The Philippines and Australia will conduct 15 defense-related activities in 2024, the Philippine Army said Monday.
These will include training on internal security, counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism, external defense, and disasters, the Army’s commanding general Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said.
“Most of these activities are focused on bilateral training, which will be continuous,” Brawner said in Filipino. “We can see where the Philippine Army falls short, so we are asking for help from our partners, who can teach us about their tactics, and also for us to be able to adapt to the new weapon systems that are out there.”
“This gives us a glimpse of the modern type of warfare. We would like to prepare our Filipino soldiers to be able to operate in future wars,” he added.
Brawner said such bilateral training could send a message to the world: that armies in the Indo-Pacific are “one and together in our objective of preventing war in the region.”
“By training together, we not only develop our respective skills and capabilities, but more importantly, we also give the message to the world that we are one, solid, and can work together to prevent war, and in case war happens, that we are able to transition smoothly and work together effectively,” he said.
Brawner said the training with allies and partners does not target a specific country.
“We are training with our partners to strengthen the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Army so that we are ready to face any threat that might arrive,” he said.
The Philippine Army and Australian Defense Force concluded the first part of their Kasangga bilateral exercise on Monday.
A total of 114 soldiers from the Philippine Army 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) and 43 soldiers from the Australian Defense Force took part in the three-week exercise.
The troops exchanged knowledge and skills on urban operations, combat tracking, long-range marksmanship, jungle warfare, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations.
Australian Defense Attache to the Philippines Col. Paul Barta said Australian troops learned so much about jungle warfare and survival from their Filipino counterparts.
“Kasangga or partnership, we have an Australian term, mateship or bayanihan. What we’ve seen in the recent weeks is soldiers who did not know each other coming together, training and developing trust and interoperability,” Barta said.
“The big thing is that Australia is part of the region and we are working with friends in deepening relationships and interoperability. We’re at the home of jungle fighters. Australia has not fought in a jungle in a long time, so we are learning a lot from Filipino soldiers.”
In the same way, Filipino soldiers gained knowledge and skills from their Australian counterparts, especially in urban operations and close-quarter battles.
Maj. Gen. Roberto Capulong said the training that Filipino soldiers gain from Kasangga will make them more confident when it comes to critical missions.
“With the kind of training they received from our Australian counterpart, it’s something new to them and will really help them be more effective in the performance of their mandate,” he said.
He said during the siege of Marawi in 2017, the Army lacked skills in urban operations, so this is one focus of their Australian counterparts.
The two armies also opened the second part of Kasangga on Monday. This time, a new batch of 122 soldiers from the 2ID will take part in the bilateral exercise, which will be held from June 5 to 25 in Rizal.
Capulong said the two batches of Army personnel will cascade newly learned tactics and procedures to other units.
“Our training system is structured. We usually train the trainers. But if we feel the unit needs these types of skills, we program them in our in-house training,” he said.
Meanwhile, the United States and China have sent warships to the multinational naval drills that began in Indonesia on Monday, despite the rifts between the two powers.
Washington and Beijing are engaged in fierce competition on diplomatic, military, technological, and economic fronts.
The US military has stepped up its Asia-Pacific operations to counter an increasingly assertive China, which has recently staged several rounds of war drills around Taiwan.
But both dispatched warships to the 2023 Multilateral Naval Exercise (MNEK) hosted by Indonesia in its eastern waters off Sulawesi Island from Monday to Thursday.
The US Navy has sent a littoral combat ship to the exercise, a US embassy spokesperson in Jakarta said on Sunday.
The drills will allow the United States to “join together with like-minded nations, our allies, and our partners to work on solving common challenges” such as humanitarian and disaster response, the spokesperson said.
The Chinese defense ministry said last week that it would send a destroyer and a frigate at the invitation of the Indonesian navy.
Australia and Russia were also expected to send warships, according to an Indonesian military list.
Officials said there would be 17 foreign vessels involved in the drills, which will focus on non-military operations with key allies.
“MNEK is a non-war training which prioritizes maritime cooperation in the region,” Indonesian Navy spokesperson I Made Wira Hady said in a statement.
Washington and Beijing have clashed this year over a number of Asia-Pacific issues including Taiwan, a self-ruled, US-backed island that China considers its territory.
They have also been involved in a diplomatic tussle over Pacific island nations.
Tensions skyrocketed when an alleged Chinese spy balloon traversed the United States before it was shot down.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at a defense summit in Singapore last week that the two nations needed to renew dialogue to avoid “misunderstandings” that could lead to conflict.
Beijing, however, declined an invitation for its defense chief to meet Austin on the sidelines of that summit.
In other developments:
* Defense officer-in-charge Carlito Galvez Jr. said the rule of law must be upheld to maintain peace in the Asia-Pacific region. Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) held in Singapore from June 2 to 4, Galvez also highlighted the continued pursuit of dialogue and multilateralism.
* The Philippines and Singapore signed an arrangement concerning education, training assistance, and support activities on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief on the sidelines of the SLD. The arrangement enables both the AFP and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to enhance the capacities of HADR in efficiently addressing the impact of natural and manmade disasters.
* The Philippine Navy’s (PN) offshore patrol vessel, BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17), and Naval Task Group 80.5 arrived in Makassar, Indonesia on Sunday to take part in this year’s “Komodo” naval exercises. In a statement Monday, Lt. Jonathan Carretas said BRP Andres Bonifacio is the first foreign warship to arrive for Komodo, which is scheduled for June 4 to 8. Some 193 Philippine Navy personnel were deployed to take part in the “Komodo” drills.
* Some 23 officers and 103 enlisted personnel of the Naval Task Group (NTG) 80.5, aboard the offshore patrol vessel BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17), successfully underwent seamen’s traditional rites of “Crossing the Equator” on June 2 while en route to Indonesia to participate in this year’s “Komodo” naval exercises. With AFP