The US-Philippines Balikatan joint exercise is an annual military exercise between the United States and the Philippines. This exercise aims to strengthen the military alliance and enhance interoperability and capability between the two forces. The Balikatan joint exercise was originally scheduled for 2021, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in its postponement until 2023.
Despite the postponement of the exercise, the US and Philippine militaries have maintained their defense cooperation through other means. In March 2021, the two countries conducted a virtual command and control exercise, showcasing their ability to work together despite the pandemic.
The recently concluded Balikatan joint exercise between the United States and the Philippines marked its largest iteration yet, with over 17,600 participants, including 12,200 US troops and 5,400 Philippine soldiers, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
In previous exercises, the US has provided equipment such as helicopters and drones, while the Philippine military has demonstrated its proficiency in jungle warfare and urban operations.
Aside from military operations, the Balikatan joint exercise also provides a platform for disaster response and humanitarian assistance. The exercise allows the two militaries to work together to provide aid and support to affected communities.
In terms of military and technology advancements, the Balikatan joint exercise provides both countries with an opportunity to learn from each other and enhance their capabilities. The US has long been a leader in military technology, and this remarkable exercise allows for the sharing of information on the latest technologies and techniques. The Philippine military has also showcased its ingenuity and resourcefulness in the past, which can be utilized in the exercise as well.
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed in 2014 allows for the increased rotational presence of US military personnel in the Philippines and the construction and use of designated facilities by US forces. The agreement aims to strengthen the bilateral defense partnership between the US and the Philippines, but it has been controversial. Critics have raised concerns about Philippine sovereignty and the potential for conflict with China.
The discussions concerning the possible increase of US troops participating in the Balikatan joint exercise have resulted from the EDCA. While increasing the number of US troops may further strengthen defense cooperation, it may also intensify concerns about sovereignty and foreign intervention.
We can say that this joint exercise is not without controversy. In particular, the exercise has faced criticism for its potential to incite conflict with China. China has been claiming territorial rights in the South China Sea, where the Philippines has also claimed its rights.
Despite the controversy, both the US and Philippine governments have emphasized the importance of the Balikatan joint exercise in strengthening their defense cooperation. The exercise serves as a means to prepare for different scenarios involving external threats, including humanitarian assistance, and disaster response, as well as military actions.
Apart from the military aspect, the exercise highlights the cultural similarities and differences between the US and the Philippines. Both countries have different military cultures, which can be studied and learned from by the other party.
While the US-Philippines Balikatan joint exercise was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both countries have remained committed to strengthening their defense cooperation through other means.
As they continue to work together to enhance their capabilities, the exercise remains an important aspect of the Philippines’ commitment to their alliance with the United States. The exercise also provides an opportunity to share knowledge and expertise, as well as to develop new strategies to address common security concerns.