Philippines, US begin annual joint naval exercises

Posted at 06/26/2014 5:41 PM | Updated as of 06/26/2014 5:49 PM
A Philippine flag overlooking US warship USS John S. McCain flutters during the opening ceremony of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines 2014, a US-Philippines military exercise, at Subic Bay, north of Manila. Photo by Erik de Castro/Reuters

MANILA - Top navy officials from the Philippines and the US launched the annual six-day naval exercises in Subic Bay on Thursday.

The exercises are aimed at strengthening the capabilities of both sides in amphibious operations, special operations and enhancing information-sharing, the Philippine Navy said.

"This exercise we are in now -- Carat Philippines -- is designed to improve our inter-operability, build our relationships, so we know each other better and be able to do more complex things in support of one another, whatever the event might be," said U.S. Navy Fleet Commander Stuart Musch.

Five warships, including a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, and about 1,000 troops will take part in week-long Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises, which include live-fire drills 40 miles (64 km) off Zambales, on the western shores of the Philippine island of Luzon.

The drills are to be held about 80 nautical miles offshore, near a patrol of Chinese coastguard ships stationed at the entrance to Scarborough Shoal, a disputed reef.

Navy Fleet Commander Jaime Bernardino was asked what the Philippine troops would do if there was an invasion.

"How do you exactly respond? My answer there, is the exact response to any incident out there, is dictated by our national leadership. Whatever they want us to do, we will do," He said.

The Philippine Navy said the drills were a regular annual event and has no relation to the tensions in the region.

Tensions have escalated in recent months, with China's growing assertiveness over a group of islands in the South China Sea.

China claims 90 percent of the sea, potentially rich in oil and gas and fisheries.

The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the waters, and China has viewed with suspicion what it sees as U.S. moves to "provoke" tension by supporting its regional allies, notably Vietnam and the Philippines.