Fort Magsaysay looks like a US camp
FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija —Fenced off with barbed wire, secured by uniformed American soldiers, and bristling with tanks, assault guns and trucks, a small compound inside this huge military reservation has become a virtual US military base as Balikatan exercises resumed this week and were expected to last until end of this month.
The compound serves as a depository for arms and equipment that the United States Armed Forces had designed solely for the series of Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises between American and Filipino soldiers under a mutual defense treaty.
Striker Tanks, Howitzer assault guns and other high-powered weapons have been shipped here for the Balikatan exercises that have been expanded from civil military operations and bilateral exercises to a field training exercise, according to Col. Lawrence Mina, commander of the Combined Army Forces.
At the aviation command, American soldiers were busy moving personnel and equipment within the 73,000-hectare military reservation, said Col. Joshua Higgins, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment based in Hawaii.
Higgins said this year’s exercises have no connection with the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines over Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea. “This is purely for the interoperability of our forces,” he said.
Most of the weapons brought here for the war games have advance features, although the Howitzer 47 units, “have not been used by the Army for very long,” according to Capt. Michael Merrill, chief of the US Army mobile public affairs, who added that they can be operated digitally.
“This is self-loading, meaning, (you) can just take it out there and it can digitally [analyze and define the] target data,” Merrill said, describing the weapons that fire 155-millimeter shells within a range of 31 kilometers.
The Howitzers can be slung underneath a VH-47 helicopter and brought to any location, he added.
Filipino soldiers can also test their skills with the mobile gun system (MGS), the Infantry Carry Vehicle, the fire support vehicle and several medical support tanks.
Madi Simpore, a US Striker mechanic, said an MGS provides surveillance and security capabilities. “It can go [out to the combat zone] first to see what’s going on,” he said.
Simpore added that some of the tanks can be loaded with 18 rounds of 105-mm shells and mounted with 15 cal. guns that can fire 500 rounds. It can shoot one round every six seconds, he said.
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