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Lal-lo Airport Site of Balikatan 2024

Cagayan’s Lal-lo Airport was the site of the recently held Balikatan 2024, the annual military exercise between the Philippines and the United States. This event demonstrates that the airport can handle the demands of commercial, domestic, and international flights now and in the future.

Balikatan is one of the cornerstones of the military relationship between the two countries since the closure of the US bases in the Philippines. Balikatan endeavors to enhance and strengthen interoperability and cooperation between the two countries through joint training, exercises, and humanitarian assistance.

Although Lal-lo Airport was only recently designated as one of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites, it has previously been used for Balikatan operations to simulate air assault missions in environments similar to the Philippines. Due to its strategic location, the airport serves as a vital training ground, supporting operations focused on coastal defense and maritime activities in the northern islands, particularly the Batanes archipelago..

Past Balikatan exercises at Lal-lo Airport primarily involved on-ground activities such as defense planning, paratrooping, survival skills development, and gun familiarization. The Balikatan 2024 iteration is especially significant, offering a more comprehensive program than previous years in light of the growing importance of regional defense cooperation.

This year’s exercises at Lal-lo Airport saw participation from the US Marines, Marine Wing Support Squadron 174 (MWSS 174), and Marine Air Control Squadron 4, who utilized the airport for a fly-away forward arming and refueling point for visiting forces. Aviators conducted flying missions to Batanes and Lal-lo’s Field Medical Hospital. The airport accommodated various US aircraft, including the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Boeing CH-47 Chinook, Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, Beechcraft C-12 Huron, and Cessna Citation V.

To support Balikatan, the airport was closed to commercial traffic during the event, with the ramp converted into a shelter where tents were installed, and the terminal used for daily operations.

The MWSS 174, along with their Civil Affairs personnel, conducted a tabletop lecture on firefighting techniques for airport fires, providing a walkthrough of their fire equipment and drills to Lal-lo Airport firefighters, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office of Lal-lo.

The increased scale and scope of Balikatan 2024 highlight its critical role in addressing regional security challenges, particularly amid tensions in the South China Sea and around Taiwan. These exercises not only enhance military capabilities but also demonstrate the commitment of the Philippines and its allies to maintaining stability and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region.

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