Artillery units from across the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), United States military and Australian Army united on Exercise Balikatan to show that when it comes to air defence, knowledge shared is knowledge gained.
CAPTION: Australian Army personnel from the 16th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines observe an air-defence live-fire demonstration by the US Army at Naval Station Leovigildo Gantioqui during Exercise Balikatan 2023. Story by Captain Diana Jennings. Photos by Leading Seaman Nadav Harel.
A small contingent of air defenders from the 16th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, travelled from the Adelaide Hills to the Philippine coast to participate in a subject matter expert exchange.
Captain Joshua Davidson, 16th Regiment, said it was a valuable opportunity to not only get hands-on with partner forces’ equipment, but to better understand how each nation operated and could best support one another in realistic scenarios.
“It’s good realistic training, which allows our small team of specialists to learn from our partners and pass on our own skills and experience,” Captain Davidson said.
“It means a lot to be given these opportunities overseas, to take control of our element and do our job with our allies.”
The contingent participated in familiarisation and capability lessons before observing an impressive live-fire demonstration of the US Stinger and Patriot missiles neutralising mobile drone targets.
The following day, US F-35 and F-16 fighter jets, as well as HIMARS and Cobra helicopters, combined with AFP FA-50 fighter jets, helicopters and artillery to conduct a joint multi-domain maritime strike, targeting a decommissioned warship off the coastline.
Being a part of this high-level activity was a unique experience for the soldiers and officers involved, who relished every explosive moment.
“It was a highlight to work with the US Marine Littoral Regiment and 38th Air Defence Artillery Brigade to coordinate the airspace for the exercise, and to have that work culminate with the successful live fire,” Captain Davidson said.
“These events have enabled significant development of the joint forces integrated air and missile defence (IAMD) and will set a foundation for future training that is both complex and realistic.”
In a specialised and rapidly evolving role, the Aussie air defenders quickly found common ground with their Filipino counterparts as they discussed the implementation of new equipment.
“We were able to bond with the Philippine 960th Air and Missile Defence Group over our shared experience of bringing a new capability into service, and that’s definitely benefited both nations,” he said.
“The air defence community is small, but it’s the relationships between people that enables highly capable IAMD.”
Captain Davidson emphasised that the activity wasn’t a tokenistic once-off, with members of their regiment working with the US air defence units for four consecutive years over a variety of different exercises.
“Recurring exchanges are building on our relationship with their staff, and these continued relationships enable efficiency in planning and execution for future activities,” he said.