US, PH start air assault exercises
The Philippines and the United States have begun three weeks of joint air assault exercises as the country starts to lay out plans to strengthen its western defenses amid increased tension in the West Philippine Sea, which China is claiming.
A statement from the US Embassy in Manila on Thursday said that the joint exercises were aimed at improving the Philippines’ ground and air operations.
The embassy said members of the US 1st Marine Air Wing, the 3rd Marine Division and their aircraft were involved in the joint exercises with the Philippine Marine Corps and the Philippine Air Force.
The training includes fast-rope rappelling, casualty evacuation drills, day and night platoon-size raids and integrated fire training—all of which were being held at three sites in Luzon: the Basa Air Base in Pampanga; the Crow Valley Range in Botolan, Zambales; and Clark Air Base, also in Pampanga.
Called Aviation Assault Support Exercise, the maneuvers are a repeat of the joint training held annually by the US and Philippine militaries.
The exercises are “designed to expand and promote cooperative training opportunities with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to enhance core skill proficiency and to increase operational readiness in ground and air operations,” the US Embassy said.
Unique training environment
“It gives our guys a unique training environment that they are not used to, as well as an opportunity to learn from our Philippine counterparts,” said Lt. Col. Teodoro Apalisok, US Air Force operations officer of the Joint US Military Assistance Group.
“We learn from them and they learn from us,” he said.
The exercises are in their third year, each year containing two iterations, Apalisok said.
Unique to this year’s joint maneuvers is the “unitization” of new US aircraft, or the assembling of small parts into one, Apalisok said.
“Traditionally, we have used only the MV-22 in this exercise to conduct many of the engagements,” Apalisok said. “However, this year we will be implementing the CH-53 and the UH-1Y helicopters.”
The government views the Balikatan joint military exercises between the US and the Philippines as crucial due to what the Department of Foreign Affairs has described as external threats posed by China’s increasing aggressiveness in asserting its claims in the South China Sea.
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