Balikatan 2019 highlights forward deployment capabilities for combat readiness, crisis management
3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
U.S. Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen joined their Armed Forces of the Philippines counterparts April 1-12, 2019, to conduct Exercise Balikatan 2019 in the Philippines. Balikatan — which means “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Tagalog — represents the strong partnership between the United States and the Philippines.
“The 35th iteration of the annual military exercise is a testament of our enduring commitment to our defense partnership,” Armed Forces of the Philippines Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, commander, Southern Luzon Command and Philippines exercise director, said during the opening ceremony. “Every year, when our troops train together and hurdle developed scenarios, in a way we actually relive the times when Filipinos and American Soldiers fought side by side in defense of peace, freedom and democracy.”
Overall, Balikatan is designed to enhance territorial defense, maritime security, military capabilities development, multinational interoperability and partnership. Balikatan 2019 included an amphibious assault, combined arms live-fire exercise, maritime security operation, defense-based military operations in urban terrain and a staff planning exercise.
This year’s Balikatan for the first time featured Philippine Army brigade combat teams partnering with U.S. Army counterparts. It was also the first to incorporate the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) paired with the U.S. Marines Corps’ F-35B Lightning II aircraft. Together, these platforms demonstrate the ability to forward deploy in response to crises or natural disasters and represent an increase in the Marine Corps’ military capability.
Balikatan 2019, the largest in recent years, consisted of more than 7,500 service members — approximately 4,000 from the Philippines, 3,500 from the U.S. and 50 Australians. The exercise provided an opportunity for participants to build upon their military tactics, techniques and procedures, improving their ability to work together for combined missions. Australian Defence Force members participated in humanitarian and civic assistance projects and special operations force training. Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom also sent delegations.
“All of us understand how threats on security constantly evolve, including the nontraditional security challenges at present. As we have this year’s Balikatan, we will shoulder the load together to prepare for these scenarios, and should a crisis or national disaster occur in the future, we will be ready,” Lt. Gen. Gapay said.
During the exercise, service members improved local communities through humanitarian and civic assistance efforts, including engineering civic assistance projects, community health engagements and community relations events. Military personnel renovated three elementary schools and a medical clinic designed to withstand natural disasters, taught lifesaving medical skills and strengthened ties with the Philippine communities.
This year, Balikatan was conducted in conjunction with Exercise Freedom Banner 2019. Freedom Banner entails a maritime prepositioning force offloading equipment for Balikatan from the vehicle cargo ship USNS Pililaau (T-AKR 304). Maritime prepositioning — the ability to stage and deliver military equipment ashore from the sea — enables deployment flexibility and an increased capability to respond rapidly to crises or contingencies with a credible force in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Exercise Balikatan has become one of the premier military training events in the Indo-Pacific region, enhancing U.S. and Philippines forces’ ability to confront crises together, promote security and stability, strengthen international partnerships and support local communities. The capabilities and interoperability that U.S., Philippine and Australian forces have honed through Balikatan have helped to maintain regional stability, uphold international norms, combat violent extremism and alleviate human suffering.