Aussie spy plane flies over Nueva Ecija, simulates role in Marawi
MANILA, Philippines – An Australian Defense Force (ADF) P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft flew over Nueva Ecija from May 16-17 to watch armed men simulating urban fighting in a densely populated urban center.
The ADF participated in war games with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and US Pacific Command. Its job is to provide real-time intelligence – coordinates – on the location of the enemies.
“It is similar to the role performed by the aircraft during the Marawi crisis,” Captain Brad White, Australian defense attache to the Philippines, told Rappler.
The ADF deployed 60 personnel – mostly air men – to participate in Exercise Balikatan, an annual military exercise primarily between the Philippines and US. (READ: PH-US Balikatan drills open amid concerns over China missiles)
They are among 8,000 forces, including 3,000 Americans and a small contingent of 20 Japanese. The war games are aimed at improving the interoperability of the allied militaries.
Vice Admiral David Johnston, ADF Chief of Joint Operations, said Australia’s participation in the war games shows its commitment to regional security and stability. It’s the 5th year Australia is joining the exercise.
“The United States, the Philippines and Australia have a longstanding relationship dating back to World War II resulting in a significant, ongoing contribution to regional security,” Johnston said.
“Exercise Balikatan 18 is a valuable opportunity for participating nations to prepare for real world challenges,”Johnston said.
Australia and US are the only two countries which have visiting forces agreements with the Philippines. The Australian treaty came to force in 2012. During the siege of Marawi, the ADF flew in two P3-Orion to help provide real time intelligence.
The relationship between the two countries matured significantly during the 5-month long battles. After the war, they agreed to conduct a training program on urban fighting that is exclusive between the two militaries.
“We’ve got significant engagement with the Philippines. Since Marawi, we’ve actually increased our engagement,” said White.
Separate war game
While Balikatan is ongoing, another group of 70 Australian forces is preparing for a 4-week exercise to train Philippine Army troopers in urban fighting. It’s similar to what the Americans provided Filipino ground troops in Balikatan.
“Each rotation is about 4 weeks long. Bunch of training is delivered, then consultation with AFP for new target audience where that goes. We move where the Philippine Army wants us to move to deliver that training,” said White.
“Depending on our government funding, it will go on. We work with the AFP. The training gets shaped to more nuanced things as we complete one element of training. You just don’t do the same thing, you have to mature that and turn it into something else,” said White.
On top of the exercises, the ADF is also helping the Philippines patrol the waters of southern Philippines. This is part of the campaign against local terrorist groups operating in the islands of Mindanao.
A number of Philippine military mid-level officers also take postgraduate courses in Australia every year.
It’s a relationship that both countries seek to advance further.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is looking forward to an increased Philippines-Australia cooperation engagement in the near future,” said AFP chief of staff General Carlito Galvez Jr at the opening ceremony for Balikatan on May 7. – Rappler.com