U.S. Pacific Air Forces chief visits Philippines to boost ties
MANILA, Philippines – US Pacific Air Forces commander General Charles Brown Jr is in the Philippines for several engagements with his counterparts, a signal of firm ties between the two militaries amidst geopolitical shifts in the region.
"It's important that we continue to work together. It's part of the reason I'm here in the Philippines for this visit," Brown said in a roundtable with select journalists on Thursday, May 16.
"We’re finding ways to better integrate and to better train together," he added.
Brown met with Philippine military chief General Benjamin Madrigal Jr and Philippine Air Force chief Lieutenant General Rozzano Briguez on Thursday. He was also scheduled to visit air bases in Clark and Basa in Pampanga on Friday, May 17.
The two militaries bound by a Mutual Defense Treaty hold regular exercises to improve interoperability between commanders and among troops. President Rodrigo Duterte, who pursued warmer ties with China despite a maritime dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), threatened at the beginning of his presidency to cut ties with the US.
The Philippine military scrapped a few exercises with the US then, but the decades-long ties prevailed even as the Philippines also initiated engagements with the Chinese military.
More exercises for 2019
In 2019, concerns about the strength of the Philippines-US alliance under Duterte have ebbed. The two militaries even increased engagements this year with a total of 281 bilateral activities, including 60 engagements involving the Philippine Air Force and the Pacific Air Forces. There were a total of 251 engagements in 2018.
In January, the two air forces held a major exercise, the Bilateral Air Continent Exchange-Philippines (BACE-P) where the Pacific Air Forces flew in its F-16 fighter jets for drills with the FA-50 fighter trainer jets of the Philippine Air Force. (ANALYSIS: Despite rhetoric, US military gains forward base in PH)
"One of the requests of the Philippines is to bring fighter aircraft there because the Philippines is looking to rebuild its fighter air force capablity," said Brown.
They also hold regular airman-to-airman talks or subject matter expert exchanges, where counterparts visit each other in the Philippines or the headquarters of the Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii.
Brown said the US is also committed to assist the Philippines in response to natural disasters.
"In the time that I’ve been here, I noticed a number of typhoons, earthquakes, and tsunamis that impact the region. I think the key aspect is we take our capabilities to respond very quickly where it can take sometimes take days and weeks to get to.... We can do those in hours so that to me is important," Brown said.
Brown assumed as the commander of the Pacific Air Forces in July 2018. – Rappler.com