US deploys newest gunship to military drills with Philippines

An Airman from the 73rd Special Operations Squadron marshals an AC-130J Ghostrider after landing at Kadena Air Base on March 29, 2021. (Capt. Renee Douglas/U.S. Air Force)
April 29, 2021

One of the United States’ most lethal war planes and the Philippines’ most modern military aircraft ripped the skies at Balikatan exercises held in northern Luzon during the weekend in a show of force dominated by US firepower.

US forces deployed one of their newest war weapons, the AC-130J, which is a C-130J Hercules plane that had been modified and converted into a gunship that American military officers once described as the “ultimate battle plane.”

It provided close air support to Philippine and US soldiers taking part in the Balikatan, a large-scale military exercise of the two countries.

The AC-130J, which was in the Philippines for the first time, took part in the exercises alongside the Philippine Air Force’s (PAF) FA-50 lead-in fighter trainers at a military reservation at the Colonel Ernesto Rabina Air Base in Capas, Tarlac.

The exercises involving the Philippines’ FA-50 and the United States’ AC-130J was “a pioneering training for our PAF fighter pilots,” said Maj. Michael G. Rabina of the PAF’s 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron.

“It is a welcome opportunity for us to participate in such operations that offers a valuable training environment to enhance our capabilities,” Rabina said.

“This exercise demonstrates the interoperability of the Fighting Eagle with the Gunship and with our allies in a combined operations setting,” he said.

The US plane fired its 30 mm and 105 mm cannons, which used ammunition about the size of a human leg, into targets called in by US airmen from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron and PAF joint terminal attack controllers on the ground, according to a statement of Exercise Balikatan.

“This training shows a projection of power and displays the reach of the AC-130J,” said US Air Force Capt. Aaron Boudreau, AC-130J liaison for the Balikatan and Ghostrider pilot for the USAF’s 73rd Special Operations Squadron.

“This is the first time this asset has been in the Philippines, so it will give Philippine controllers the ability to train with American pilots and vice versa and shows that we can accomplish the mission together, as friends and allies,” he said.

The exercise demonstrated “the reach of US SOF assets, and built trust between controllers and pilots of both nations in their ability to accomplish the mission together,” the Exercise Balikatan said.

The two-week Balikatan drills officially wrapped up on Friday (April 23) but a few more exercises like the bilateral close air support training had been carried out after.

This year’s exercise focused on enhancing humanitarian aid and relief operation capabilities, rapid response operations during pandemic, counter-terrorism, and other expert exchanges on various topics. The activities were conducted across Luzon.

The Balikatan was carried out amid a pandemic and China’s continued encroachment in the West Philippine Sea but Filipino and American officials did not make any direct reference to China.


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