New air contingent in Philippines will bolster relations but could aggravate China


Amid heightened tensions with China over its territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Air Force sent an air contingent to Clark Air Base in the Philippines April 16.

The move came just two days after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin announced an “enhanced military alliance” between the two countries in Manila.

The rotational force includes five A-10C Thunderbolt IIs from the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan Air Base, South Korea, and three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters with the 18th Air Wing out of Kadena Air Base, Japan, and more than 200 airmen from various Pacific Air Forces units. They include aircrew, maintainers, logisticians and support personnel.

About 175 airmen stayed in the Philippines to stand up the contingent following the annual Balikatan exercise, April 4-16, that involved more than 8,000 service members from the U.S, Philippines and Australia. Another 30 airmen will arrive from PACAF headquarters at Joint Base Pearl-Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, as well as several other PACAF bases

It is not yet clear how long the aircraft and airmen will remain at Clark, but future rotations are planned. The composition of those units has yet to be determined.