BY LEANDER C. DOMINGO
THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the United States military have concluded on Friday, April 8, 2022 the largest iteration of the Philippine-led annual exercise Balikatan that took place across Luzon.
Balikatan, the Tagalog word for “shoulder-to-shoulder,” is a longstanding bilateral exercise highlighting the deep-rooted partnership between the Philippines and the US.
Nearly 9,000 members of AFP and the US military gathered to celebrate the successful completion of Balikatan 2022, which is the 37th iteration of the annual bilateral exercise that started on March 28, 2022.
The US Embassy in the Philippines said nearly 9,000 exercise participants from the AFP and US military trained shoulder-to-shoulder from the northern coast of Luzon to Palawan over the last two weeks.
The Embassy said the training focused on maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations, aviation operations, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
“After two years of a global pandemic, the US and Philippine forces have come together to complete one of the largest Balikatan exercises ever held,” US Embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Heather Variava said.
Variava said this is a testament to the strength of the US-Philippine alliance and the shared priorities of the two countries.
Brig. Gen. Joseph Clearfield, US Marine Corps Forces Pacific deputy commander, said the completion of yet another successful Balikatan is a clear example of their shared commitment to advancing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
“As a result of our mutual efforts, our militaries have grown together in friendship and we are better prepared to respond as one cohesive team to any crisis or challenge,” Clearfield said.
For the Philippines, Maj. Gen. Charlton Sean Gaerlan, AFP exercise director, said the experience gained from exercise Balikatan complemented their security cooperation endeavors and helped enhance existing mutual security efforts.
“Although there were limitations brought about by the pandemic, it is highly commendable that the exercise pushed through and generated a favorable outcome,” Gaerlan said.
During the Balikatan exercise, American and Filipino forces employed more than 50 aircraft, four ships, 10 amphibious craft, four Himars rocket system launchers and four Patriot missile systems.
This year’s exercise also included approximately 40 personnel from the Australian Defense Force.
The US Embassy said the US Army Patriot missile systems were employed in amphibious operations in the Philippines for the first time during the exercise.
It said the exercise also saw the inaugural deployment of the US Marine Corps’ 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment (3MLR), which was established in Hawaii on March 3.
Also during the exercise, the AFP and US forces experimented with sensors and fire support and used expeditionary advanced bases (EABs) as the framework for an integrated coastal defense.
The US Embassy said the 3MLR partnered with the Philippine Marine Corps Coastal Defense Regiment and provided command and control over multiple EABs across northern Luzon over the course of eight days.
To further enhance the coastal defense, two Patriot Missile Batteries from the US Army’s 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, and Himars rocket system from the 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines were employed.
Playing key roles to provide sealift and off-shore support were the US Navy and the Philippine Navy.
The Balikatan 22 also included the conduct of multiple humanitarian and civic assistance projects, including the renovation of four elementary schools, multiple community health engagements, and the exchange of advanced emergency rescue and lifesaving techniques by the AFP and US military.
The US Embassy said these construction projects, health engagements, and community relations events improved local infrastructure, facilitated the exchange of lifesaving medical skills, and strengthened ties between local communities and Philippine and American military forces.
The AFP and US forces will continue to train and stand together routinely during other exercises and initiatives throughout the year to promote readiness, interoperability, friendship and security, the US Embassy added.