Over 17,600 American and Filipino soldiers will participate in the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) Exercises to be held from April 11 to 28 in various provinces including Palawan, Batanes and Zambales.

This year’s iteration will be the biggest yet, the US Embassy in Manila said on Tuesday.

“This year marks the 38th iteration of the exercise, incorporating training activities throughout the Philippines,” the embassy said on Tuesday in a statement.

About 5,400 Filipino soldiers and 12,200 US military personnel will train shoulder-to-shoulder, developing interoperability and improved capability in the areas of maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, and urban and aviation operations.

“Together, the United States and the Philippines are committed to promoting regional peace and stability,” the embassy said.

The participants will also train on cyber defense, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness.

“Balikatan provides unparalleled opportunities to demonstrate the strength and readiness of the Philippine-US security alliance,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Huvane, Balikatan Combined Joint Information director.

“Engagements such as Balikatan are important investments in our ability to work together across the spectrum of military operations, respond to crises, support the people of the Philippines, and accomplish our shared missions,” Huvane said.

The exercises enhance both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States armed forces’ tactics, techniques, and procedures “across a wide range of military operations,” AFP spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar said.

“It increases our ability to work together effectively and efficiently in response to various crisis situations,” he added.

The embassy said that the increase in participating personnel showed that the scope of the exercise grows consistently year after year.

This year’s iteration includes “a bilateral command post exercise that will strengthen the allies’ ability” to plan, coordinate, and provide command and control of forces together against a range of scenarios and simulated challenges.

This training event will also enable the AFP and the US military “to refine tactics, techniques, and procedures related to maritime security, and deconflict fires and maneuver in a shared and contested battlespace.”

Field training exercise events will take place across the Philippines to test the allies’ capabilities in combined arms live-fire, information and intelligence sharing, communications between maneuver units, logistics operations, amphibious operations, and many other skill sets.

The AFP and US military, the embassy said, will also conduct multiple Humanitarian Civic Assistance projects to improve infrastructure, enhance medical response and strengthen ties between local communities and Philippine and American military forces.

These activities include the construction or renovation of three community health centers and multipurpose halls and hands-on training in advanced emergency rescue and lifesaving techniques.

“Balikatan is a Tagalog term that means ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ or ‘sharing the load together,’ which characterizes the spirit of the exercise and the alliance between the Philippines and the United States,” the embassy pointed out.

The Philippines “is a key” US ally, the embassy stressed. It is the largest recipient of US military assistance, equipment, and training in the region.