Army’s major leap to modernization

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WHILE the government puts the finishing touches on the projected end of the more than 50-year campaign against the communist-led insurgency, the Philippine Army (PA) started to focus more on its territorial defense mission as it celebrated its 126th founding anniversary on March 22, 2023.

This shift has taken a keener focus now considering the ongoing slugfest between Ukraine and Russia, which saw both sides for the past year fielding massive fleet of tanks, mobile infantry and artillery, jet fighters and bombers and even the fast and deadly cruise missiles in a bid to get a decisive and bloody edge on the battlefield.

In the Philippine setting, the PA’s shift to the modern modes of warfare involving the use of modern anti-tank missiles, guided artillery and rocket systems and helicopter operations was aided by American support, with the United States Army in the Pacific (USARPAC) playing a huge role in this initiative.

Filipino troopers stand during rites at the 126th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig, Philippines on Wednesday, March 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Incidentally, the PA and USARPAC are now conducting their annual “Salaknib” exercises, which run from March 13 to April 4.

A FILIPINO soldier tests the Javelin Anti-Tank Weapon during the subject matter expert exchange
(SMEE) activity held at Special Forces Regiment (Airborne) headquarters at Fort Magsaysay,
Nueva Ecija, on March 15, 2022. PHILIPPINE ARMY

Salaknib (shield in Ilocano) is an annual Army-to-Army exercise geared at strengthening the interoperability of Filipino and American soldiers.

Brawner: “Indeed, there is much more we can learn from each other, and much more that we can do together, in the interest of Indo-Pacific security and wider security regional connectivity.”

Earlier, PA chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said Salaknib will help the force in its shift from internal to territorial defense.

“Indeed, there is much more we can learn from each other, and much more that we can do together, in the interest of Indo-Pacific security and wider security regional connectivity,” he said.

The drills formally opened at Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, which is home to the PA’s Army Artillery Regiment, Army Aviation Regiment, Special Forces  Regiment, and the 7th Infantry. Brawner and US Army I Corps commander Lt. Gen. Xavier T. Brunson were both present at the event.

“In the next few weeks, some 3,000 troops will take on a range of activities that reflect on present-day scenarios and future possibilities,” the PA chief said.

“In learning together, we enhance the capabilities and capacities to work together within the ever-changing dynamics of global developments and Indo-Pacific concerns,” he added.

Some 3,000 troops from  the USARPAC’s 25th Infantry Division and PA’s 5th Infantry Division, 7th Infantry Division and 1st Brigade Combat Team will be training side by side in a spectrum of military operations in the coming weeks.

A US Army Pacific soldier demonstrates use of the Counter-Small Unmanned Aerial System (C-sUAS) to Army Artillery Regiment (AAR) personnel during the subject matter expert exchange at the AAR Multi-Purpose Facility, Fort Ramon Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija. (Philippine Army)

Meanwhile, Brunson said Salaknib is meant to improve human interoperability of both forces and strengthen the defense partnership of the two nations.

The American Army official added he is looking forward to the exercise in improving the “already-strong human interoperability between our armies.”

Dual phase

“The training audience will conduct bilateral exercises at Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, and other venues in Central Luzon and Northern Luzon. Salaknib’s first phase will precede Exercise “Balikatan” slated for April 2023, while its second phase is scheduled for the third quarter of 2023,” PA spokesperson Col. Xerxes Trinidad bared.

Salaknib began on 2016 and it’s now on its eighth iteration.

Defense engagements between the PA and its American counterpart have been greatly enhanced despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which broke out in March 2020.

“The CGPA [Commanding General PA Brawner] also acknowledged the intensified engagements between the two countries focusing on interoperability in the areas of territorial defense, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, warfighting functions, and military professionalism despite the constraints on face-to-face engagements brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Trinidad explained.

Extended-range mortar, anti-tank missile training

AS this developed, USARPAC personnel in the ongoing Salaknib exercises have taught their Filipino counterparts lessons on  extended-range mortar and anti-tank missile operations during the subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) segment on March 15.

Filipino troops who participated in the “Javelin” lectures are from the PA’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, Special Forces Regiment (Airborne), First Scout Ranger Regiment, Light Reaction Regiment, 5th Infantry Division, 7th Infantry Division, Armor Division and the PA Anti-Armor Capability Technical Working Group from the Training and Doctrine Command.

They were taught by personnel of the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, USARPAC.

“Experts on extended-range mortar and Javelin, an anti-tank weapon extensively used in the Ukraine crisis, conducted lessons for Filipino soldiers at the SFS [Special Forces School],” Trinidad said.

The FGM-148 “Javelin” missile has proven effective in neutralizing tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored infantry fighting vehicles in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Trinidad said training audience from both PA and USARPAC are also scheduled to conduct Javelin live-fire exercises on March 31.

He added that the Javelin SMEE greatly enhances the PA’s modernization and capability development thrusts as it gradually shifts from internal security to territorial defense operations.

Rocket system live-fire scheduled on April 1

MEANWHILE, Filipino and American troops will also get a chance to conduct rocket system live-fire exercise this April 1 also in Fort Magsaysay.

“Army Artillery Regiment’s (AAR) Multi-Launch Rocket System (MLRS) Battery personnel and their US counterparts are set to conduct a rocket system live-fire exercise on April 1, 2023, at the regiment’s long-range precision firing exercise area in Fort Magsaysay,” Trinidad said.

On March 16, personnel from the AAR’s MLRS Battery together with the US Multi-Domain Task Force commenced the rocket system SMEE at AAR headquarters in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.

Trinidad said the rocket system SMEE is geared at training participants on the procedures governing the employment and deployment of rocket weapon systems and their integration with other fire support assets.

‘Shoot-and-scoot’ live-fire exercises

MEANWHILE, the AAR and the USARPAC’s 25th Infantry Division Artillery conducted daytime and nighttime “shoot-and-scoot” live-fire exercises utilizing US-made M119A3 105mm towed howitzers at different firing points within the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija on March 17.

This live-fire exercise was geared at testing and evaluating the capabilities of the PA and USARPAC artillery units in performing shoot-and-scoot tactics as countermeasure in responding to an enemy battery fire.

“Participating field artillery personnel responded to various scenarios to deliver massive fires to the targets and to periodically move locations to avoid enemy counter-battery fires during the exercise,” Trinidad said.

Anti-drone training

AROUND 150 AAR personnel and those from the USARPAC’s 25th Infantry Division participated in the three-day counter-small unmanned aerial system (C-sUAS) SMEE also in Fort Magsaysay, from March 13 to 15.

SMEEs from both Armies conducted a series of lectures on how to counter the rapidly proliferating, low-cost and potentially lethal and damaging commercial-off-the-shelf small UASs, which cannot be easily detected by air defense systems in the first two days of the activity.

Live-flight and counter system measures were demonstrated in the last day of training.