‘New Bird’ FA-50 Fighter Joins US B-52H Stratofortress To Hold Drills In Philippine EEZ; Beijing Unhappy

The Philippine Air Force’s (PAF) FA-50 Fighting Eagles and the United States Air Force’s B-52H Stratofortress joined forces on February 19 for a combined air patrol within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This move drew a sharp rebuke from China as tensions continued to simmer.

The patrol, which covered areas 90 nautical miles west of Candon, Ilocos Sur, and 50 nautical miles northwest of Lubang, Mindoro, utilized three FA-50 Fighting Eagles and one B-52H Stratofortress.

The announcement, made by the PAF via its official Facebook page, included releasing a series of photos providing a glimpse of the joint aerial patrol exercise.

The images depict the collaborative effort between the two air forces, showcasing the FA-50 Fighting Eagles of the Philippine Air Force alongside the imposing B-52H Stratofortress of the United States Air Force.

In a statement, PAF said, “On February 19, 2024, the Philippine Air Force and the U.S. Pacific Air Forces carried out the Combined Air Patrol as Phase 2 of the 3rd Maritime Cooperative Activity (MCA) within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone, covering areas 90 nautical miles west of Candon, Ilocos Sur, and 50 nautical miles northwest of Lubang, Mindoro.”

The statement further noted that the collaborative endeavor seeks to strengthen the partnership between the Philippine Armed Forces and their American counterparts, thereby improving the compatibility between their respective Air Forces.

“With this activity, the PAF underscores its commitment and readiness to support the AFP’s efforts in safeguarding the national territory and sovereign rights and upholding regional peace and security,” the statement read.

The patrolling exercise took place as part of the third maritime cooperative activity (MCA) between the Philippines and the US, which began on February 9, 2023. The first MCA occurred in November last year, followed by another in January.

PAF spokesperson Col. Ma. Consuelo Castillo reiterated that the primary objective of the MCA was to strengthen cooperation between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and their counterparts in the US, thereby fostering greater interoperability between the two Air Forces.

According to the US Navy, the MCA serves as a testament to the enduring partnership between the two militaries and facilitates the advancement of combined capabilities in the evolving maritime sphere through regular goodwill activities at sea.

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Chinese Calls It A Publicity Stunt 

In recent months, the West Philippine Sea has become a contentious arena where disputes between the Philippines and China have intensified, primarily revolving around conflicting territorial claims and the continuous pursuit of resource exploration activities.

At the heart of this tension lies the routine rotation and resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre, a Navy vessel grounded in Ayungin Shoal since 1999.

In 2023 alone, the China Coast Guard (CCG) employed military-grade lasers once and water cannons at least four times against Philippine vessels conducting resupply missions to the Navy outpost.

Additionally, the CCG regularly obstructed and engaged in what the Philippine government deemed “dangerous maneuvers” against its vessels. Several confrontations between Filipino vessels and the CCG have also taken place in Scarborough Shoal.

China argued that the Philippines had encroached upon what it claims as its territory. The Communist country also perceives the deepening military alliance between the US and the Philippines as a threat to its sovereignty.

Credits: Philippines Coast Guard

The latest joint air patrol prompted a strong reaction from the Chinese military. The Chinese Southern Theatre Command, in a statement on Weibo, dismissed the air patrol as a mere publicity stunt orchestrated by the Philippines.

Accusing the Philippines of disturbing the order in the South China Sea by involving countries from outside the region, the Chinese Military pledged to maintain a high level of vigilance and vowed to defend its national sovereignty staunchly.

Nonetheless, the joint air patrol emerges as a proactive step aimed at asserting sovereignty and safeguarding maritime interests within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Under the leadership of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Philippines has significantly strengthened its enduring defense alliance with the United States.

Concurrently, Manila has been vocal in both publicizing and protesting against China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea, an area over which Beijing claims nearly complete sovereignty.

In alignment with their shared concerns, Washington and Manila have also recently conducted joint sea patrols in the disputed waters, signaling a united front against maritime encroachments and affirming their commitment to upholding regional stability and the rule of law.