U.S. Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force aircraft fly in formation during a Cope North exercise, Feb. 17, 2015, off the coast of Guam. Jason Robertson/U.S. Air Force photo

For the first time, the Philippines will take part on a large-scale air exercise in Cope North, with the U.S. and four other nations in the western Pacific.

The airmen from Philippine Air Force will join the U.S., Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand for the exercise, it will be attended by more than 1,800 personnel from the said countries in Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, which runs Feb. 10-26, 2016.

A group photo of the participants and aircraft that took part in Cope North 2015, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. This year’s exercise will include more than 1,800 personnel from the U.S., Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and the Philippines. Jason Robertson/U.S. Air Force photo

Cope North 2016 will focus on fighter-versus-fighter air combat tactics, air-to-ground strike missions and large-force employment training, an Air Force statement said.

Seventy-four aircraft from U.S., 22 from Japan, nine from Australia and one from South Korea will take part in the event, including the U.S. B-52 bombers, F-15 and F-16 fighters and C-130 cargo planes.

A USAF official said that there is a possibility that the two FA-50 Fighting Eagle from the Philippines will join the air combat tactics while the Philippine Air Force planners will assist with humanitarian assistance and disaster response drills on Rota and Tinian islands, they will participate in setting up bases and medical center and conducting combat search-and-rescue drills.

“This is the largest Cope North to date with more aircraft than ever,” said 1st Lt. Christen Ornella, Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman.

The exercise began in 1978 as a quarterly bilateral exercise at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and moved to Guam in 1999.

The Philippines’ participation is significant, given China’s aggressive stance on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) issue.

-John Esconde