FORT MAGSAYSAY, Philippines – The U.S. and Philippine forces implemented a groundbreaking information-sharing center during Balikatan 2023 – the largest-ever iteration of their annual keystone exercise. U.S. Army Pacific’s First Multi-Domain Task Force (1MDTF) established the Combined Information and Effects Fusion Cell (CIEFC) at Camp Aquino, Philippines, connecting the 3rd Marine Division with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) to promote maritime domain awareness and synchronize bilateral military operations.
The CIEFC provides a venue to integrate U.S. joint service members from the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps alongside their counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. During a recent visit to Camp Aquino, General Charles Flynn, the U.S. Army Pacific Commander, noted that the CIEFC is “the foremost joint and combined headquarters participating in this year’s Balikatan.”
These advances in shared awareness are taking place as the U.S. and the Philippines expand their existing partnership. For example, at the U.S.- Philippines two+two Ministerial Dialogue on April 11th, U.S. and Philippine Secretaries of State and Defense articulated a mutual intent to cultivate interoperability across conventional and unconventional military domains. The CIEFC aims to advance these strategic goals of information-sharing and technological cooperation at the operational level.
Both nations' military leaders highlighted the CIEFC’s potential to expand maritime domain awareness and enable military action.
“The bilateral integration within the CIEFC is the kind of activity I expect NOLCOM to achieve with the help of the U.S.,” said Lt. Gen. Fernyl Buca, NOLCOM Commander.
“This is how we transition to a joint exercise model,” said Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, 3rd Marine Division Commander, during his visit to the CIEFC. “This is what we must do going forward to conduct meaningful joint and combined operations.”
Doing so requires investments in human, technical, and procedural interoperability.
In preparation for Balikatan, the CIEFC brought together experts from both countries to establish human interoperability by identifying shared objectives. Mutual commitment to the defense of Northern Luzon drives the campaign to fuse bilateral information and military action.
Persisting policy and classification requirements impede technical interoperability and information-sharing between U.S. and Philippine forces. A shared classified network is necessary for bilateral situational awareness in and around the Philippines.
In the face of policy barriers, NOLCOM and U.S. Forces are seizing opportunities to share information at the unclassified level. For example, the first Multi-Domain Task Force built a U.S.-Filipino network to support a sharing environment that fuses unclassified data streams with commercial tools. This creates a common picture that allows U.S. and Philippine joint task force commanders to drive rapid military action.
With shared objectives and shareable data, Filipino and U.S. representatives in the CIEFC are also building procedural interoperability by codifying joint and combined standard operating procedures. These procedures will allow both countries to integrate shared information more efficiently.
The CIEFC’s potential became evident within five days of initial operations when bilateral intelligence analysts demonstrated their ability to track foreign military vessels using only unclassified data – a task typically only conducted with classified data. U.S. and Filipino analysts identified anomalies in vessel traffic using open-source maritime tracking tools. They assessed that these irregular patterns indicate the presence of foreign military vessels using techniques to hide their presence from commercial tracking systems. Unclassified, open-source intelligence products later confirmed these assessments, validating the CIEFC’s ability to expand shared maritime domain awareness at the unclassified level. In the future, intelligence like this will enable the CIEFC to generate timely, combined military responses.
Codifying these processes and shared procedures sets conditions for enduring multi-domain awareness long after Balikatan 2023 concludes.
The Joint Statement from the U.S.-Philippines two+two Ministerial Dialogue emphasized that both nations are committed to “Bilateral planning and interoperability to ensure readiness to respond to a range of crises and scenarios.” With an “always-on” network providing constant global connectivity, the CIEFC is a conduit for this increased level of resilient interoperability in the Pacific.