PH, US hold big ‘Balikatan’ drills in Cagayan
Filipino and American troops recently trained at two sites in Cagayan under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) as part of the largest ever Balikatan joint military exercises. Soldiers from the recently formed quick reaction force 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment based in Hawaii trained their Filipino counterparts with small unmanned aircraft system or drones in separate events in Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana town and Cagayan North International Airport in Lal-lo, two of the four newly designated Edca sites.
The Americans demonstrated the use of Skydio X2 UAS to members of Marine Battalion Landing Team-10 at the naval base in Santa Ana on April 9, or two days before the “Balikatan” exercises officially started on April 11, as part of “bilateral small unmanned aircraft system training,” according to images released by the US Marine Corps.In Lal-lo, the US and Filipino marines were photographed training with RQ-20B Puma AE and Skydio X2 UAS drones on April 13.
Such drones are used for situational awareness, search and rescue and maritime patrol. The Skydio X2 is a short-range person-portable drone, while Puma could be operated from land and patrol ships.
American troops were recently given access to four additional locations under the Edca, a 2014 agreement which allows Washington to build facilities and preposition assets in some strategically located military bases in the country.
The first five military bases for use under Edca are—Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province; Basa Air Base in Pampanga province; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan province; Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.
Out of the four new Edca sites, three are facing Taiwan—two in Cagayan and one in Isabela—while one in Palawan is near the Chinese outposts in the West Philippine Sea.
The new locations have raised concerns from China, warning that Washington was “endangering regional peace” and Manila was “stoking the fire” of regional tensions with the new deal. China’s increasing assertiveness over the South China Sea and Taiwan, which it claims as part of its territory, has been a major concern of the United States and other countries in the region, including the Philippines.
The expanded military access of the United States came as the two allies staged their largest ever iteration of the annual Balikatan with more than 17,500 Filipino, American and Australian forces, which runs from April 11 to April 28.
On Friday, Filipino and American troops practiced defending an island from potential aggressors as part of an amphibious assault exercise in Palawan. The next day, BRP Jose Rizal (FF150), BRP Tarlac (LD601), and USS Makin Island (LHD8) held aerial gunnery exercises near Brooke’s Point, according to the Western Command.
The Philippines and US ships will “group sail” toward Zambales after the scheduled exercises for other activities. INQ