A Balikatan first: Philippine-US war games to boost external defence, cybersecurity capabilities
The drills will feature precise combat scenarios and cyber defence exercise, among others, in a show of ‘joint and equal partnership’ between the military allies
Aim of ‘littoral live-fire’ drills is to ward off attacks by a fictitious country, but one analyst says that can only be China
The armed forces of the Philippines and United States are doing things a little differently during their ongoing 38th Balikatan, or shoulder to shoulder, training exercises that will last until June.
While the bulk of the 17,600 combined forces – 12,200 American and 5,400 Filipino soldiers – will train for 17 days, a “few” US military officers will stay for two months to attend to logistics of sending home troops and equipment and to plan the next cycle of exercises with local counterparts, building on the lessons learned from the current one.
Besides having nearly twice the number of troops training a week longer than the two-week exercises last year, the current war drills contain several firsts, according to military officials.
Unlike previous exercises which emphasised HADR or humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations by both forces, these drills have a laser-focus on precise combat scenarios.
the northernmost populated island province of Batanes – only 80 nautical miles from Taiwan – will see heavily armed soldiers dropping from parachutes, as well as a mock assault by air and possibly by sea
A “cyber defence exercise”, a first for Balikatan, has also been integrated into the training
Separately, a “littoral live-fire exercise”, which in previous Balikatan events were conducted in landlocked areas, will now take place within the country’s littoral zone
“We are going to be firing at a target located inside 12 nautical miles of our territorial waters,” Logico said
The scenario simulates an adversary coming in via the sea, with soldiers set to engage the opponent by “utilising all of our capabilities from the army, navy and the air force”
“Who is our number one adversary except China which has been grabbing Philippine maritime territory and militarising artificial islands in the past 20 years?” said Custodio, who once worked at the Philippine military planning section.
“[China] has become a threat to us, so we have to plan for any eventuality,” he said.
This year’s Balikatan is expected to also feature America’s 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment (3rd MLR) in a major exercise
the Marine Corps had converted its 112-year-old 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd MLR last year and assigned it a new way of fighting, using smaller units trained to move stealthily from island to island in the Indo-Pacific region, which includes the Philippines and the disputed South China Sea
Huvane explained that Balikatan enabled both armies to figure out interoperability notwithstanding differences in size and scope
While the Americans showed their Filipino counterparts how to fire the FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, the Javelin missiles and the M142 HIMARS or High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, Filipino marines demonstrated to their American colleagues jungle warfare tactics, including where to stick the knife into adversaries during close encounters.
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