The Philippine and US navies have commenced their joint exercise, joined by seven partner countries, in an effort to bolster naval warfare capabilities and readiness to address security challenges in the region.
Exercise Sama Sama, which originated as Afloat Cooperation Readiness and Training in 1994 between the Philippines and the United States but evolved into its current form in 2017, aims to enhance interoperability, foster regional cooperation, and address non-traditional challenges.
This year, over 1,800 navy personnel from various nations are participating in the exercises, taking place from October 2nd to October 13th. Participating countries include Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and France, with New Zealand and Indonesia sending observers.
Vice Adm. Toribio Adaci Jr., Chief of the Philippine Navy, emphasized that Sama Sama equips participating nations to collectively address a spectrum of threats, from territorial defense to combating transnational crimes. He stated during the opening ceremony that the exercise provides a critical platform for capacity building and refining naval warfare capabilities.
Adaci further explained, “This year, our interoperability exercises with the US Navy will focus on combat scenarios, strengthening our readiness for joint operations in the face of evolving threats. With this show of force and the active engagement of our allies and partners, Sama Sama transcends simple military exercises. It is a symbol of our enduring partnerships and our shared commitment to security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”
These exercises occur amid escalating tensions between Manila and Beijing regarding territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines and China have had repeated clashes in the resource-rich South China Sea, where Beijing asserts its claims to the entire region, overlapping with claims from other countries. Incidents involving ships from the two nations have occurred in areas declared by Manila as part of its exclusive economic zones.
Sama Sama also reflects increased defense engagements between the Philippines and the United States since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. assumed office last year, following a period of strained relations during the previous administration of Rodrigo Duterte, which had leaned more towards Beijing.
Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, highlighted the significance of building relationships with allies and partner countries to strengthen territorial defense capabilities. He stated, “When it comes to territorial defense, we cannot do it alone. We must, therefore, leverage our alliances and partnerships with like-minded nations. So that’s what we’re doing. Joint navigation, joint exercises, all of this is part of the overall strengthening of our defensive posture in the region.”