Two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors landed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines last week in a move signaling increased defense efforts between the two countries.

During the exercise, U.S. pilots from the Alaska-based 525th Fighter Squadron joined aviators from the Philippine Air Force’s 5th Fighter Wing for low-altitude flyovers, air combat maneuvering, formation training, and, with help from a KC-135 Stratotanker, air-to-air refueling over the heavily contested South China Sea.

“This was the first time that F-22s, or any fifth-generation aircraft, have landed on and operated out of the Philippines,” Capt. Karl Schroeder, one of the Raptor pilots, said in a release. “This milestone with a regional ally aids in providing stability and security to the Indo-Pacific.”

Regional stability has become an increasingly glaring focus of the two militaries as threats continue to emerge out of Beijing. While the Philippine Constitution prohibits permanent basing of foreign troops, the two nations’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement does allow for an increased footprint of American forces by way of rotations to a handful of predetermined locations.

“The EDCA is a key pillar of the U.S.-Philippines alliance, which supports combined training, exercises, and interoperability between our forces,” DoD officials said in February. “Expansion of the EDCA will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and will accelerate modernization of our combined military capabilities.”

The EDCA includes granting U.S. forces access to a number of military camps, one of which, Basa Air Base in Pampanga on the island of Luzon, just launched a $25 million renovation of its runway in preparation to be used as a hub for joint task force exercises and humanitarian assistance, USNI news first reported.

Four other identified sites currently slated to host U.S. rotations are Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base (Cebu), Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), Fort Magsaysay (Nueva Ecija), and Lumbia Air Base (Cagayan de Oro). Additional locations that have not yet been identified are expected to be unveiled in the near future.

In a separate step toward countering Chinese aggression and propaganda, the Philippine Coast Guard announced on March 8 that it would begin publicly disclosing aggressive actions taken by China in the South China Sea.

Recently released footage depicted one such incident on Feb. 6, during which a ship belonging to the China Coast Guard aimed a military laser at a Philippine vessel, briefly blinding some crew members.

The string of announcements in recent months follows a period of tension between the U.S. and the Philippines, when former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to sever military relations with Washington and cozy up to China and Russia. Duterte’s successor, Ferdinand Marcos, has worked to thaw relations, even hosting Vice President Kamala Harris in November.

Zamone “Z” Perez is a reporter at Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.

Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.

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