Infantry Division expressed enthusiasm for the collaboration, emphasizing its value in enhancing training capabilities. As the partnership between the U.S. and the Philippines evolves, the focus remains on territorial defense operations and safeguarding national sovereignty.  

The ongoing cooperation under the EDCA reflects a shared commitment to regional security and stability. By strengthening military capabilities and interoperability, the U.S. and the Philippines reaffirm their dedication to defending shared interests and upholding peace in the Indo-Pacific region. 

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Published May 20th, 2024 at 16:07 IST