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US, Philippines wrap up naval drill amid clashes in South China

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The United States and the Philippines recently concluded joint naval drills near the Philippines, focusing on replenishment at sea, naval warfare, and human assistance and disaster response. These exercises, known as Sama Sama, have been an annual event between the two countries since 2017 and include nontraditional security drills.

The drills occurred amidst ongoing tension in the South China Sea, with resupply operations becoming points of contention between the Philippines and China. It is worth noting that in 2016, then-President Rodrigo Duterte decided to cancel military drills with the United States, but joint training efforts were later reinstated by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Over the years, Sama Sama has expanded its participation. The Japan Self-Defense Force joined in 2019, and the Royal Australian Navy joined in 2022. The most recent iteration also included Canada, the United Kingdom, and France.

During the drills, the participating navies engaged in various exercises, including anti-surface, anti-submarine, and electronic warfare scenarios. These are critical areas for the Philippines, as the country recently acquired and equipped its guided-missile frigate for operations in the South China Sea.

Apart from the naval forces, the exercise also involved the Marine Rotational Force-Southeast Asia, a U.S. Marine Corps task force dedicated to working with regional allies and partners on security initiatives.

The Sama Sama exercise is particularly significant for the Philippines as it shifts its focus from counterterrorism to addressing threats in the South China Sea. It allows the country to develop a wide spectrum of skill sets, particularly in its naval capabilities.

Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in 2022, the Philippines has taken a more assertive stance against China’s actions in the South China Sea. The country intends to protect its archipelagic territories, including islands and features within its exclusive economic zone.

A buildup of Philippine naval capabilities is also seen as crucial considering the tension over Taiwan. China has claimed Taiwan as a rogue province and has threatened to take it back by force. In the event of a conflict, military activities in the greater South China Sea are expected.

The Philippines has steadily enhanced its naval arsenal in recent years, acquiring frigates, fighter jets, landing dock vessels, corvettes, UAVs, and missiles. The upcoming third phase of its military’s modernization program will focus on strengthening and developing assets in the South China Sea.

In summary, the joint naval drills between the United States and the Philippines, along with other countries, play an essential role in building the Philippines’ military capacities and enhancing its naval capabilities. These exercises are vital in addressing the ongoing tension in the South China Sea and ensuring the protection of the country’s territorial and economic interests.

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