Monday, April 3, 2023

Philippines names 4 sites for US military use

From ABS-CBN (Apr 4, 2023): Philippines names 4 sites for US military use (Raffy Cabristante)

An American soldier assists a Philippine marine as they conduct a chemical reconnaissance and surveillance exercise during "Kamandag, Cooperation of the Warriors of the Sea,” a joint the US-Philippines military exercise in Zambales on Oct. 7, 2022. The drills involve 1,900 U.S. Marines and more than 600 mostly Philippine counterparts in mock amphibious assaults and special operations, the first under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. after his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, frowned on military exercises with American forces. Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News

Cagayan, Isabela, Palawan to host additional EDCA sites

MANILA (2nd UPDATE)— The Philippines on Monday named 4 locations seen as additional sites for the United States military to use under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

MalacaƱang announced the following sites, all located in Luzon, as “suitable and mutually beneficial” following an inspection and assessment by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP):Naval Base 

Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan
Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo, Cagayan
Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela
Balabac Island in Palawan

The sites were seen "to boost the disaster response of the country as the locations will also be used for humanitarian and relief operations during emergencies and natural disasters," the Palace said in a statement Monday.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier said that Philippine and US officials have identified and agreed on 4 EDCA sites.

The Philippines and United States had announced the expansion of EDCA sites last February, in a move seen as an attempt to counter Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Philippines expands US access to military bases

"The four extra sites will be scattered around the Philippines, but the main goal is to defend the country’s eastern coast, the President said, noting the Philippines’ continental shelf on Luzon’s eastern side was also put into consideration," the Palace further said.

The US Department of Defense, meanwhile, said these new locations will "strengthen the interoperability of the U.S. and Philippine Armed Forces and allow us to respond more seamlessly together to address a range of shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, including natural and humanitarian disasters."

"The (US) Department of Defense will work in lockstep with the Philippine Department of National Defense and Armed Forces to rapidly pursue modernization projects at these locations," the Pentagon said in a statement.

The US defense department also said it aims to expand funding in the chosen EDCA sites that will "spur economic growth and job opportunities in their respective provinces".

Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba had opposed the possibility of using bases in his province as EDCA sites, saying that the hosting of foreign military troops there may make the area a "magnet for an attack in case a war erupts."

But while in opposition, Mamba said the decision to grant the US access to bases in Cagayan was ultimately up to Marcos.

READ: Cagayan province may approve U.S. troops' use of 2 bases

Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong also earlier said the EDCA sites would not be used as US military bases, but only as "storage and warehouse facilities" for military logistics.

As of writing, Philippine and American military troops were engaged in the annual "Salaknib" exercises, the first phase of which was scheduled from March 13 to April 4. The second half of the exercises would be held in the second quarter of 2023.

READ: 3,000 Philippine, US Army soldiers to join Salaknib exercise

Modern battlefield weapons fired in 'Salaknib' drills

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 3, 2023): Modern battlefield weapons fired in 'Salaknib' drills (By Priam Nepomuceno)

MODERN WEAPONS. The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) fires a salvo during the live-fire exercise that is part of the ongoing Exercise “Salaknib” at the Canantong Fire Base in Laur, Nueva Ecija on March 31, 2023. The Philippine Army on Sunday (April 2, 2023) said although the HIMARS has been fired in the 2016 and 2022 iteration of the annual "Balikatan" exercises, this is the first time for the weapons platform to be used in live-fire exercises for "Salaknib". (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Army)

MANILA – Filipino and American troops have successfully fired modern battlefield weapons, including the M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), during the live-fire phase of the ongoing "Salaknib" exercises in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.

"PA (Philippine Army) and US (United States) Army Pacific (USARPAC) soldiers conducted for the first time a HIMARS live-fire exercise as part of the ongoing Exercise “Salaknib” at the Canantong Fire Base in Laur, Nueva Ecija on March 31, 2023," PA spokesperson Col. Xerxes Trinidad said in a statement Sunday.

Trinidad said that although the HIMARS has been fired in the 2016 and 2022 iteration of the annual "Balikatan" exercises, this is the first time for the weapons platform to be used in live-fire exercises for "Salaknib".

He added field artillery personnel from the US Army's Multi-Domain Task Force and the PA's Artillery Regiment worked hand in hand to maneuver, reload and fire the HIMARS batteries.

The HIMARS is a rocket launcher mounted on a five-ton truck which can fire six guided missiles in rapid succession.

It can be used to hit targets from a distance with precision and power.

Also on March 31, PA and US Army troops fired the AT-4 84mm anti-tank weapon at the Fernandez Hill Special Forces School also in Fort Magsaysay.

"The live-fire exercise marked the first time the PA and USARPAC soldiers utilized the said anti-tank weapon in a combined training scenario. AT-4 84mm anti-tank is a shoulder-borne weapon used by frontline troops to hit targets such as light tanks and armored personnel carriers that are within the line of sight," Trinidad said.

He said the exercise provided an opportunity for PA to receive professional development and training on the use of an effective anti-tank weapons system.

On March 30, Trinidad said PA and USARPAC demonstrated their seamless interoperability during the culmination of the field artillery live fire exercise at the Canantong Fire Base.

"Field artillery personnel from the Philippine Army and the US Pacific utilized the 155mm ATMOS 2000 self-propelled howitzer and 105mm towed howitzers in the live-fire exercise," he added.

"Salaknib", which means shield in Ilocano, is an annual combined exercise geared at bolstering interoperability between the PA and the USARPAC.

It started March 13 and will end on April 4 while its second phase is scheduled for the third quarter of 2023.

More than 3,000 Filipino and US soldiers are training side by side in the ongoing eighth iteration of the "Salaknib" drills.

Soldiers fire long-range rocket artillery as exercise wraps up in the Philippines

Posted to Stars & Stripes (Apr 3, 2023): Soldiers fire long-range rocket artillery as exercise wraps up in the Philippines (By SETH ROBSON)

Soldiers fire a U.S. Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, during the annual Salaknib exercise at Fort Magsaysay, Philippines, Friday, March 31, 2023. (Bullit Marquez/For Stars and Stripes)

The U.S. Army notched another live-fire practice with its High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, during training Friday with Philippine forces on the island of Luzon.

Soldiers with U.S. Army Pacific fired six HIMARS rockets from a site north of Manila as part of the annual Salaknib drills that began March 13 and conclude Tuesday, Capt. Stacey Lasay, a spokeswoman for the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, told Stars and Stripes by email Monday. The HIMARS rockets were fired into an open area and had no specific target, she said.

U.S. soldiers prepare to fire AT-4 anti-tank weapons during the annual Salaknib exercise at Fort Magsaysay, Philippines, Friday, March 31, 2023. (Bullit Marquez/For Stars and Stripes)

U.S. and Filipino troops also fired AT-4 anti-tank weapons at Fernandez Hill on Fort Magsaysay, a sprawling military reservation on Luzon, following the HIMARS practice, Lasay said.

U.S. and Filipino troops also practiced marksmanship with automatic rifles, she said.

The 2nd Brigade deployed 1,500 troops from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to the Philippines for the training, unit commander Col. Graham White said by phone from Fort Magsaysay on March 12.

This year’s Salaknib has included small-arms, maneuver, jungle, artillery and mortar training as well as engineering and construction projects.

The truck-mounted HIMARS can strike targets 50 miles away and rapidly move around the battlefield, making it a tough target to find. Last year, the U.S. sent HIMARS launchers to Ukraine to help battle Russian invaders.

U.S. forces have demonstrated the HIMARS in the Philippines several times. The mobile rocket system is part of a U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s anti-access, area-denial strategy in island chains of the western Pacific.

A soldier cools off a U.S. Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, during the annual Salaknib exercise at Fort Magsaysay, Philippines, Friday, March 31, 2023. (Bullit Marquez/For Stars and Stripes)

Marine Corps HIMARS conducted live-fire drills at Crow Valley Military Reservation north of Clark Air Base on Luzon during October’s annual Kamandag drills. Army HIMARS was fired from Colonel Ernesto Rabina Air Base in Tarlac, as part of the previous Salaknib exercise in March 2022.

During Balikatan, another annual U.S.-Philippine drill in the islands this month, a U.S. HIMARS will fire on a decommissioned fishing boat in waters off Luzon, the government-run Philippine News Agency reported March 16.

Balikatan, which runs April 11-28, will involve 12,000 American and 5,000 Filipino troops along with about 100 Australians and observers from Japan and South Korea, according to the agency.

[Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.]

Philippines, U.S. troops to hold largetst ever Balikatan exercise from April 11 to 28

From US Embassy Manila (Apr 4, 2023): Philippines, U.S. troops to hold largetst ever Balikatan exercise from April 11 to 28  

Through the Balikatan 2023 Joint Mobility Coordination Center, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III carrying equipment to support the Philippines’ oil spill response in Oriental Mindoro lands at Subic Bay International Airport on March 25.

Manila, April 4, 2023—From April 11 to 28, more than 17,600 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the U.S. military will participate in Balikatan 2023, an annual bilateral exercise between the two allies and the largest iteration of Balikatan to date.

This year marks the 38th iteration of the exercise, incorporating training activities throughout the Philippines.


U.S. service members and Philippine Army soldiers attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a new community health care center in preparation for Balikatan 2023 in Barangay San Joaquin, Sarrat, Ilocos Norte on March 27.

Approximately 5,400 AFP personnel and 12,200 U.S. military personnel will train shoulder-to-shoulder, developing interoperability and improved capability in the areas of maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban and aviation operations, cyber defense, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness. The increase in participating personnel from Balikatan 2022’s 9,000 participants shows that the scope of the exercise grows consistently year after year.

This year’s iteration includes a bilateral command post exercise that will strengthen the Allies’ ability to plan, coordinate, and provide command and control of forces together against a range of scenarios and simulated challenges. This training event will also enable the AFP and the U.S. military to refine tactics, techniques, and procedures related to maritime security, and deconflict fires and maneuver in a shared and contested battlespace.

Field training exercise events will take place across the Philippines to test the Allies’ capabilities in combined arms live-fire, information and intelligence sharing, communications between maneuver units, logistics operations, amphibious operations, and many other skill sets.

The AFP and U.S. military will also conduct multiple Humanitarian Civic Assistance (HCA) projects to improve infrastructure, enhance medical response, and strengthen ties between local communities and Philippine and American military forces. These activities include the construction or renovation of three community health centers and multipurpose halls and hands-on training in advanced emergency rescue and lifesaving techniques.

“The Balikatan Exercise enhances both the AFP and the United States Armed Forces’ tactics, techniques, and procedures across a wide range of military operations,” said AFP Spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar. “It increases our ability to work together effectively and efficiently in response to various crisis situations.”

“Balikatan provides unparalleled opportunities to demonstrate the strength and readiness of the Philippine-U.S. security alliance,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Huvane, Balikatan Combined Joint Information Director. “Engagements such as Balikatan are important investments in our ability to work together across the spectrum of military operations, respond to crises, support the people of the Philippines, and accomplish our shared missions.”

Balikatan is a Tagalog term that means “shoulder-to-shoulder” or “sharing the load together,” which characterizes the spirit of the exercise and the alliance between the Philippines and the United States.

The Philippines is a key U.S. ally. It is the largest recipient of U.S. military assistance, equipment, and training in the region. Together, the United States and the Philippines are committed to promoting regional peace and stability.

Philippines reveals more bases US troops can use

Posted to Asian News Network (Apr 4, 2023): Philippines reveals more bases US troops can use (Frances Mangosing, Jerome Aning, Philippine Daily Inquirer)

The four sites will boost the countries response capabilities during emergencies and natural disaster operations, a statement said.

US and Philippine Marines storm a beach to simulate a raid during the joint US-Philippines military exercise in San Antonio town, Zambales province, in 2018. (INQUIRER FILE PHOTO)

MANILA — MalacaƱang on Monday identified four new locations as additional sites for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) between the Philippines and the United States.

The Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said the new locations — Camilo Osias Naval Base in Sta. Ana town and Lal-lo Airport in Lal-lo town, both in Cagayan province; Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela province; and Balabac, the southernmost island in Palawan province — were “inspected and assessed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

The four sites “are seen to boost the disaster response of the country as the locations will also be used for humanitarian and relief operations during emergencies and natural disasters,” a statement posted on the PCO’s website said.

Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong had said earlier that the new sites would not be used as American military bases but, rather, as storage and warehouse facilities.

Access sought earlier

The new locations, however, would allow American troops enough proximity to Taiwan and the West Philippine Sea, which China has effectively occupied following a standoff between its surveillance ships and a Philippine vessel in 2012.

The announcement came ahead of the scheduled 2 + 2 meeting between top defense officials and diplomats in Washington, as well as the largest ever joint Philippine-US Balikatan military exercises set to start next week.

The United States earlier sought access to five locations — two in Cagayan, and one each in Zambales, Isabela, and Palawan provinces. Last month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he had approved four of those proposed sites.

In a speech to the Philippine Army on the occasion of its 126th anniversary on March 22, Marcos also said US troops and equipment could be stationed in those sites, adding that these locations would “defend our eastern coast.”

The resource-rich Benham Rise lies east of the provinces, including Cagayan, which make up the northeastern seaboard of the Luzon landmass. The President said that geographical feature was considered in determining the new locations.

He also said he spoke with local officials who were not keen at first on hosting US forces, explaining to them the importance of the Edca sites in their areas.

Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba had opposed the inclusion of his province among the new sites, but said last month that the matter was now “the President’s call.”

Edca, which Washington signed with Manila in 2014, allows US troops and equipment to be prepositioned in various locations around the country.

‘Happy and thankful’

So far the five locations under the military pact are Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu, and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.

Filipino and American troops are scheduled to hold this month their largest Balikatan joint exercise yet.

The DND welcomed the announcement of the new sites.

“We are so happy and thankful to the president,” acting Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. told reporters on Monday.

The defense official said the selected locations were “very strategic,” particularly the naval base in Sta. Ana, Cagayan, and the island of Balabac in Palawan.

‘Collectively decided’

“Balabac is in our sea lanes of communication. It’s an important route where more or less $3 trillion worth of trade passes through and we have a big responsibility in the international community to collectively secure that,” Galvez added.

The Palace did not identify the exact location of the Edca site in Balabac. But there has been a proposal to build an air force base there, while a pier is being built at the Narciso del Rosario Naval Station.

Galvez also said the additional sites were “collectively decided” by both Manila and Washington.

“All those areas were inspected and we looked at the strategic value. It was not requested. We collectively decided their significance in instances like future Balikatan exercises,” he said.