‘Biggest ever’ Balikatan Exercises begin
MANILA, Philippines — With 17,500 combined troops from the United States and Philippine military forces, the largest ever Balikatan Exercises kicked off on Tuesday, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
According to the AFP’s statement, it’s the 38th iteration of the annual military drills between the two countries.
“This year’s Balikatan will be the biggest ever, an indication of the growth of our alliance and how it continues to evolve to meet our shared goals,” said U.S. Chargé d’affaires Heather Variava, who represented U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Marykay Loss Carlson.
During the ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo, AFP’s general headquarters in Quezon City, AFP Chief of Staff General Andres Centino said that the exercises can help fast-track the military’s modernization.
“For the Armed Forces of the Philippines, 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,” said Centino.
According to the AFP, the Balikatan Exercises have four major events: command post exercise, cyber defense exercise, field training exercise, and humanitarian civic assistance.
“Balikatan is an important opportunity to train shoulder-to-shoulder and build trust and confidence that enable our forces to respond to crises and contingencies as a team,” US exercise director representative Major General Eric Austin said.
While the Balikatan Exercises are expected to enhance defense capabilities, it has been met with apprehension from locals. Coastal villages in Zambales expressed fear that the war games would negatively affect their livelihood.