The Philippines and the United States on Friday opened the second iteration of their air forces’ joint “Cope Thunder” exercise at Clark Air Base in Pampanga.

A total of 1,272 airmen are participating in the bilateral exercise: 687 troops from the Philippine Air Force and 585 from the US Pacific Air Force, according to PAF spokesperson Col. Ma. Consuelo Castillo.

Maj. Gen. Augustine Malinit, commander of the PAF Air Defense Command, noted the significance of the air drill as “an opportunity to assimilate forces and augment interoperability between the Philippines and the United States.”

The first phase of the exercise was held in May, following its revival after over three decades. Washington and Manila first held the Cope Thunder drills in 1991.

Malinit said the second Cope Thunder this year would primarily focus on large force deployment of aircraft.

Col. Alfred Sarmiento, director for operations of the PAF 5th Fighter Wing and assistant exercise director of Cope Thunder, said it would also enhance the capability of the PAF to host international exercises.

“As of now, we are looking at the PAF to participate in the Pitch Black exercises in Australia next year,” he added. Hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force, last year’s Pitch Black had 17 countries participating, including Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, and involved 131 aircraft and almost 4,000 personnel.

The participants were also expected to enhance their mission planning capabilities, and execution of defensive and offensive counter-air operations utilizing fighter and cargo aircraft upon the completion of the exercise.

Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Sarah Russ, head of the United States Air Force delegation, said Cope Thunder is poised to “become a multilateral exercise, possibly with Japan and Australia, and other like-minded countries joining us in the future years.”

The exercise will run until July 21.