MANILA — Military aircraft from the United States and Australia have arrived in the Philippines days before the start of the Balikatan exercise next week.
This year’s Balikatan, with a focus on maritime defense, coastal defense, and maritime domain awareness, will be held from April 11 to 28 in various areas in the country, including Palawan, Antique, and parts of Northern Luzon.
One US military plane, a C130J, landed at the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan on April 6, Thursday, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) said.
At the same air base, the PAF said it welcomed the arrival of one Australian aircraft, a C-17, on April 7, Friday, carrying supplies, equipment, and personnel in support of this year's Balikatan exercises.
"The exercise welcomes the participation of the Australian Defence Force for humanitarian and civic assistance projects and special operations forces training," the PAF said in a Facebook post.
Around 17,600 troops are expected to participate in this year's Balikatan — the largest annual Philippine-led bilateral exercise of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with the US Armed Forces.
Out of the said troops, 12,000 will come from the United States, while the rest are Philippine troops.
A 111-person contingent from the Australian Defense Force will also be joining the military exercises.
"They will be taking part in smaller events… special operations, mostly. Smaller land-based exercises," Col. Michael Logico, spokesperson of the Balikatan 2023, earlier said.
The Balikatan 2023 will include live-fire exercises at sea—a first for the US-Philippine war games, according to Logico.
Logico said the AFP will be using its newly-acquired frigates, FA-50 jets, and artillery in the Balikatan.
There will also be observers from Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, the United Kingdom, France, and India.
- with report from Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News