PAF, US PACAF open 2nd edition of 'Cope Thunder' drills

By Priam Nepomuceno

July 7, 2023, 5:41 pm

<p><em>(Photo courtesy of PAF)</em></p>

(Photo courtesy of PAF)

MANILA – The second iteration of the Cope Thunder (CT) exercise between the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and the United States' Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) formally opened Friday, with the drills focusing on interoperability between the two services.

The PACAF is a major command of the US Air Force based at the Hickam Air Force Base portion of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. It is also the air component command of the United States Indo-Pacific Command.

Opening ceremonies took place at Clark Air Base, Mabalacat City, Pampanga with ranking officials of both services present.

Air Defense Command chief Maj. Gen. Augustine Malinit served as the event's guest-of-honor and speaker, PAF spokesperson Col. Ma. Consuelo Castillo said in a statement.

"As he addressed the attendees, Maj. Gen. Malinit expressed his gratitude for the successful completion of the first phase of this bilateral exercise with our U.S. counterparts, Cope Thunder 23-1, which was held in May this year," Castillo said.

The first edition of the exercise took place from May 1 to 12 and focused on mission planning capabilities, and execution of defensive and offensive counter-air operations utilizing fighter and cargo aircraft.

"Officially opening this year's bilateral exercise, he (Malinit) affirmed that Cope Thunder 23-2 is an opportunity to assimilate forces and augment interoperability between the Philippines and the United States," Castillo said.

Meanwhile, the ranking American representative was Brig. Gen. Sarah H. Russ, mobilization assistant to the director of strategy plans, programs and requirements of PACAF headquarters.

Russ was welcomed by 5th Fighter Wing commander Brig. Gen. Leo A. Fontanilla.

The original Cope Thunder exercises, which provided regular flight training for US pilots and those of allied nations, were first held in 1976 and continued annually in the Philippines until 1990.

Following the opening ceremony, an aircraft tour was conducted at the Haribon Hangar featuring a USAF F-22 "Raptor" fifth generation stealth jet fighter and A-10 "Warthog" close air support aircraft from the US Air Force and an FA-50 light jet fighter aircraft from the PAF.

The bilateral exercise will engage approximately 585 PACAF service members and 687 airmen from various PAF units.

Spanning from July 2 to 21, the activities will encompass subject matter expert exchanges and field training exercises to be held at several PAF air bases, including Basa Air Base and Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Col. Ernesto Ravina Air Base in Tarlac, Brig. Gen. Benito N. Ebuen Air Base in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, and General Santos City.

The second edition of the Cope Thunder bilateral air operations exercises will primarily focus on large-force deployment of aircraft. (PNA)