THE biggest war games involving Filipino and American troops will begin today (April 1) following an opening ceremony and will see the involvement for the first time of an American F-35B Lighting II aircraft in the original bilateral military exercise.
The Balikatan 2019 will commence with 4,000 Filipino and 3,500 American soldiers and their land, sea and air assets taking part in the amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations, air operations and counterterrorism training.
At least 50 Australian soldiers will also join the war games, particularly in the special operations training of the Balikatan, which has already turned into a multilateral exercise as Japan also participated last year, with a host of other countries joining as observers.
“It will strengthen the operability of both forces, and it will further improve their interoperability,” said Lt. Commander Liezel Vidallon, Balikatan public affairs officer for the Philippine side.
The exercise will last up to April 12 and will be held in Luzon, particularly Palawan, Batangas, Cavite, Bataan, Laguna, Mindoro, Tarlac and Pampanga.
Vidallon said this year’s exercise is bigger, especially since state-of-the-art assets like the Air Force FA-50s and the American F-35 will take part in the training, the first in the Balikatan’s 35-year history.
On Saturday, the American amphibious assault ship USS Wasp docked at Subic Bay for the exercise, bearing members of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force led by the 4th Marine Regiment who will also take part in the training.
The assault ship brought with it the United States Marines Corps’s F-35B Lightning II aircraft.
“We are excited to visit the Philippines for the first time since Wasp was forward-deployed to 7th Fleet,” said Capt. Colby Howard, Wasp’s commanding officer, in a statement.
“Balikatan is a great opportunity for the Navy, Marine Corps team and our allies from the Republic of the Philippines to learn from one another, and further improve our ability to operate together,” he added.
Aside from the military training, Vidallon said US and Filipino forces have already been doing civil-military operations works in areas across the country, part of the 30 community engagement activities and development projects mapped out under this year’s Balikatan.