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Balikatan Javelin missiles drills reinforce Philippines-U.S. defense commitment

FORUM staff

The world’s premier shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons captured the spotlight as Philippines and United States forces trained in April 2023 to bolster modern capabilities, enhance interoperability and demonstrate a shared defense commitment. During Exercise Balikatan, troops from both nations participated in live-fire drills with Javelin surface-attack guided missiles. The weapons have a range of 2 kilometers and feature advanced infrared technology that locks onto a moving target. A “fire-and-forget” capability allows a gunner to reposition immediately after launch. The Javelin defeats all known armor on the battlefield, from main battle tanks to softer targets. (Pictured: Philippines and U.S. military service members launch Javelin anti-tank missiles, destroying targets on a simulated battlefield at Fort Magsaysay in the northern Philippines on April 13, 2023.)

The 38th iteration of Balikatan took place April 11-28 across multiple provinces in the Philippines. With more than 17,500 combined troops from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the U.S. military, 2023 marked the largest-ever Balikatan, which means shoulder-to-shoulder in Tagalog. Participants conducted maritime security, amphibious, live-fire, urban, aviation and counterterrorism operations as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response drills. Balikatan improves bilateral readiness with increasingly complex training, which is built on the success of previous AFP and U.S. cooperation. The militaries conduct more than 450 bilateral exercises, training events and other engagements throughout the year.

“For the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in particular, this year’s Balikatan Exercise is most timely as we fast-track the enhancement of our capabilities for maritime security and domain awareness, as well as our employment concept of newly acquired equipment and weapon systems under our modernization program and application of newly developed doctrines — with the end-in-view of projecting a credible defense posture,” Gen. Andres Centino, AFP chief of staff, said during the opening ceremony.

On a simulated battle zone at Fort Magsaysay, a northern Philippines training camp for the nation’s special forces, Javelin guided missiles streaked toward three target vehicles half a kilometer away, The Associated Press reported. All three targets exploded. An AFP Army Special Forces Soldier, a U.S. Army Soldier and a U.S. Marine each successfully deployed the missiles, alternately firing in the weapon’s direct-attack and top-attack modes from various positions. The Javelin, with its “soft launch” design, can also be safely fired from inside buildings or bunkers.

The state-of-the-art portable anti-tank weapon has been called a game-changer in Ukraine, where it inflicted heavy losses on invading Russian tanks and earned the nickname “Saint Javelin,” the Military Times news organization reported in 2022. Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner told reporters that the nation expects to modernize its arsenal by acquiring Javelins from the U.S. under a foreign military sales arrangement.

“You saw the Javelin weapon taking out tanks [in Ukraine], and so we want to also bring that capability to the Philippine Army in order for us to bolster our defensive posture and be able to defend our territory,” Brawner said, according to the Philippine Star newspaper. He added that the aim is in line with a pledge by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that the Philippines will not yield a single inch of its territory. However, Brawner said the Balikatan training scenarios focused on preparation for various threats — manmade and naturally occurring — and were not targeted toward a specific adversary.

Training to prepare the AFP and U.S. military for future crises, contingencies and disasters reinforced participants’ ability to work shoulder-to-shoulder in protecting the Philippines’ interests and supporting local populations. The interactions foster mutual understanding about the roles, missions and capabilities of the alliance and emphasize the shared obligation to uphold regional peace and stability.

Balikatan, said U.S. Army Gen. Charles Flynn, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, is “an operationalization of the commitment to one another and for a safe, stable, Free and Open Indo-Pacific that everyone gets to benefit from.”


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