Air Force Staff Sgt. Antonio Garcia, 353rd Special Operations Group, assists Filipinos after Typhoon Haiyan in November. (Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer/Air Force)
A new United States agreement with the Philippines is not likely to result in many immediate operational changes for troops in the Pacific region, but it clears the way for the Pentagon to invest in new construction and infrastructure there, and sets the stage for new U.S.-built facilities along the shores of the contested South China Sea.
The 10-year agreement that was finalized with President Obama’s visit to the Philippines on April 28 will result in an “enhanced rotational presence” in the country, the Pentagon said. Yet the deal states that the U.S. will “not establish a permanent military presence or base” like the one maintained for decades at Subic Bay.
The details of those rotations remain under development by the U.S. and Philippines, Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said April 29.
The deal will give the U.S. greater access to Filipino airfields, ports and military bases. The rotations could, in effect, leave U.S. military assets and personnel on the ground in the Philippines for long periods if the government in Manila approves the missions.
The rotational presence also may result in some troops returning temporarily to the facilities historically used by the American military, such as Clark Air Base near Manila or Naval Station Subic Bay and Naval Air Station Cubi Point, both strategically located on the northwest coast. Those facilities were a backbone of logistics support during the Vietnam War and continued to host U.S troops until the early 1990s.
The deal also will allow the U.S. to invest in infrastructure in the Philippines and potentially build sturdy aircraft hangars and storage facilities that could withstand the typhoons and flooding that are common in the region. Construction also could include port upgrades and headquarters and intelligence facilities.
Kirby said infrastructure improvements are among the details under discussion between the U.S. and Philippines governments.
Over the duration of the 10-year agreement, the expanded mission in the Philippines will likely affect all four services:
■The Air Force likely will rotate aircraft detachments, fighter jets and the cargo planes that would be central to humanitarian relief missions. The Air Force has recently been active with humanitarian assistance in the country. In November, about 150 airmen and four MC-130s with Air Force Special Operations Command deployed to bases around the Philippines to assist with response to Typhoon Haiyan. Additionally, an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone deployed to the Pacific assisted with surveillance after the storm.
■The Navy will be permitted to make port calls and resupply ships in the Philippines, as well as to preposition humanitarian relief supplies.
■The Marines may send small units or larger Marine Expeditionary Units for port calls and joint training exercises.
■The Army is likely to seek greater involvement through its “Pacific Pathways” program, which aims to put more soldiers in the region, which has historically lacked a strong Army presence.
The presence of U.S. troops is politically sensitive for the Philippines, a former U.S. colony. At the same time, however, the government is increasingly concerned about China’s growing influence in the region and Chinese interests in fishing, oil and gas rights in the South China Sea.■
Brian Everstine contributed to this story.