AFP: 'Balikatan' constantly adapting to security challenges

By Priam Nepomuceno

April 21, 2024, 2:07 pm

<p><em>(Photo courtesy of AFP-Wescom)</em></p>

(Photo courtesy of AFP-Wescom)

MANILA – The "Balikatan" exercise is unique as it constantly adapts to meet contemporary security challenges, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla said on Sunday.

"This Balikatan exercise is distinctive due to its scale and evolving nature, adapting to contemporary security challenges. Every Balikatan is increasingly complex than the last. It has evolved from the tactical to the operational level of war," she said in a news release.

This year's iteration of "Balikatan" will be on April 22 to May 10.

A multilateral maritime exercise between naval and coast guard ships of the Philippines, United States and France is among the expected highlights, along with a combined sinking exercise involving a decommissioned oil tanker in Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

"We aim to enhance interoperability, strengthen alliances, and deepen regional security cooperation. Balikatan is a demonstration of combat readiness and interoperability with our treaty allies. Our focus remains on bolstering external defense capabilities and fostering peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific Region," Padilla said.

She said "Balikatan" has no connection with the country's ongoing tensions with China regarding the West Philippine Sea.

"This Balikatan exercise is an annual event aimed at strengthening defense capabilities and alliances. While we remain vigilant in the face of regional challenges, the exercise is not explicitly tied to any particular country's actions. Its primary objective is to enhance collective security and readiness among participating nations," Padilla said.

Opportunity to observe

Meanwhile, Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) Director Maj. Gen. Bernard Banac said 156 troopers will be sent to the “Balikatan” for “an opportunity to observe, learn and gain experience on all-domain operations (sea, air, land), command control, and cybersecurity.”

“As the PNP’s rapid deployment force, SAF recognizes the importance of participating in joint exercises like Balikatan to strengthen its readiness and effectiveness in internal security operations, counter-terrorism and humanitarian activities,” Banac said in a separate statement.

SAF is PNP’s well-trained elite force assigned to special operations, including against terror groups.

Banac said they have already come up with the modernization plan for the SAF that would boost its capability on rapid deployment and special operations by air, land and sea. (With a report from Christopher Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)