The Philippine Air Force’s two newly acquired FA-50PH “Fighting Eagle” will be joining this year’s Philippine-US Balikatan exercises amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Philippine Air Force spokesperson Col. Enrico Canaya said that the US counterparts will teach the Philippine pilots in air interception, interdiction, and close air support.

“This is definitely a good opportunity for us to enhance our training, especially our counterpart. This will further increase our training experience. This is a good development on our side,” he said.

PAF’s sub-sonic Marchetti-SIAI S-211 jet trainers along with its Rockwell OV-10 “Bronco” attack aircraft and various models of the UH-IH “Huey” helicopters and MG-520 attack choppers will also join the Balikatan air maneuvers.

On the other hand, the US will use their Hawker Hunter and A10 Thunderbolt jet aircraft for the exercises, which will be held somewhere in Northern Luzon, Canaya said.

We have training areas in Northern Luzon, but they have the discretion on where [they will hold the training],” he said.

This year’s Balikatan exercises will take place in Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Zambales, Panay, and Palawan, that will officially open on April 4 and will run until April 15.

Japan, India, South Korea, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor-Leste – have been invited to observe this year’s Balikatan.