Over 12,000 U.S. Soldiers Will Descend on the Philippines for the Largest Balikatan in History

Nearly 18,000 troops will participate in the exercises designed to defend the waters of the Philippines. 

The Balikatan is getting larger and larger every year. In 2022, the U.S. and the Philippines broke their own records when they held what was then the largest Balikatan in history, with over 9,000 troops participating in the annual military exercises. But the Balikatan 2023 will easily eclipse that with over 17,600 troops participating. The U.S. is sending over 12,000 soldiers to the Philippines to participate in maritime exercises involving live-fire exercises in the waters surrounding Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), where the two countries will sink a vessel. Panatag Shoal is a controversial feature within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. It is being claimed by China, and has been the site of tension in 2012 Scarborough Shoal Standoff between China and the Philippines. 

Apart from U.S. troops, other countries are also sending troops to the Philippines for the exercises. Australia will send its own contingent for the first time in history: 100 troops from the Australian Defense Force will participate in a number of exercises at Balikatan. For the first time, too, Japan is sending observers to the event. 

Strategic Locations

The 2023 iteration of the Balikatan sees the use of strategic locations in the Philippines: Northern Luzon, Palawan, and Antique, all on the western side of the Philippines. This is no trivial matter since the locations are crucial for testing the interoperability skills that the U.S. and the Philippines have been training on for years. ??

Maritime Defense, Coastal Defense, and Maritime Awareness

Much of the 2023 Balikatan will focus on the sea and the capability of the Philippines and the U.S. to effectively execute maritime defense, coastal defense, and maritime domain awareness. Although tensions in the West Philippine Sea were not mentioned as a reason for this year’s exercises, it nevertheless informs notions of security in the region, in which America is very interested. 


It was not mentioned whether the American and Filipino troops will simulate amphibious assaults as a preparation for the possible retaking of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea. In 2018, U.S. and Philippine Marines conducted amphibious assaults and landing, succeeded by live-fire exercises on the landed islands. 

In an Inquirer report, Col. Michael Logico, director of the Joint and Combined Training Center under the AFP Education, Training and Doctrine Command and spokesman for Balikatan 2023, did not mince words when he was asked if the Balikatan 2023 exercises were a preparation to respond to China’s expansion in the West Philippine Sea. “We have the absolute, inalienable right to defend our territory. We are here to show that we are combat-ready.” 

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