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NEWS | June 20, 2024

U.S.-Philippine bilateral airfield operations: MWSS-371 conducts FARP operations with Philippine Sailors at Laoag

By Cpl. Nikolas Mascroft, I Marine Expeditionary Force

U.S. Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 371, strengthened ties with their Philippine counterparts by conducting bilateral forward arming and refueling point operations during Marine Aviation Support Activity 24, at Laoag, Philippines, June 3 – June 21, 2024.

MASA is an annual Philippine-U.S. military exercise focused on mutual defense, strengthening relationships, and rehearsing emerging aviation concepts, including enhancing the bilateral capabilities of the U.S.-Philippine aviation forces and interoperability of the combined joint forces operating in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Our main purpose here is to train the Philippine Navy how to properly establish a forward arming and refueling point,” said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Cameron O’Connor, an expeditionary fuel technician with MWSS-371. “By doing this we can expand upon our aviation capabilities with our Philippine allies.”

A FARP is designed to provide refueling and rearming to rotary or fixed-wing assets, expanding the reach and capacity of aircraft during operations in forward environments.

As the aviation combat element of I MEF (Fwd), Marine Aircraft Group 13 executed expeditionary advanced base operations during MASA 24 through the hub, spoke, and node concept, with varying levels of capability, survivability, and sustainability based on mission requirements and geographic considerations. A FARP is significant to the node by providing rapid refueling and rearming to joint, allied, and partner aircraft of any type-model series in austere locations and extending their effective ranges.

Before establishing a live FARP, the U.S. Marines and Philippine Sailors conducted a three-week-long subject matter expert exchange at Clark Air Base. Throughout the exchange, Philippine Sailors took a FARP operators course that focused on various topics such as hand and arm signals, airfield safety, identifying the type and layouts of FARPS, and quality surveillance. This familiarized both units with properly operating a FARP and utilizing expeditionary fuel equipment in locations with minimal infrastructure.

The course ended in a culminating event in which Sailors set up a simulated FARP to ensure the complete integration of the U.S. and Philippine teams before establishing a live FARP at Laoag International Airport and supporting real-world flight operations.

“Despite them operating completely different from the way we typically do, the way they performed during the SMEE by quickly picking up on how we operate and being able to perform just as well is awesome,” said O’Connor. “That alone gave me confidence that the [Philippine] Sailors would have no issues working side by side with my Marines during the real deal.”

Following the conclusion of the operators course, the Marines and Philippine Sailors were air-inserted into Laoag International Airport where they established a live assault FARP. In Laoag, they supported various joint aircraft conducting flight operations in support of the bilateral littoral live-fire exercise and Maritime Key Terrain Security Operations of MASA 24. The LLFX showcased U.S. and Philippine integrated command and control capabilities in a territorial defense scenario featuring a coordinated bilateral surface and maritime strike. The MKTSO operations allowed U.S. and Philippine Marines to practice seizing and securing key island terrain in a scenario to allow for follow-on forces and equipment.

“Space limitations and airport landing restrictions here at Laoag is why an assault FARP was constructed,” said U.S. Marine Corps CWO2 Roberto Montecino, an expeditionary fuel officer with MWSS-371. “This allows aircraft to safely taxi into the refueling point for follow-on operations.”

Conducting assault FARPs maintains the ability of the U.S.-Philippine forces to support any type of aircraft they are tasked with, including rotary and fixed-wing aircraft from across the combined joint force.

“The Marines and Sailors have been working great together here,” said O’Connor “I can confidently say I look forward to working with them in the future.”

​The execution of joint FARP operations between the U.S.-Philippine armed forces has been invaluable to both Allied nations, building upon decades of combined joint training, shared relationships, and trust. The U.S.-Philippine team remains interoperable, postured, and ready to support their shared investment in a free and open Indo-Pacific.