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WHILE it was the American laser-guided bomb unleashed by a Lockheed Martin F-35 “Lightning II” all-weather stealth multi-role combat aircraft that delivered the death blow to the decommissioned World War II Corvette BRP Pangasinan (PS-31) during the combined joint littoral live-fire (CJLLF) exercise on April 26, participating Filipino naval, land and air units also did a fair amount of damage and scored numerous hits on the target vessel.
CJLLF was the pinnacle of this year’s “Balikatan” exercises, which took place from April 11 to 28, 2023. It was held some 12 nautical miles off the waters of San Antonio, Zambales.
This year’s Balikatan was the largest annual exercise between the Philippines and the United States and marked its 38th iteration and the largest iteration to date, with more than 17,600 participants.
The BRP Pangasinan is a former US Navy patrol craft escort built in 1943 and turned over to the country in 1948.
It was decommissioned in March 2021.
Observers said efforts to sink the decommissioned World War II vessel started when the missile frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF-151) targeted and fired its 76mm Oto Melara automatic cannon, scoring dozens of hits on the antiquated ship.
This was followed by the US high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS), which fired around six rockets that all apparently missed the target.
Asked why HIMARS missed its target, Col. Michael Logico, Executive Agent of Balikatan 2023 Philippines, said the platform was designed as a “ground-based and area weapon and not a precision weapon.”
Another factor: BRP Pangasinan was drifting since the vessel proved impossible to be anchored due to the extreme depth of the water in the target area.
Logico said the presence of an “interloper,” which appeared after the first HIMARS round was fired, forced them to pause the exercise due to safety reasons.
“The complication there was that in between that time from the registry round to the subsequent rounds there was some interloper that entered into our opera box [firing range] and per our SOP [standard operating procedures] any interloper would mean that we would have to pause the exercise,” he explained.
BRP Pangasinan was then engaged by the Filipino and American 155mm self-propelled howitzers that fired a number of shots, scoring hits on the decommissioned Corvette and the secondary drum and raft targets.
Air attack phase
WHILE naval and land-based guns managed to hit BRP Pangasinan repeatedly, it was the air attack phase of the exercise that struck telling blows against the target.
These air strikes were conducted by assets of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), United States Air Force (USAF) and US Marine Corps (USMC).
First in line was the PAF’s T-129B Atak combat helicopters, which fired its 20mm chain guns and rockets.
The American AH-64D Apaches also participated and fired several rounds of AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles at the derelict.
The PAF’s newly acquired Embraer A-29B Super Tucano attack planes also hit the BRP Pangasinan with 250-pound bombs.
This was followed by the FA-50PHs, which fired AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles at the target.
These PAF jet fighters were followed by USAF F-16Cs which fired at the target with unknown weapons.
Last but not the least, the USMC F-35s then struck the antiquated ship with laser-guided bombs at 2:47 p.m., sinking the vessel at around 2:55 p.m. of April 26.
AMONG the possible lessons learned during the CJLLF, Logico noted, was that combined operations are “inherently hard.”
“Difficult because you’re dealing with two different organizations, two different cultures and it is good that we share almost the same doctrines when it comes to warfighting. So the challenges were already predetermined by us and that is what we were working through,” he added.
And while it is easy to fire any weapon systems, the ability to “deconflict” (reduce friendly fire) all those platforms is a challenge by itself, Logico pointed out.
CJLLF a realistic exercise
“This training increased the exercise’s realism and complexity, a key priority shared between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the US military,” USMC Forces, Pacific and US exercise director for Balikatan Lt. Gen. William Jurney said in a statement.
Approximately 1,400 Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen from both countries took part in the training, which involved detecting, identifying, targeting and engaging a target ship using a variety of ground and air-based weapons systems.
“Together we are strengthening our capabilities in full-spectrum military operations across all domains,” he added.
This year’s Balikatan Exercise has increased in complexity and high-end warfighting mission sets over the past several years.
A focus point in this year’s exercise was the bilateral integration of command and control, sensors, and multi-domain fires.
This enabled expanded battlefield awareness, the sharing of targeting data between geographically dispersed units, and precision strikes in a contested maritime environment.
During the littoral live-fire event, a USMC command and control and sensor network enabled the various firing platforms to sense their target, develop firing solutions, and deliver precision integrated fires against the target vessel.
The training event represented a tangible demonstration of the Philippines and US commitment to strengthen military capabilities and interoperability to meet shared modern-day security challenges.
“THIS significant activity demonstrated new potential and revitalized the strength of our militaries, while we continuously forge an ironclad alliance,” said Maj. Gen. Marvin L. Licudine, the AFP’s Education, Training Doctrine Command chief and Philippine Balikatan Exercise Director.
“This event enhanced the interoperability of the Philippines and US forces in conducting combined joint operations utilizing both countries’ Army, Navy and Air Force assets in conducting maritime security and territorial defense,” he added.
The training successfully advanced combined military modernization and capability development by furthering the opportunities for both Philippine and US forces to work together in a complex and realistic training environment.
The Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty was signed in 1951 and is America’s longest-standing defense treaty in the Indo-Pacific Region. Together, the United States and the Philippines are committed to promoting regional peace and stability.