UNITED States Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will personally observe some of the activities of the annual military exercises between the Philippines and the US, particularly the live fire drill involving state-of-the-art war materiel, the commander of the US Marine Forces Pacific disclosed Monday.
Lt. Gen. John Toolan, also the US Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) exercise director, said Carter will be spending some time out at sea with a US Navy ship while observing a “couple of things he’s very interested in.”
In a news conference following the opening ceremony of Balikatan 2016 at Camp Aguinaldo, in Quezon, Toolan cited in particular the conduct of live-fire exercises at Crow Valley, in Tarlac, which will involve the use of missile destroyers like the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
HIMARS is a light multiple rocket launcher mounted on a standard Army Medium Tactical Vehicle (MTV) truck frame.
Developed by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control under an advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) program, placed in 1996, HIMARS is a highly-mobile artillery rocket system.
Its purpose is to engage and defeat artillery, air defense concentrations, and trucks, light armor and personnel carriers, as well as support troop and supply concentrations.
This is first time such sophisticated war materiel would be used in the war games.
But Toolan emphasized that the main purpose of Carter’s visit is to reaffirm that the relationship of US with the Philippines is “rock solid and we’re side by side.”
He said, “The Secretary is gonna be here toward the end of the exercise and he’s gonna actually observe a couple of things he’s very interested in…”
Toolan also underscored the importance of a good territorial defense, which he said is one of the keys for a country to succeed economically.
In his speech during the opening ceremony, Toolan said: “This view of Philippines’ self-sufficiency and self-reliance is real, and we are here to showcase that. We have made significant progress. And as President [Barack] Obama said recently in the Philippines, our commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad. The United States will keep that commitment because allies never stand alone.”
Toolan said the 5,000 US Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen participating in the war games represent the substantial commitment of the US Pacific Command to the alliance between the two countries.
But officials were quick to clarify that the drill is not against a particular country, say, China, where the Philippines has a standing territorial dispute over West Philippines Sea.
“Again the overall objective is capacitating our troops, keeping up with a good capability development and nurturing and furthering our bilateral relations, friendly relations with our big brother in United States,” Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command and Philippines’ Balikatan Exercise director, said. FERNAN MARASIGAN