12,000 troops to join largest Philippines-US Balikatan

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
12,000 troops to join largest Philippines-US Balikatan
The Filipino and American soldiers during the opening ceremony of PH-US joint army exercises dubbed as "Salaknib" 2023 at Fort Magsaysay in Palayan, Nueva Ecija on March 13, 2023.
STAR / KJ Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — Some 12,000 American soldiers will be arriving in the country in the next few weeks to participate in the 2023 Balikatan Exercises, which will be the biggest joint training event between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the United States military.

This year’s activities will also, for the first time with US troops, involve live-fire exercises, specifically in the waters of Zambales.

Col. Michael Logico, director of the Joint and Combined Training Center under the AFP Education, Training and Doctrine Command and spokesman for Balikatan 2023, said around 17,600 Filipino and US soldiers are set to join this year’s joint training exercises.

Around 12,000 of the soldiers will come from the US military while the rest will be from the AFP, along with about 100 from the Australian Defense Force who will be joining some of the events for the first time.

There will also be observers from the Japan Self Defense Force.

Logico told reporters Balikatan 2023 will run from April 11 to 28 with events in various locations in Northern Luzon, Palawan and Antique.

“Yes, this is officially the largest Balikatan Exercise,” he said, noting that the event would be “an interoperability exercise to test our concepts for maritime defense, for coastal defense and maritime domain awareness.”

He added that this year’s iteration of the joint military training between Filipino and American soldiers would also include cyber defense exercise.

Events would also be held “outside our traditional training areas,” Logico said.

“Part of it is we’re going to be doing live fire exercises into the water. So it’s practically, we’re exercising in key locations where we are able to utilize all our service components,” he said.

Only the Air Force and the Army were participants in previous exercises, he said.

Asked if this year’s Balikatan Exercises would factor in the West Philippine Sea problem with China, Logico said “every country has the absolute and inalienable right to exercise within our territory, we have the absolute, inalienable right to defend our territory.”

But he stressed the joint exercises were not meant as preparation for hostilities with China.

“We are here to practice, we are here to show that we are combat ready,” he pointed out.

Logico said the US military would be bringing in military assets including ships and aircraft.

Training facility

Australia, meanwhile, has donated a new training facility for the Philippine Air Force (PAF) in Capas, Tarlac.

Acting Defense Undersecretary Angelito de Leon led the official acceptance of the Close Air Support Part Task Trainer, Classroom and Debriefing Facility on Monday.

The facility will be assigned to the Air Force’s 710th Special Operations Wing (SPOW).

“On behalf of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense (DND), I thank the Australian government, represented here by Her Excellency Hae Kyong Yu, PSM, Australian ambassador to the Philippines, for donating this classroom and debriefing facility to the Philippine Air Force,” De Leon said, quoting the speech of DND officer-in-charge, Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr.

Australian ambassador Yu officially handed the transfer documents to De Leon.

The donation was made possible through the Philippines-Australia Enhanced Defense Cooperation Program (EDCP), signed in December 2019.

“With this facility, the PAF will be able to address the technical training gaps of its personnel who will be given more time and training opportunities such as the use of simulator and actual flight events,” De Leon said.

“To reciprocate this goodwill and support, we must collectively ensure that the Philippines will be able to fulfill its roles as a responsible nation-state and a reliable regional security partner,” De Leon said.

The Australian ambassador, in a post on Twitter, said her country is “grateful for the Philippines’ support as Australia seeks to become a more capable defense partner in the region.”

“Australia is investing in capabilities to meet the challenges of our strategic circumstances and ensure the Indo-Pacific remains stable, secure and prosperous,” she said. – Pia Lee-Brago



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