PH, US troops train in first Balikatan salvo

THE Philippines and the United States formally opened the biggest iteration of the Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) exercises on Tuesday at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) general headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. The opening salvo was held in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija where Filipino and American soldiers trained side by side in knock-out bunker and room clearing operations.

With over 17,500 combined troops from the AFP and the US Indo-Pacific Command, the 38th edition of the annual joint military drills will highlight four major events: command post exercise, cyber defense exercise, field training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance.

Present at the opening ceremony were US Charg? d’Affaires Heather Variava, representing the US Ambassador to the Philippines Marykay Loss Carlson; AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino; US Exercise Director Representative Maj. Gen. Eric Austin of the US Marine Corps; and Philippine Exercise Director Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine of the Philippine Army.

In his remarks, Centino said for the AFP in particular, this year’s Balikatan exercises are “most timely” as the Philippine military fast-tracks the enhancement of its capabilities for maritime security and domain awareness, as well as the employment concept of newly acquired equipment and weapon systems under its modernization program and application of newly developed doctrines “with the end-in-view of projecting a credible defense posture.”

Variava, on the other hand, said this year’s joint military activities will be the biggest ever, “an indication of the growth of our alliance and how it continues to evolve to meet our shared goals.”

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On the 38th iteration of the Balikatan, the participating forces will enhance their joint and combined capabilities in maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire exercise, urban operations, aviation operations, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Austin said Balikatan signifies a more robust security relationship between the Philippines and the US, which are longtime allies.

“Balikatan is an important opportunity to train shoulder to shoulder, and build trust and confidence that enable our forces to respond to crises and contingencies as a team,” he added.

Licudine cited the importance of the Balikatan to both forces.

“It builds interoperability, enhances capabilities and demonstrates mutual defense of the Philippine sovereign territory,” he said.

Balikatan is said to remain as one of the best training opportunities to improve both countries’ military arms.

Centino urged the participants to embody professionalism, excellence and the spirit of camaraderie.

“I am confident that both our Armed Forces shall reap invaluable benefits from these Balikatan exercises as we continue to pursue our shared goals of regional peace, security and stability,” he said.

Australia will also participate in some events, and officials from Japan are expected to observe some.

Furthermore, different assets and weapon systems will be utilized for various activities.

Balikatan 2023 will be held in several areas including Calayan Island, Palawan and Zambales province from April 11 to 28.

The Philippines and the United States will deploy complex weapons systems, including a Patriot missile battery and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.

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