By Francis Wakefield
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana today said the 34th interation of the Balikatan 2018 joint military exercises between the Philippines and the United States aims not only to broaden the defense relationships between the two countries but also primarily to have increased and effective interoperability.
Lorenzana made the remark as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and United States Armed Forces officially start the annual Balikatan Exercises during the opening ceremony held at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
In a speech he delivered, Lorenzana said as a young military officer, he witnessed firsthand the planning of the first Balikatan here in the Philippines in the early ’80s until its growth over the last three decades.
“In fact I was one of the planners there, I was a captain. and I think I was…and I was also the co-director of exercise of Balikatan in 2002, a month before I took my designation as the defense attache in Washington D.C.,” Lorenzana said..
“This 34th iteration of the biggest annual bilateral exercise between the Philippines and US aims not only to broaden the defense relationships between our two countries but primarily to have our increased and effective interoperability as this year’s exercise theme suggests Interoperability is an enabler for nation building,” he added.
Lorenzana said he is grateful that until today, he is still part of the exercise that has evolved to meet the challenges of times.
“It has metamorphosed from a purely bilateral exercise to one where other US and Philippine allies and partners like Japan and Australia can participate in varying degrees or merely as observers,” the defense secretary said.
Lorenzana also said the exercise facilitates meaningful contribution by partners or allies.
“As the current formulation of the United States’ national security strategy states, we must always be prepared to act alone and that is our most advantageous course. But many of our security objectives are best achieved or can only be achieved through our alliances and other formal security structures,” Lorenzana said.
“And Balikatan is one activity that we annually do with the US as our ally that manifests our desire to work together over the long term to achieve and maintain shared interests against common threats,” he said.
Lorenzana, at the same time, said last year the focus was on disaster response but this year the focus will be on interoperability training to address traditional and nontraditional security concerns.
“Through this exercise, we hope to improve our counter-terrorism capabilities in order to build safer communities and work towards the eradication of global terror networks,” Lorenzana said.
“We hope that through this activity we will have a stronger teamwork while we endeavor to our common vision of developing long-term cooperation and effective interoperability between the Philippines and the United States and our allies,” he added.
For his part, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim said this special bilateral event is made even more meaningful by the participation of the US and Philippines’ close partners, Japan and Australia.
He also expressed hope that there will be greater multilateral dimensions for future Balikatan exercises which will not only focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which is very important here in the Philippines, but also will incorporate training identified in the post-Marawi action reports such as military operation in urban terrain.
“Let me take a moment to commend again the incredible work of General Galvez in ending the Marawi siege. It was really deep, honored and privileged to see such great military leadership in an incredibly difficult situation,” Kim said.
“And Marawi showed that we need to work together to overcome the complex challenges we face in today’s world. That includes international terror networks as well as natural threats. No nation can or should have to face them alone, whether natural disasters affect our neighboring country or man-made crisis causes communities to suffer, our country’s militaries will deliver more effective response when operating together,” he added.
Kim said as the country witnessed in the HADR (Hunanitarian and Disaster Relief) response to super typhoon Yolanda or the Marawi siege, a joint response to these devastating events will ensure a quicker end to human suffering.
“I’m confident that the lessons we take away from Balikatan 2018 will better prepare us to respond together more effectively to future challenges. The US-Philippines alliance remains focused on improving the lives of the Philippines’ people, upholding our shared values, enriching our people-to-people ties and addressing our shared security concerns,” Kim said.
“Balikatan 18 is just one of many embodiments of our robust relationship. And Balikatan 2018 will continue to reinforce the deep and lasting commitment between our two countries for a peaceful and secure region. Thank you very much salamat po,” Kim said.
About 8,000 troops to participate in BK 18
AFP Northern Luzon Command (NoLCom) chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel B Salamat, PH-BK exercise director, said this year’s focus is on enhancing their Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR), and counterterrorism.
This year’s BK Exercises is the 34th iteration of the bilateral exercise between the AFP and the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM). It will officially end on 18 May 2018.
“The Balikatan Exercise is an annual military training that manifests the longstanding relationship between the AFP and U.S. Armed Forces. We will continue this commitment to strengthen our alliance to learn from both forces and improve our interoperability,” Salamat said.
Salamat said about 5,000 soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors from the AFP are joining BK 2018 while there will be approximately 3,000 from US forces composed of U.S. Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations Forces. The Australian Defense Force and Japan Self-Defense Force also committed personnel to join the exercise. Their participation is under the ambit of the US alliance system.
“Our nations expect us to be ready when they need us the most. So whether that threat is man-made or natural, we must be ready. That is the great essence of Balikatan,” said Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, the US exercise director.
The BK 2018 activities are focused on addressing traditional and nontraditional security concerns. The exercise scenarios were based on mutual defense, counterterrorism, and HADR.
BK 2018 is broken up into three distinct sections. First, there are individuals participating in a fictional scenario, which will improve the planner’s ability to command and control forces from a headquarters level. Second, there are the operational events, which include activities like an amphibious landing, bridging and communication integration. Third, there is also the Civic actions, which focuses on building schools as well as medical and dental education, and spiritual enhancement activities in selected areas in Cagayan, Isabela, Tarlac, and Cabanatuan City. Some of which have already started as early as April.
Some of the AFP’s naval assets that will participate in BK 2018 are BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Davao Del Sur. Also joining are attack and utility aircrafts including SF260, MG520, FA50, Sokol Choppers, and C130. Armored Personnel Carriers such as the Army’s M113 and ARV will also be used in the exercises.
The U.S. Armed Forces will utilize various air, marine, army, and naval assets for BK 2018. Among these assets are the C-130H Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, MV-22B Ospreys, and the USNS Sacagawea.
Salamat said the BK 2018 manifests the longstanding cooperation and interoperability between the Philippines and United States, consistent with the Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement.
He said the AFP and US Armed Forces will continue the commitment to improve capabilities in responding to crises, and advance regional cooperation and collaborative actions in addressing security concerns.