PH, US air forces sharpen combat skills in Cope Thunder drills

Philippine and United States air forces are conducting joint air combat training exercises this month as part of the annual Cope Thunder drills, military officials said.

The bilateral exercises, held at Basa Air Base in Pampanga, involve Philippine Air Force (PAF) FA-50PH fighter jets flying alongside U.S. Air Force F-16s in simulated aerial combat scenarios and Basic Fighting Maneuvers (BFM).

“This Cope Thunder 24-1 is to prepare the Philippine Air Force for our future participation in international exercises — for one, we are going to have our biggest so far in the Pitch Black Exercise, which is expected to happen in Australia,” PAF spokesperson Col. Ma. Consuelo Castillo told The Daily Tribune on April 12.

Cope Thunder was revived last year after being suspended since 1991 due to the Mount Pinatubo eruption. The current drills are scheduled to run until April 19 as part of efforts to improve interoperability between the Philippine military and allied forces.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jonathan Phase Marshall stressed the exercises are “not directed towards the Philippines’ territorial challenges” but aimed at maintaining a “free and open Indo-Pacific” through bilateral partnerships.

“We prepare ourselves to operate in a joint environment not for any current, present threat but future threats that we might not even know about yet,” Marshall said.

The training involves Air Combat Maneuvers and Flight Integration Training in preparation for upcoming Large Force Employment missions planned for next year’s Balikatan exercises between the Philippines and United States.

“This rigorous training in Cope Thunder 24-1 goes beyond individual skill, as it also provides a platform to improve teamwork and communication, which are essential for mission success in a joint environment,” the PAF said in a Facebook post on April 16.

The Cope Thunder drills are conducted under the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board between the Philippine military and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

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