Armed Forces of the Philippines to highlight modern weapon systems, doctrines in ‘Balikatan’

2023 April 11

MANILA – This year’s “Balikatan” exercise will allow the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to use its most modern weapons systems and newly-developed doctrines in projecting the so-called credible defense posture, the country’s military chief said Tuesday.

“For the AFP, in particular, this year’s ‘Balikatan’ Exercise is most timely, as we fast-track the enhancement of our capabilities for maritime security and domain awareness, as well as our employment concept of newly acquired equipment and weapon systems under our modernization program and application of newly developed doctrines – with the end-in-view of projecting a credible defense posture,” AFP Chief of Staff, Gen. Andres Centino, said during the opening of the 38th iteration of the “Balikatan” drills at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

AFP assets to be used in this year’s “Balikatan” include the newly-acquired ATMOS 155mm self-propelled howitzers, 105mm howitzers, S-70i “Black Hawk” helicopters, Embraer A-29 “Super Tucano” attack planes, FA-50 jet fighters, T-129 “Atak” helicopters, SF-260 light bombers, AW-109, and MD-520MG light attack helicopters, fast frigate patrol ships, and landing docks.

The annual exercise aims to optimize the use of the AFP joint training areas under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, as well as strengthen inter-agency collaboration.

Centino said these are part of the “exercise goals” that they believed would make for a dynamic and relevant iteration of this year’s “Balikatan.”

“The annual Philippines-United States “Balikatan” Exercise is one of the long-standing activities between our two countries that has paved the way for an enhanced defense cooperation, military-to-military collaboration, and mutual commitments, which are all aimed at promoting our shared goals of a more secure global community,” the AFP chief added.

He noted that gains made in the 2022 exercise reflect the two nations’ determination and commitment as both were able to enforce full implementation of the “Balikatan” exercises after two years of non-conduct of this important activity due to the pandemic.

“Given the success and lessons from the 2022 ‘Balikatan Exercise,’ there were enough reasons to put a framework together for this year’s Exercise that would build on all that had been previously achieved,” Centino said.

Biggest ‘Balikatan’ in history

This year’s “Balikatan,” he said, is the largest in history with a total of 17,680 Filipino, American, and Australian participants.

“The 38th Philippines-US ‘Balikatan’ iteration, will have a total of 17,680 participants, making it the largest-ever exercise of the AFP and the US Armed Forces, as well as our counterparts from the Australian Defense Force,” Centino said.

He also said the AFP has also taken the initiative to expand this year’s Exercise by inviting military observers from partners in the region and other nations, under the International Observers Program (IOP).

“We believe that ‘Balikatan’ is also an opportunity to deepen our collaborations that would enable appropriate and timely actions whenever and wherever needed. On this note, let me welcome our exercise observers from our ASEAN neighbors, friends, allies, and partners. Your presence today makes this event a collaboration that goes beyond borders,” Centino said.

He also said “Balikatan” 2023 is another defining moment as the magnitude of this year’s Exercise is a testament to the deepening alliance between and among our countries.

Centino said major events planned for this year’s exercises include the command post exercise, cyber defense exercise, field training exercise, and the humanitarian civic assistance.

“All these major events are intended to ensure the achievement of the end state of our Balikatan 2023 Exercises: to further develop mutual defense capability; to enhance cyber defense operations; and strengthen the country’s maritime security and domain awareness, among others,” he said.

Long-standing defense relationship

Centino also said the Philippines on Monday commemorated the “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor), which is a defining part of Philippine history.

“We commemorated the heroism of those who fought in Bataan 81 years ago. While the battle on that fateful day led to the fall of Bataan, the heroic event showcased the valor and patriotism of both the Filipino and American soldiers who fought side by side to defend our motherland,” he added.

Centino said these heroic events should serve as a reminder and inspiration to everyone.

“Hence, today embodies our fervor to continue working on the enhancement of our training ‘side-by-side’ and ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ to defend our country,” he added.

Centino also said no better words than “shoulder-to-shoulder” could describe the Philippine and US alliance.

“We have stood together over the years, strong and unwavering, to address our vulnerabilities and ensure that both of our Armed Forces are primed to promptly and effectively respond to any situation, crisis or emergency, under all circumstances,” he added.

Centino said as collaboration and partnerships of the two nations grow in strength and reach, they not only amplify and upgrade the interoperability of the two armed forces for mutual defense, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response but “just as importantly, contribute to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific Region in a definitive manner.”

Priam Nepomuceno