The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Australian Defence Force (ADF) conducted its very first combined amphibious assault exercise in San Antonio, Zambales on Friday, August 25, highlighting the evolving defense cooperation between the two countries amid security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.
The exercise witnessed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. formed part of the Exercise Alon 2023 under the Indo-Pacific Endeavour activity for 2023 (IPE23), which is Australia’s flagship international engagement activity in the Southeast Asian and Indian Ocean region.
“This mission is just a manifestation of where we want our defense and bilateral relations to be. And it is close to coming from a comprehensive partnership to a strategic one,” Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said in a press conference.
The exercise was a simulation of combined operations between the AFP and ADF where they retook an island that was occupied by enemy forces.
It included pre-landing operation at the Naval Station Leovigildo Gantioqui where Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) and ADF Force Reconnaissance Group personnel were inserted via small boats to observe the beach landing sites.
It was followed by combined joint force entry operation where the troops secured the beach landing sites, then augmentation forces were inserted via parachutes to complete the takeover.
A simultaneous landing of troops via landing craft and US Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft was also observed.
The exercise was carried out by 560 personnel from the AFP and 1,200 servicemen from the ADF. There were also 120 troops from US Marine Corps who acted as support force.
“This combined amphibious assault exercise seeks to enhance the conduct of combined operations and improve tactics, techniques, and procedures to ensure the effective use of all combat arms integrated via force-level command and control,” said AFP public affairs office chief Col. Enrico Gil Ileto.
“Exercise Alon enables the AFP and ADF to work closely together to increase interoperability, and deepen people-to-people links to enhance defence cooperation,” he added.
In a joint statement, Teodoro and Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles said both countries were firm in its commitment to a peaceful, stable and prosperous region “where all countries are free to exercise their sovereignty consistent with international law.”
“We discussed the importance of all countries in the region exercising their agency in support of an Indo-Pacific region that is based on sovereignty, international law, and ASEAN Centrality. Defence continues to make a significant contribution to our partnership. Under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Program, we are working to broaden the scope of our cooperation and the complexity of our activities,” they said.
Both defense officials also agreed on the importance of adherence to a rules-based international order, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), as they reaffirmed their “strong support” to the 201 South China Sea arbitral tribunal award.
The landmark ruling favored the Philippines claims in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and invalidated China’s in the South China Sea.
The officials also reiterated their commitment to hold bilateral joint patrols in the WPS and expand the defense initiatives of both countries to sustain peace and security in the region.
This came amid China’s continued aggression in the WPS.
Last August 5, the China Coast Guard (CCG) interrupted a resupply mission by the AFP when it fired a water cannon at Philippine supply boats and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships delivering supplies to AFP troops onboard BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.
A follow-up resupply mission was launched on August 22 and despite repeated Chinese harassment, the troops were able to bring the much-needed provisions to the soldiers.
Teodoro and Marles said the exercise served as an avenue where the Philippines and Australia can exercise its militaries’ interoperability, noting that it was not a show of force against China.
“What we know is that we share shared interests, our national security [are] converged. We have a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOFA) and both defense departments and armed forces will work hard to make this a functional, effective and a meaningful one,” Teodoro said.
For Marles, he said the exercise only proved the commitment of the two countries to a global rules-based international order where disputes can be resolved by referencing to international law.
“What the people should take from Exercise Alon and Indo-Pacific Endeavor 2023 is that we are very ambitious about working closely together, about building interoperability, about seeing our defense forces closer. That’s what we are trying to achieve through this exercises,” Marles stated.
“I think the message that we wanna convey to the region and to the world from an exercise of this kind is that we are two countries committed to the global rules-based order. We are committed to an idea of a world in which disputes are determined by reference to international law,” he continued.
“What we will do is bring our military capabilities to enhance the rules based order and provide for the expression of it. In that sense, what we are about is peace. Peace is maintained through the protection of global rules-based order,” he added.