Next for Philippines, US: Cope Thunder drills

Michael Punongbayan, Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
Next for Philippines, US: Cope Thunder drills
US and Philippine Marines sharpen their skills at the firing range of Gen. Gregorio Lim Marine Base in Ternate, Cavite as part of Balikatan 2023.
US Marine Corps photo

MANILA, Philippines — With the conclusion of this year’s Balikatan exercise today, the United States and the Philippines are set to revive on May 1 a joint air-training maneuver they last conducted 33 years ago.

Cope Thunder-Philippines 23-1 is scheduled to take place at Clark Air Force Base on Monday until May 12.

The Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs said Cope Thunder Philippines, the first since 1990, would involve bilateral fighter training with the Philippine Air Force aimed at improving combined interoperability.

“It provides a unique opportunity to integrate forces and improve interoperability between the Philippines and the United States,” the Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs said in a statement.

The US Air Force will dispatch 12 aircraft from the 35 Fighter Wing, Misawa Air Base, Japan for Cope Thunder, according to the statement.

US Air Force personnel will fly the 12 aircraft as well as handle their maintenance and support services while participants from the AFP will share tactics, techniques and procedures for improving interoperability.

Cope Thunder began in the Philippines in 1976 when Clark Air Base was still under US control. The air force training event was moved to Eielson Air Force Base in 1992, and eventually renamed Red Flag Alaska. Monday’s event would be the first time Cope Thunder would be held in the Philippines since 1990. The Pinatubo eruption in 1991 and the dismantling of the US bases in the Philippines the following year dealt a deathblow to Cope Thunder.

Some 100 members of different militant groups picketed outside the US embassy in Manila to protest the holding of another round of military exercises between the US and Filipino forces.

“It is US militarism that has kept us in this sorry state for nearly eight decades,” Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said.

“Peasant women should unite with the Filipino people to defend the country’s national sovereignty against the continuing military intervention of the US government,” said Zenaida Soriano, president of the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women.

Fishers’ group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas or Pamalakaya said the Balikatan exercises in Zambales have put the livelihood of fishermen at greater risk.

Highlighting this year’s Balikatan, meanwhile, was a grand display of firepower including the sinking of an “enemy” ship off San Antonio, Zambales on Wednesday.


A light civilian plane straying into a no-fly zone and a motorized boat entering restricted waters interrupted the joint exercises.

Beginning on April 11, 17,600 Filipino and American soldiers trained together in various locations in the country involving live fire events, military drills, learning exchanges, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response activities in the biggest iteration so far of the annual joint war games between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the United States military.

Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine, Balikatan exercise director for the Philippine side, called the joint maneuver a huge success with no less than President Marcos personally witnessing the deadly performance of modern weapons launched from ground, sea and air. Capping the event was the sinking of an “enemy ship” 12 nautical miles off San Antonio, Zambales last Wednesday.

“So far, I believe we have achieved all the exercise goals of the Balikatan Exercises – that is achieving the interoperability between the combined forces of the Philippines and the US and the different services that includes the army, navy and the air force and special operations forces,” he told reporters yesterday. — Ralph Edwin Villanueva, Rudy Santos, Emmanuel Tupas

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