PartnershipsSoutheast Asia

Philippines, U.S. armies to hold larger scale Salaknib exercise with Japan as first-time observer


Japan will participate for the first time as an observer during the 2023 iteration of Salaknib, an annual bilateral training exercise between the Philippine Army and United States Army Pacific (USARPAC).

This year’s Salaknib will also be larger, with 3,000 Filipino and U.S. troops taking part compared to 2,200 troops in 2022, Benar News reported in February 2023.

“The Philippine Army and the United States Army Pacific have remained united through the longstanding bilateral relations in pursuit of a common goal of maintaining a Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” Philippine Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. Romeo S. Brawner Jr. said at the conclusion of the 2022 exercise, adding that the shared vision was again manifested through training together.

Brawner said Japan was invited to observe as an extension of the observer program for Balikatan, the largest military exercise between the Philippines and U.S., where other like-mind countries attend as observers. “It will help our interoperability as land forces,” Brawner told the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in March 2023.

Salaknib, which means shield in Ilocano, aims to enhance defense readiness among Filipino and U.S. troops through development of tactical interoperability. Japan could eventually send more troops to participate in future trainings once it signs a visiting forces agreement with the Philippines, Brawner told the Inquirer. The two countries are a step closer to creating such an agreement after signing a different agreement recently on humanitarian assistance and disaster response, the Inquirer reported. For now, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force will send a “handful” of observers to Salaknib. The exercises take place in phases from mid-March to early April and again in June. (Pictured: A U.S. Army Soldier and a Philippine Army Soldier cross a creek during a jungle operations training course at Salaknib in the Philippines in March 2022.)

Expanding from bilateral to multinational exercises among the U.S. and its allies is a trend that’s expected to continue as nations coalesce to face growing threats and irresponsible behavior from regional actors such as the People’s Republic of China and North Korea, the Inquirer reported.

The Philippines and U.S. are also accelerating military cooperation by granting U.S. troops access to four more military sites, according to a recently announced agreement. The plan is part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which is designed to strengthen the U.S.-Philippines alliance, increase resilience and accelerate modernization of their combined military capabilities.

Exercises like Salaknib highlight the value the U.S. places on its partnership with the Philippines and demonstrate investments to ensure mutual success, Maj. Gen. Joseph Ryan, USARPAC commander of the 25th Infantry Division, said following Salaknib 2022.

“Most importantly, we built readiness and committed ourselves to this enduring treaty-bound partnership that guarantees, when it comes to peace or war, that the United States stands with the army of the Philippines side by side, ensuring a Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” Ryan said, according to a USARPAC news release. “No one, anywhere, should doubt that commitment. It is ironclad.”



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