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The Balikatan Exercises, also known as Balikatan, are annual military exercises conducted by the United States and the Philippines. These exercises are designed to enhance military readiness and interoperability between the two countries. This year’s exercise will mark the 38th iteration, taking place April 11th to 28th, 2023.
The History of Balikatan
The relationship between the United States and the Philippines dates back to 1898, when the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain after the Spanish-American War. The United States governed the Philippines as a territory until 1946 when the Philippines gained independence.
Since then, the United States and the Philippines have maintained close ties, with the United States providing significant economic and military assistance to the Philippines. The U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, signed in 1951, established a formal defense alliance between the two countries. The United States maintained several military bases in the Philippines until 1992. Then in 1998, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed which led to the establishment of the Balikatan exercises as well as a variety of other cooperative guidelines, continuing to serve as a symbol of the strong relationship between the United States and the Philippines.
The word "Balikatan" is Tagalog for "shoulder-to-shoulder," or “sharing the load together,” emphasizing the collaborative nature of the exercises. Over the years, the exercises have evolved to include various training activities, such as disaster response, counter-terrorism, and humanitarian assistance. The Balikatan Exercises have become a critical component of the U.S.-Philippines military relationship, strengthening interoperability and promoting regional stability.
Balikatan 2023 is in full swing, involving more than 17,600 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the U.S. military, a large increase from 9,000 participants in 2022.
They will train together focusing on interoperability and capability for maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban and aviation operations, cyber defense, counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief preparedness. Additionally, there will be a bilateral command post exercise, field training events, and multiple Humanitarian Civic Assistance (HCA) projects to improve infrastructure, enhance medical response, and strengthen ties.
The Balikatan Exercises have become a vital component of the U.S.-Philippines military relationship, highlighting the shared commitment between the two countries. The history of the exercises underscores the importance of the United States' ongoing commitment to the Philippines and the region. As the Philippines faces various security challenges, including territorial disputes in the South China Sea and a rising threat of terrorism, the Balikatan Exercises provide a critical platform for the United States and the Philippines to work together and address these challenges shoulder-to-shoulder.
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