July 9 (UPI) -- The United States' and Philippine navies on Monday started the annual Sama Sama training exercise at Naval Station Ernesto Ogbinar in the Philippines.
The week-long exercise will focus on all aspects of naval operations, including air defense drills, search and rescue operations and diving exercises to enhance interoperability between the two navies.
The fast transport ship USNS Millinocket, the diving and salvage ship USNS Salvor, and a P-8 Poseidon surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft will exercise with the Philippine navy frigate BRP Ramon Alcaraz and landing dock ship BRP Tarlac in the South China Sea.
"The name of this Maritime Training Activity, Sama Sama, meaning together, jointly, perfectly captures the spirit and energy of this tremendous event," Rear Adm. Joey Tynch, commander of Task Force 73, said in a Pentagon press release. "The U.S. and Philippine alliance has always been a special relationship based on mutual trust and respect and strengthened by enduring maritime engagements."
"This training provides us with an exceptional opportunity for both Philippine and U.S. navies to engage in a broader range of maritime operations and unique scenarios in our maritime areas," added Philippine Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, commander of Northern Luzon Command.
The United States and Philippine navies have done joint patrols before, including a July 2017 operation to counteract piracy and other illegal activities, according to the Defense Department.
Tensions between the United States, China and other countries in the region regarding sovereignty of the South China Sea have risen in recent years. Part of the tension has been controversy regarding fortified artificial islands China has built in the area, and resulting freedom of navigation patrols the United States has conducted in response.