US soldiers fire an inert round from the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) in display of its capability during the live fire exercise in Barangay Campong Ulay, Rizal on Thursday as part of the on-going Ph-US Balikatan Exercise 39-2024. (Photo courtesy of Gerald Ticke/PN photo)

U.S. and Philippines troops performed live fire drill on Thursday as part of the ongoing Balikatan in Barangay Campong Ulay, Rizal, southern Palawan.

The activity involved the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit of the United States Indo-Pacific Command launching missiles from a High Mobillity Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to strike an imaginary target at sea, using inert rounds.

The Philippine Marines troops for its part fired 105 mm Howitzer rounds to quell an enemy shore landing.

Western Command (Wescom) Deputy Commander for External Security Operations Brig. Gen. Romulo Quemado Jr. said the live fire exercise was conducted to simulate coastal maritime security operations and defend the area.

The two High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) units delivered to San Vicente town last Wednesday and later shipped to Rizal and were used in the live fire exercise for the Ph-US Balikatan Exercise 39-2024. (Photo courtesy of Gerald Ticke/PN photo)

“We are simulating a threat coming from the seas to our shorelines. We are using our multi-domain capability to defend our sovereignty,” Quemado said.

He also said the activity being part of Balikatan should not be regarded as a threat against China simply because it is being simulated facing the West Philippine Sea.

“The objective of Balikatan is for regional peace, stability and security,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Bernard Harrington of the U.S. Army, on the other hand, said he was delighted seeing American and Filipino soldiers side by side participating in the exercise that made him “feel the spirit of Balikatan.”

“Here we stand shoulder to shoulder together, we are much stronger as we look at improving our interoperability,” Harrington said.

“It’s a technical interoperability of each of these systems working together and it’s also a procedural interoperability as you look at how we employ these systems,” he added.

The live fire exercise was held following a similar activity in San Vicente town north of the province on Wednesday that simulated an air assault of the San Vicente Airport which was under enemy control.

In the activity, a CH-53 helicopter landed in the airport and inserted troops in the air assault after the area was cleared and readied by the special forces (paratroopers) who penetrated the airport via a free fall a day earlier.

Two Philippine Air Force (PAF) Super Tucano A-29 aircrafts also took part in the air assault, flying over to provide close air support to its ground forces.

The retaking and clearing of the airport from enemies also paved way for US C-130 cargo planes to enter and land, to deliver the HIMARS for deployment.

From San Vicente Airport, the HIMARS were brought to a beach where they were loaded to a waiting Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) and was brought to Rizal town for the live fire exrcise.

Wescom spokesperson Capt. Ariel Joseph Coloma said the exercise in San Vicente enhanced interoperability between the allied forces “so that we can respond effectively and efficiently together because we need to reconcile our tactics, techniques and procedure.”

“These are scenarios where we can respond to our shared security challenges collaboratively. That’s why we need to train together so that when we are given these kinds if scenarios later on, we can respond effectively,” Coloma said.

“Also, this enhances the camaraderie of both forces because we know for a fact that we have a long standing relationship with the US so by doing these kinds of exercises, we are strengthening our bond,” he added.

Coloma further explained that the exercises are all fictional and are not related to the security situations in the area and not even in WPS or in terrorism.

“However, the lessons we get and learn from these scenarios can help us and boost the capabilities of our troops and our allies in addressing our common threats particularly in terrorism, disaster, and shared mutual defense challenges,” he explained.

Harrington stated that in the live fire exercise, a joint task force has identified ‘enemy targets’ in the area and passed it over to the HIMARS “that allowed us to engage these targets at ranges appropriate.”

He also explained that the range of HIMARS varies depending on the types of weapons used.

“The range differ from practice rounds that shoot to several kilometers, all the way to precision guided rounds that can go tens and hundreds of kilometers in order to target multiple threats,” Harrington explained.