PH, US launch maritime drills near West Philippine Sea
The Philippines and the United States navies launched maritime drills Monday at a naval base in La Union, a province facing the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The maritime training activity “Sama-Sama” is a week-long project that “focuses on the full spectrum of naval capabilities and is designed to strengthen the close partnership between both navies while cooperatively ensuring maritime security, stability and prosperity,” the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force will also join the drills as an observer.
“The training provides us with an exceptional opportunity for both Philippine and US navies to engage in broader range of maritime operations and unique scenarios in our maritime areas,” said Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat.
Sama-Sama is similar to Carat (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Exercise), one of the two joint exercises with the US that were scrapped in 2016 after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered to scale down joint combat drills with the longtime ally.
When he assumed office in 2016, Duterte has threatened repeatedly to cut the defense ties of the two treaty allies, as he pursued warmer ties with China and Russia.
Joint drills in three areas
The joint drills will be held in three areas: La Union, Zambales, and Cavite. Zambales is close to Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing ground of Filipinos controlled by China Coast Guard since 2012 after a standoff with the Philippine Navy.
The Philippine Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16) and landing dock ship BRP Tarlac (LD-601), as well as the US Navy’s USNS Millinocket (T-EPF 3), diving and salvage ship USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52) and P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft are the assets that would participate in the drills.
The US Pacific Fleet said the drills will include air defense exercises aimed to increase proficiency in air and missile defense; diving exercises to promote mutual efficiency underwater, and search and rescue exercises to enhance capabilities in aid-and-assistance to distressed mariners.
Symposiums and seminars will tackle a wide range of naval capabilities including medical, public affairs, anti-submarine and surface operations.
“The name of this maritime training activity, Sama Sama, – meaning ‘together, jointly’ – perfectly captures the spirit and energy of this tremendous event. The U.S. and Philippine alliance has always been a special relationship based on mutual trust and respect and strengthened by enduring maritime engagements,” said Rear Adm. Joey Tynch, commander of Task Force 73. /vvp
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