U.S. A -Philippines Start New War Game Exercise Facing Scarborough Shoal

USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, and the third United States Navy ship of that name. It was named in honor of John Paul Jones' famous frigate, which he had named the French language equivalent of "Good Man Richard," in honor of Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. Ambassador to France at the time. The name Bonhomme Richard is derived from the pen name of Benjamin Franklin, the author of Poor Richard's Almanac. Bonhomme Richard is currently homeported in Sasebo, Japan. The contract to build her was awarded to Ingalls Shipbuilding on 11 December 1992, and her keel was laid down on 18 April 1995. She was launched on 14 March 1997, delivered to the Navy on 12 May 1998, and commissioned on 15 August 1998. On April 23, 2012, the Bonhomme Richard switched homeports when she took the place of the USS Essex (LHD-2) as the command ship for Expeditionary Strike Group Seven

SUBIC BAY, Philippines – Philippine and United States officials on Monday opened a joint training exercise designed to help the two militaries work together to enhance regional security.

The training, called Amphibious Landing Exercises, involve 2,600 United States Marines and 1,200 Philippine Marines and will be held in locations around the northern island of Luzon. The two militaries will train together on disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and maritime security.

"Today, we stand side by side as we face common threats," said Marine Brig. Gen. Craig Q. Timberlake at the opening ceremony.

The exercises are being held during a time of increased tensions in the South China Sea with the Philippines and China involved in a territorial dispute over islands lying near rich energy deposits.

Officials said Monday that the joint exercises have been going on for nearly 30 years and were not related to the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China. They are designed for training and mutual education.

"Amphibious Landing Exercises is an opportunity for an exchange of professional expertise," said Brig. Gen. Remigio C. Valdez, the deputy commander of the Philippines armed forces. "Technological advancement is at the heart of its goal."

There was plenty of technology on display during the opening ceremony of the exercises Monday, held in Subic Bay, a former United States naval base in the Philippines that is now a commercial port.

On the deck of the American amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, where the opening ceremony were held, ground-attack Harrier jets were lined up near CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. At the pier next to the ship was the Olympia, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine.

The Philippines fleet, whose largest vessel is a former United States Coast Guard cutter, will have no ships participating in the exercises. Despite that, American officials said the two militaries would learn from each other during the 10 days of joint training.

"It's not about the hardware," said Col. John E. Merna, the commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. "We have a lot to learn from the Philippines. They are tremendous jungle fighters."

The training will involve live fire exercises, a simulated helicopter raid, a demonstration of American aircraft capabilities, disaster preparedness drills and public service activities, such as building classrooms and toilets in impoverished areas.

Philippine sees SUBIC naval port as vital to US

The Philippines said Monday a former US naval base facing the South China Sea could play a key role as a hub for American ships as Washington moves to boost its presence in the Asia Pacific.

Formerly the US military's largest facility overseas, the ex-Subic Bay naval base north of Manila has been transformed into a freeport and tourism zone since it was shut down in 1992.

But a senior Philippine official pointed out that, with the United States planning to shift the bulk of its fleet to the Pacific by 2020 as it focuses on Asia, it would need natural deep water bays to dock its ships and submarines.

"Based on US official pronouncements, there is a strategic rebalancing (of its forces) and that means more assets, more aircraft in the Western Pacific," said Edilberto Adan, a former general who heads the government's Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) commission.

"There are very few ports that can accommodate naval assets and naval carriers, and one of them is Subic.

"As the US begins to implement (the shift), Subic will play an important role because it is one of the important facilities that can service their presence in the Pacific."

Adan was talking to reporters at Subic Bay aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious Marine Expeditionary Unit assault ship taking part in a 10-day joint exercises with Filipino forces.

Subic, along with the nearby Clark Airbase, were key facilities for the United States, the former colonial ruler of the Philippines, during World War II.

They then provided logistical support during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and remained of strategic importance during the Cold War.

Clark closed down in 1991 after nearby Mount Pinatubo volcano erupted, covering the base in ash and rendering the facility unusable.

Subic, which is on the northern town of Olangapo facing the South China Sea, survived the explosion.

But, amid strong nationalist sentiment and street protests calling for the US troops to leave the Philippines, the Senate voted in 1992 to end a lease agreement that allowed the bases to operate.

In November of 1992 the last US ship sailed out of Subic.

The Philippines, however, ratified a visiting forces agreement with the United States in 1999, allowing the resumption of large-scale training exercises between the allies.

New York Times, Inquirer 

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