Philippines to Hold Largest Military Drill in Seven Years

This year’s “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises will include live-fire exercises and training with amphibious assault vehicles, involving 8,900 troops.

PHILIPPINES – The Philippines and the United States (US) kicked off their largest joint military drills since 2015 on Monday, March 28, highlighting the opportunity for them to come together once more and work for hand in hand to improve defense ties after President Rodrigo Duterte scaled back some earlier war games to pursue warmer ties with China.

According to US media reports, including one by the Associated Press on Monday, this year’s “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises will include live-fire exercises and training with amphibious assault vehicles, involving 8,900 troops. However, Some Philippine politicians were also concerned that the exercise would jeopardize regional security.

 

Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has sought closer ties with China in exchange for loans, aid, and investment pledges, while distancing himself from the US, a treaty ally.

 

The Balikatan deployment in 2017 was roughly doubled from the previous year to 5,500 troops and stripped of all combat-related exercises at the request of Duterte, who saw them as an impediment to rapprochement with China.

 

Live fire drills returned in 2018 and 2019, but the scale of the drills remained smaller, and they were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, with only 640 troops participating last year.

 

Major General Jay Bargeron, exercise director for the United States, stated that the latest drills are intended to improve the country’s readiness.

 

Despite efforts to strengthen ties, the Philippines has become more critical of Beijing’s actions, such as “swarming” by fishing vessels manned by the militia of the disputed Spratly islands and a blockade of a military resupply mission last year.

 

Manila has also summoned China’s ambassador in response to an “illegal intrusion and lingering presence” of a Chinese navy vessel.

 

China claims the vast majority of the South China Sea, through which approximately $3 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year. The waterway is also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

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