This year’s joint military exercises involving more than 11,000 Filipino and American troops and massive naval and air power will be held in West Philippine Sea.
A senior security official, while declining to give specifics on the scheduled air and naval drills off Palawan and Zambales, said it is expected that the annual military games will trigger reaction from China.
“It is already expected of them, but planners of this year’s joint military exercises know what they’re doing. All the joint military activities will be held within the country’s territory,” the security official said.
Scheduled to start April 20 and last until April 30, the joint Balikatan 2015 exercises will involve 5,023 Filipino troops and 6,656 American servicemen.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines is deploying 15 of its aircraft to the war games, while the US will deploy 76 military planes. Three US warships and one from the Philippine Navy will also join the exercises.
The Australian military will also participate and send 61 soldiers and one aircraft.
Balikatan 2015 is the 31st version of the bilateral exercises and will feature traditional military training and community development projects.
The Philippine military bared the details of the annual joint exercise a week after it reported that China is conducting reclamation and construction projects in at least seven reefs in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.
China, which has been occupying disputed areas to assert its expansive territorial claims, is building artificial islets over Mabini (Johnson South), Burgos (Gaven), Kennar (Chigua) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs and is conducting reclamation in Zamora (Subi), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) and parts of Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.
Officials, however, have repeatedly denied that the joint exercises are directed at China.
The US is not taking sides in the territorial row but has called on claimants to settle differences peacefully through international law.
Balikatan 2015 activities will be divided into three categories: the command post exercise, field training and humanitarian civic assistance.
In the command post exercise, the scenario will focus on marine security and involve combined live fire exercises.
The field training will be held at Crow Valley in Tarlac, Basa Air Base and Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Marine Base Gregorio Lim and Naval Base Heracleo Alano in Cavite, and Naval Station Leovigildo Gantiouqui in Zambales.
Officials said the exercises were designed to enhance the capabilities, tactics and interoperability of the Philippine and US militaries.
The humanitarian civic assistance will be held in Puerto Princesa in Palawan and Panay island in the Visayas.
Members of the Australian Defense Forces will participate in the activity, which seeks to strengthen ties between the military forces and local communities.
The opening ceremony of Balikatan 2015 will be held at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on April 20 while closing rites will be at Clark on April 30.
Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, chief of the Palawan-based Western Command, will be this year’s exercise director while Armed Forces Command and General Staff College commandant Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Santiago will serve as his deputy.
– With Alexis Romero