Filipino army soldiers are, for the first time, test firing an FGM 148 Javelin, or an advanced anti-tank weapon system-medium (AAWS-M) man-portable, during this month’s bilateral Army-to-Army conventional exercise, Salaknib, in northern Luzon.

The United States Army is also demonstrating what the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) can do to defend coastal areas, bolstering anti-access and area denial (A2AD) capability by pushing away hostile navies from the country’s shorelines.

The army-to-army drills between the two closest allies in the Indo-Pacific region shifted from non-traditional military activities, like counter terrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations, to territorial and external defense operations.

The focus of operations was to test the combat readiness of the Philippine Army to work closely with the United States Army in the Pacific, which has designed region-wide drills called Pacific Pathways.

The drills will improve interoperability of the two armies in fighting wars in the region, strengthening coastal defenses and repelling potential invasion from a third country.

Although the drills are not directed at any particular country in the region, it is common knowledge that the two armies are preparing a potential conflict with the emerging threat in the region.

China has been flexing its muscles and intensifying its provocative and aggressive activities in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits.

For Beijing, reunification with Taiwan is not negotiable. It considers the self-ruled island as a renegade province.

Beijing will not stop until it completely reunites all Chinese territories in the region, restoring its old glory of the Ming dynasty.

The last imperial dynasty, Qing, was humiliated by European powers from the early 19th century, carving out territories along its eastern coastline, like Macau and Hong Kong.

Japan also invaded resource-rich Manchuria and large parts of its coastal areas in the early 20th century, including Shanghai and Beijing.

China wanted to emerge from the humiliation to become the world’s mightiest military and richest economy by 2049, one hundred years after the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong rose to power with the defeat of nationalist forces led by Chiang Kai-shek in a civil war at the end of World War II.

US and Philippine military planners have been silently staging simulated war games to prepare an eventual confrontation with China when a conflict erupts over Taiwan.

Since China will not give up on Taiwan, the United States will be forced to defend the island when Beijing crosses the red line and invades it.

The presence of US military forces and the proximity of the conflict to the Philippines will drag the country into the conflict.

The Philippines is also a potential target of Chinese aggression after it allows US military force access to local bases close to Taiwan in the north under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Thus, it is only prudent for both the US and Philippines to prepare for possible air and naval attacks from China.

The Philippines has small and weak naval forces that might not survive any conflict with China but it has larger ground forces that can stop Chinese forces from getting close to the shores and prevent an amphibious landing.

As early as during the administration of the late president Benigno Aquino, the military leaders, like Gen. Eduardo Oban and Admiral Alexander Pama, had been planning for the country’s coastal defense.

In one of the Mutual Defense Board (MDB) meetings in Hawaii at that time, Oban, an air force general who had commanded the 5th Fighter Wing who rose to become chief of staff, and Pama, a navy flag officer who commanded the navy, asked their American counterparts for precision-guided missiles as well as shore-to-ship batteries to improve the country’s A2AD capability and push away Chinese vessels at a safe distance in the high seas.

Pama was instrumental to developing the country’s coastal defense by equipping the Marines with modern anti-ship and anti-air missile defense systems.

The Marines have formed a coastal defense regiment and acquired two batteries of Indian-made Brahmos hypersonic missiles.

Oban also helped to start the modernization of the air force’s integrated air defense systems by acquiring radars, fighters and ground-based air defense missiles.

It has taken baby steps by introducing South Korean FA-50 light fighters that will prepare combat pilots to fly supersonic F-16s.

The Air Force has installed three air defense radars and has acquired Israeli ground-based air defense missiles to defend radar sites.

Aware of the country’s severe air and naval defense limitations, the United States has started to train local military forces hands-on with modern equipment, like the Javelin anti-tank missiles as well as the sophisticated HIMARS, which Washington sent to Kyiv to repel Moscow’s invasion.

In next month’s joint and combined Balikatan exercises, the US will not only demonstrate HIMARS’ capability in sinking a vessel in the West Philippine Sea but will also show how Patriot ground-to-air missiles will intercept and shoot down air-to-ground tactical and strategic missiles.

For the first time, in more than three decades, US and Philippines drills are becoming more conventional to prepare for an actual conflict.

Delivering a lecture in Singapore this week, Admiral John Aquilino, the commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, said Washington will defend freedoms in the region but it will not seek a direct conflict with China over Taiwan.

However, China’s new foreign minister, Qin Gang, has warned that if the tense situation continues in the region, the United States risks a conflict with China.

He shared a similar view with another US four-star general who predicted a conflict with China over Taiwan in two years.

There’s nothing wrong with preparing for any contingency if a shooting war erupts in the region.

Whether the Philippines likes it or not, it will be dragged into the conflict. It is better to be prepared than sorry if that time comes.