An AC-130J Ghostrider gunship provided air support during this year's Balikatan exercise involving the U.S. and Philippine armed forces. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force
April 26 (UPI) -- A U.S. Air Force AC-130J Ghostrider gunship supported close air support training for the first time in a U.S.-Philippines training exercise, the Air Force said.
The aircraft, operated from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, "provided lethal fire from its 30 mm and 105 mm cannons onto targets called in by a bilateral team" of U.S. and Philippine personnel on the ground during exercises in the Philippines, according to a Saturday U.S. Air Force statement on Facebook.
It added that the use of the AC-130J, a C-130J cargo plane modified for use as a gun platform, was a demonstration of "specialized airpower that the U.S. can leverage from forward-postured bases to support the security of its allies and partners."
It was the first use of an AC-130J aircraft in Exercise Balikatan 21, the 36th annual training event between the United States and Philippines air forces. This year's training at a military base in Tarlac province began on April 12 and concluded on April 23. The AC-130J also flew alongside Philippine fighter planes.
"This training shows a projection of power and displays the reach of the AC-130J," said 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," Boudreau said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer exercises were planned, but 1,000 members of the Philippines' and United States' armed forces were involved this year.
Virtual events included a three-day Global Health Engagement, in which medical experts discussed the effect of the pandemic on military preparation.
"The main objective of the exchange is to provide an overview of the present pandemic situation from surveillance, on-scene response, testing and monitoring to patient treatment and modifications to patient movement," U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Cherielynne Gabriel said in a press release on April 16, ahead of the exercise.
"It aims to share best practices, enhance knowledge of participants and maintain relationships until we can practice medical interoperability in-person again when global health condition improves," said Gabriel, U.S. Pacific Air Forces International health specialist.