The US Air Force’s (USAF) ‘most advanced fighter,’ the F-22 Raptor, exercised with the Philippines Air Force (PAF) earlier this week, making it the first time the top-notch jet had visited the nation.
The move comes in the backdrop of the US pushing to include unrestricted military and ammunition basing in the country in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed with Manila recently.
In the Philippines, the F-22s flew with the FA-50PH fighters of the PAF. According to statements from USAF personnel, these were basic flight maneuvers, like displaying each aircraft’s capabilities and simple formation flights over the region. The last phase was the PAF and FA-50 pilots watching the F-22 engage in dogfighting.
The highlight of the visit was the F-22s getting familiarized with the region, the geography, and the topography since this was the first such visit to the Philippines.
Surveying Before the Basing – Don’t Celebrate Too Early
“The first phase of flight was a low flyover tour. The Raptor pilots were able to get their eyes on the layout of the land, as well as the different Philippine air bases. Being familiar with the airspace and the territory below will allow for increased capability and integration in the future,” said a report of the 18th Wing Public Affairs, based out of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.
Thus, the Philippines visit was merely preparatory in nature if such a permanent US military presence is secured, which the Philippines side is yet to grant.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) itself said on February 1 this year that the “United States and the Philippines have committed to move quickly in agreeing to the necessary plans and investments for the new and existing EDCA locations.”
The word ‘committed’ only means the physical locations have been agreed upon, and some US non-core military basing must have been allowed humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) activities.
“The addition of these new EDCA locations will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines and respond to other shared challenges,” the DoD release said.
This clearly indicates that Manila is also wary of antagonizing China if it agrees to include US military bases in its ongoing negotiations in the EDCA. Therefore, any celebrations over the US military finally being close to China and Taiwan’s southern flank is premature.
Philippines Divided Between US & China
The Philippines appears to be divided over expanding the EDCA to allow US military bases. Anna Malindong-uy, senior research fellow of the Global Governance Institution and vice president of External Affairs of the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute, opposed the US pitting the Philippines in a “compromising” position and contributing to its “already deteriorating” relationship with China.”
“(It creates) instability as you militarize one country in the Asia-Pacific and ASEAN, the tendency for others is to militarize too. The Philippines doesn’t have an enemy, while the US has a lot of enemies. So if they engage in a war, even if we are not part of it, we are obliged because of the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty,” Anna said in an interview with the Global Times.
Meanwhile, the country’s Senator Chiz Escudero criticized China for not allowing the Philipines to pursue its own foreign policy. Another political figure, Senator JV Ejercito, said that China claims to be “a friend to the Philippines, but what they are doing is contrary to what they are saying.”
Nevertheless, the F-22 visit lays a credible groundwork for any such future basing of US military forces in the country and seeks to assure US-leaning politicians and the strategic community of its reliability in the event of a war with China.
It also promises possible joint operations with the cutting-edge fighter, as Capt. Joe Baumann from the 525th Raptor Squadron was quoted saying so in the USAF media wing report.
“With any operation, there are always multiple roles and responsibilities to make the mission happen. With the FA-50’s capability for the precision strike and the Raptor’s ability to establish air dominance, we make a lethal combo to support one another on multiple mission sets,” he said.