Exercise Balikatan 39-2024, the biggest military engagement between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States Armed Forces, formally opened with a program at Camp Aguinaldo on Monday, April 22.

The 39th edition of the military exercise, which will run for almost three weeks until May 10, will involve more than 16,000 personnel from the AFP, the US Armed Forces, and a small contingent from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the French Navy.

Aside from the participating forces, representatives from 14 countries—Britain, Brunei, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—are also present to observe the shoulder-to-shoulder exercise.

This year’s exercise will feature three main components: Command and Control Exercise (C2X), Field Training Exercise (FTX), and Humanitarian Civic Assistance (HCA), which will be held in Northern Luzon Command, Southern Luzon Command, and Western Command.

C2X will cover cyber defense, staff planning, and an inaugural information warfare exercise aimed at enhancing the participants’ ability to protect critical military and civilian cyber infrastructure, which focuses on developing plans for future iterations of joint military exercises like Balikatan and aligning their information warfare tactics and strategies.”

On the other hand, FTX will feature four Combined Joint All-Domain Operations to practice coordination between different military units, while HCA will involve Civil-Military Operations that will focus on infrastructure development, life-saving and medical techniques, and fostering stronger military-community relations within the communities.

During the opening program, Exercise Director for the Philippines, Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine, said the annual joint military exercise between Philippine and US forces aims to “strengthen both forces’ interoperability in the planning and execution of military operations in a joint and combined operational setup.”

“For the past 38 years, it is worthy to note that through this exercise, we have strengthened our alliance and raised our expertise in all fields. For its part, the AFP has strengthened its cooperative and interoperability mechanisms,” Licudine said.

He likewise stated that Balikatan is more than just an exercise, as it is an “avenue where we build confidence, respect, and understanding to achieve mutual support, cooperation, and a shared commitment.”

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner, on the other hand, said the exercise shows the “essence of unity, collective responsibility, and enduring partnership between the Philippines, the USA, and our partners.”

Brawner said the partnership is more than just for convenience; it also reflects the shared history, unwavering commitment to democracy, and respect for international law in our pursuit of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region.

He further stated that with the newly adopted Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept, the AFP is looking forward to enhancing its defense capabilities through the exercise.

“The ever-evolving nature of defense necessitates our adoption and transformation. Cooperation and military-to-military collaborations play a vital role in ensuring a safer global community for generations to come,” he said.

Furthermore, Brawner said this year’s Balikatan also adds more strength as the Philippines involves personnel and assets from other uniformed services for the first time.

“We are also involving a number of troops from our SAF-PNP and six vessels from PCG,” he said.

Meanwhile, US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Robert Ewing said this year’s Balikatan is an affirmation of President Joe Biden’s shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region and to work together to advance the security and prosperity of both nations.

“Balikatan represents more than just a showcase of military readiness. It embodies a deep-rooted spirit of collaboration and partnership that has defined the enduring alliance between the US and the Philippines for decades. This exercise and the many other smaller military engagements are essential to achieving our shared commitment to greater interoperability between our armed forces,” Ewing said.