US Army experiments with long-endurance drones, balloons in Philippines

BASCO, Philippines — A barely detectable speck appears near a beaming, late afternoon sun and then dodges behind a cloud. Soon that small speck, as it makes its slow descent, takes the form of a sleek, small unmanned aircraft.

The aircraft makes a quiet, delicate landing along the runway of a remote island airfield in the Philippines in the temporarily breezeless, scorching heat. The platform — a Kraus Hamdani Aerospace K1000 — had spent the majority of the day flying above the South China Sea and collecting data for the Extended Range Sensing and Effects Company, which is part of the U.S. Army’s 1st Multi-Domain Task Force.

Here in the Philippines, the 1st MDTF is using the Balikatan military exercise to experiment with its structure and identify the assets that will best serve joint and coalition forces in situations where adversaries can deny regional access. The bilateral drill between the American and Philippine armed forces took place April 11-May 9.

The ERSE Company set up camp in Basco, a volcanic island in the Batanes island chain north of the Philippines’ largest island of Luzon. On a clear day from certain high points on the island, one can see Taiwan.

The company operated out of a small, air-conditioned tent directly next to the tiny commercial airport that hosts a few flights a day.

The company’s position was as far north as the annual exercise ever took place; only one unit is stationed farther north where it is constructing a warehouse on the island of Itbayat.

Maj. Seth Holt, who commands the ERSE Company, told Defense News, inside his small operations center on Basco, that he was focused on learning how his team can contribute to a flexible and easily tailorable multidomain task force.