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Philippines, US to test ‘combat-ready’ force in biggest Balikatan exercise

The Philippines and the United States will start their biggest military exercise on Tuesday to develop interoperability and improve capability.

Over 17,600 servicemen - 5,400 Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and 12,200 US military personnel - will participate in the 38th Balikatan excercise scheduled from April 11 to 28.

According to AFP spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar, 111 military personnel from the Australian Defense Force would also participate in the exercises.

More personnel from 12 countries would also serve as observers in Balikatan, he added.

The military and naval forces will work on maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban and aviation operations, cyber defense, counter-terrorism, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Field training exercise events will be held in different parts of the country to test capabilities in combined arms live-fire, information and intelligence sharing, communications, logistics operations, amphibious operations, among others.

“Bukas yung opening so lahat naman ng mga exercises na yan ay pinaghandaan for about a year, participants, resources, lahat pati scenario…We are ready,” Aguilar told reporters on Monday.

(Balikatan will open tomorrow. Preparations for these kinds of exercises are made a year in advance - participants, resources, everything, even scenarios. We are ready.)

Balikatan 2023 spokesperson Colonel Michael Logico said it would be the first time Philippine and US forces would engage in live-fire exercises at sea.

“[Balikatan] has always been an interoperability exercise to test our concepts for maritime defense, for coastal defense and maritime domain awareness,” Logico said.

Asked if these exercises were relevant to the situation with China, Logico said, “Every country has the absolute and inalienable right to exercise within its territory. We have the absolute, inalienable right to defend our territory.”

As to whether the exercises were being held with China in mind, the Balikatan spokesperson said, “It’s not, but we are here to practice. We are here to show that we are combat ready.”

Meanwhile, Colonel Aguilar said Balikatan 2023 would improve tactics, techniques, and procedures in a wide range of military operations.

“It increases our ability to work together effectively and efficiently in response to various crisis situations,” he said.

Balikatan Combined Joint Information Director Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Huvane said the exercises were investments in the Philippines' and US’ ability to work in military operations, respond to crises, support the Filipino people and “accomplish our shared missions.”

“Balikatan provides unparalleled opportunities to demonstrate the strength and readiness of the Philippine-US security alliance,” Huvane added.

On Saturday, China launched military drills around Taiwan, in what it called a "stern warning" to the self-ruled island's government following a meeting between its president and the US House speaker.

Dubbed "United Sharp Sword", the three-day operation will run until Monday, the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Eastern Theater Command said in a statement.

Earlier, China said it was concerned the country was getting drawn into a "potential conflict" in the Taiwan Strait after the designation of new EDCA sites in Luzon.

Signed in 2014, EDCA grants US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities, allows them to build facilities, and pre-position equipment, aircraft, and vessels. — DVM, GMA Integrated News