(San Antonio) The Philippines and the United States conducted their final exercise on Wednesday in their largest joint military exercise in the disputed South China Sea.

During this exercise, a salvo of rockets was fired in the direction of a warship representing the enemy, a first in these disputed waters of which Beijing claims almost all.

“This is old-school training,” said Nick Mannweiler, who works in US Marine public relations.

The live ammunition exercise began with a series of firings from the US HIMARS precision rocket system at a decommissioned Philippine Navy corvette, anchored about 22 kilometers from the coast with the aim of sinking it.

These annual exercises, dubbed “Balikatan” (“Side by Side” in Filipino), aim to strengthen Manila’s military capacity and allow the United States to assert its presence in the region, where China is increasingly asserting itself. more.

Some 18,000 soldiers, about double last year, were mobilized for two weeks. Among them, some 12,200 American soldiers, 5,400 Filipinos and just over a hundred Australians.

It is the first time that these exercises have taken place under the mandate of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who is seeking to improve his country’s relations with Washington, which have been damaged by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.

In recent months, Manila and Washington have relaunched their joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea, and reached an agreement aimed at increasing the American military presence in the Philippines.

Under the deal, US troops will be allowed to use four additional Philippine military bases, including a naval base not far from Taiwan.

The proximity to Taiwan could make the Philippines a key partner for the United States in the event of an invasion by China of the democratic island which it considers part of its territory.