US, Philippine Navy start week-long South China Sea exercise

Members of the visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team aboard littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) prepare to board Philippine Navy ship BRP BATAK (LC 299) during a VBSS exercise for Maritime Training Activity (MTA) Sama Sama 2017. Photo: US Navy

The US and Philippines navies started seven days of interactions as part of maritime training activity (MTA) Sama Sama at Naval Station Ernesto Ogbinar in San Fernando City, Philippines.

The week-long engagement kicked off July 9 and will focus on the full spectrum of naval capabilities.

Expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Millinocket (T-EPF 3), diving and salvage ship USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52) and a P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft will operate alongside Philippine Navy frigate BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF 16) and landing dock ship BRP Tarlac (LD 601) in at-sea evolutions in the South China Sea.

Evolutions include air defense exercises (ADEX) aimed to increase proficiency in air and missile defense, diving exercises (DIVEX) to promote mutual efficiency underwater, and search and rescue exercises (SAREX) designed to enhance capabilities in aid-and-assistance to distressed mariners.

Shore phase evolutions include symposiums and seminars on a range of naval capabilities including medical, public affairs, engineering, explosive ordnance disposal and anti-submarine and surface operations, all taking place in San Fernando City, San Antonio, Manila and Subic.

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force will join the exercise as an observer.

“The name of this Maritime Training Activity, Sama Sama, – meaning ‘together, jointly’ – perfectly captures the spirit and energy of this tremendous event. The US 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, Task Force 73.

MTA Sama Sama builds upon other engagements with the Philippines including Pacific Partnership, the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission, Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT), which involves more than a dozen partner nations, and Balikatan-34.

In July 2017, the US and Philippine Navies conducted a coordinated patrol in the Sulu Sea demonstrating a mutual commitment to responding to piracy and illegal transnational activity. Sailors from both navies exchanged best practices in visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) techniques, as well as information sharing.

“As the MTA continues to evolve in scope and scale, the US and Philippine Navies will continue sailing together towards the common goals of increased maritime security and stability,” said Capt. Lex Walker, Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 7.

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