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NEWS | May 3, 2024

Philippine, US forces advancing territorial defense, rapid infiltration capabilities at Balikatan

By Courtesy story, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific

Philippine and U.S. military forces participating in Balikatan 24 are conducting multiple synchronized, combined and joint all domain operations across more than 1,000 miles of Philippine territory over 16 days, involving more than a dozen units across the combined force.

The scope of the operations demonstrates the increased complexity of this year’s exercise.

In Palawan, bilateral forces just concluded a combined High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) rapid infiltration mission (HIRAIN) and live-fire event. The goal of the training was to increase bilateral interoperability in complex littoral and coastal defense operations to secure and protect Philippines’ maritime terrain, territorial waters and exclusive economic zone interests.

“The main goal or the exercise’s objective is to demonstrate the strength of the alliance and our willingness to defend our territory,” said Philippine Army Col. Mike Logico, Balikatan 24 executive agent.

The HIRAIN showcased the strength of the joint team participating in this year’s Balikatan. The HIMARS loaded onto an MC-130J Commando II transport aircraft in Subic Bay before inserting into San Vicente, Palawan. From there the HIMARS, along with artillery from the Philippine Marine Corps, loaded onto a landing craft, air cushioned to transition to the USS Somerset (LPD-25) to continue their movement down the coast of Palawan overnight. The next morning, the Philippine artillery and HIMARS landed on a beach that had been secured ahead of time by U.S. and Philippine Marines, before establishing firing positions and launching training rockets and artillery rounds at notional targets.

“This HIRAIN training exercise demonstrates the effectiveness of our combined operations between U.S. forces and the Armed Force of the Philippines, highlighting our ability to rapidly deploy critical weapons systems throughout the archipelago to collectively sense and engage military targets,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Bernard Harrington, commander of 1st Multi-Domain Task Force.

The all-domain training commenced on April 24 in Palawan at the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement sites located on Antonio Bautista Air Base and Balabac Island. Training activities are ongoing and include expeditionary mine hunting, sonar hydrographic surveys, reconnaissance drills, amphibious landings, and air assault drills to secure key maritime terrain and establish expeditionary advanced bases and forward arming and refueling points. All of these operations together facilitate the all-domain, multi-modal maneuver required to operate in a rapidly evolving security environment.

“The combined capability of the U.S. joint force and Armed Forces of the Philippines will hold the beach,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Sean Dynan, commanding officer of 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “This caliber of training prepares both our nations to defend our shores as a team and drives home the value of standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the fighting hole.”

As bilateral forces in Palawan conduct HIMARS operations, they are also preparing for HIRAIN multi-modal transportation movement to Subic and follow-on movement to Northern Luzon.

“Through seamless coordination and cooperation, we are successfully executing complex multi-modal transportation operations, rapidly deploying long-range fires capabilities to support the territorial defense of the Philippines," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Benjamin Blane, commander of 1st Long Range Fires Battalion, 1st Multi-Domain Task Force.

Integrated units supporting operations across the combined force include: the Philippine Army’s 1st Multiple Launch Rocket System Battery, 1st Army Artillery Regiment, 203rd Infantry Brigade, and 5th Infantry Division; the Philippine Marine Corps’ 3rd and 4th Marine Brigades; U.S. Army 1st Multi-Domain Task Force; the U.S. Marine Corps’ 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment and 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit; the U.S. Air Force’s 317th Airlift Wing and 353rd Special Operations Wing; and the U.S. Navy Assault Craft Unit 5 and USS Somerset (LPD 25).