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Balikatan 2023 seen to boost PH, US forces' coordination, refine tactics

Balikatan 2023, the largest ever between Filipino and US troops with over 17,600 participants, will include exercises meant to strengthen the allies' ability to plan and coordinate against a range of scenarios and challenges, the US Embassy in Manila said on Tuesday.

According to an embassy news release, the training will also enable the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US military to refine tactics related to maritime security, and maneuver "in a shared and contested battlespace."

Members of the AFP and the US forces will participate in the joint military drills from April 11 to 28.

"This year’s iteration includes a bilateral command post exercise that will strengthen the Allies’ ability to plan, coordinate, and provide command and control of forces together against a range of scenarios and simulated challenges," the US embassy said.

"This training event will also enable the AFP and the U.S. military to refine tactics, techniques, and procedures related to maritime security, and deconflict fires and maneuver in a shared and contested battlespace," it added.

The military exercises will be held days after the Philippines and the US announced that US forces will be given access to four more Philippines military facilities under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

The new EDCA sites include Balabac Island in Palawan, the Osias naval base and Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan, and Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Isabela.

The embassy said approximately 5,400 AFP personnel and 12,200 US military personnel would train to develop interoperability and improved capability in the areas of maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban and aviation operations, cyber defense, counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief preparedness. 

It also said that the field exercises would also test the personnel’s capabilities in combined arms live-fire, information, and intelligence sharing, communications between maneuver units, logistics operations, amphibious operations, and many other skill sets.

The embassy said that both forces would conduct multiple Humanitarian Civic Assistance (HCA) projects to improve the infrastructure and medical response between local communities and both military forces.

“The Balikatan exercise enhances both the AFP and the US forces’ tactics, techniques, and procedures across a wide range of military operations. It increases our ability to work together effectively and efficiently in response to various crisis situations,” AFP spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar said.

“Engagements such as Balikatan are important investments in our ability to work together across the spectrum of military operations, respond to crises, support the people of the Philippines, and accomplish our shared missions,” Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Huvane, Balikatan Combined Joint Information Director, said.

The Balikatan exercises are to be carried out across several provinces, including Palawan, which is near the South China Sea.

They will also see some 111 participants from the Australian defense force, though their participation will be limited to "smaller land-based exercises," Colonel Michael Logico, director of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' training center and spokesperson for the event, earlier said.

Meanwhile, British Ambassador to the Philippines Laure Beaufils earlier said the United Kingdom will act as an observer in the joint military drills between the Philippines and the United States this month. —NB, GMA Integrated News