THE Philippines and United States (US) navies will again hone their joint maritime security skills and operational cohesiveness in a military exercise near the disputed Panatag Shoal amid rising tension in the West Philippine Sea (also known as South China Sea).
Philippine Fleet spokesman Lt. Junior Grade Rommel Rodriguez on Thursday said the week-long bilateral maritime exercise dubbed as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) 2014 will be held in different areas of Luzon starting June 26.
According to Rodriguez, more than a thousand Filipino and American navies and marines and their naval assets would participate in various training exercises such as amphibious operations, special operations, surface warfare and enhanced information sharing.
The US Navy, he added, would send the USS Halsey, USNS Ashland and UNS Safeguard, choppers, amphibious assault vehicles, a naval underwater construction team, mobile diving salvage unit, and explosive and ordnance division unit.
The Philippine Navy, on the otherhand, would deploy some 300 men, the Hamilton class-cutter BRP Ramon Alcaraz, two Augsta Helicopters, one islander plane, a Navy special operations group-explosive ordnance team, three diving teams, two special boat teams and two marine company, a communications team, band and logistics tea, and Seabees.
“We also have gunnery exercise in the vicinity of Luzon Sea, around 29 nautical miles southwest of Sampaloc Point, near Subic. Its in the lower tip of Zambales,” Rodriguez added.
Panatag Shoal is just some 124 nautical miles off the coast of Zambales.
Last year’s Carat exercises was also held some 60 nautical miles east of Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc or roughly 108 kilometers away from the disputed islet.
But Rodriguez was quick to point out that Carat was a purely maritime training activity and has no connection whatsoever with the current territorial disputes in the Spratlys.
“This is a purely training activity that is conducted annually and it has no connection with the current dispute, issue on territorial claims,” he pointed out.
He added Carat activities have been conducted in different areas of the country, like Cebu in 2009, Subic in 2010, Palawan in 2011 and Mindanao in 2012.
China, he stressed, has nothing to worry about with the two countries’ annual bilateral exercises because “this has nothing to do with Philippine-China dispute or the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.”
Started in 1995, Carat 2014 will be the 20th edition of the annual bilateral maritime training which aims to strengthen the combined capabilities of Filipino and American in all aspects of naval operations.