IN PHOTOS: Philippines- USA troops hold drills near Spratly Islands

A Philippine Navy personnel stands in front of an AgustaWestland AW109 helicopter before it takes off during the bilateral maritime exercise between the Philippine Navy and U.S. Navy dubbed as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), aboard the Philippine Navy vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz in the South China Sea. AP/Noel Celis

SAN ANTONIO, Philippines — More than 100 Filipino and U.S. marines in assault amphibious vehicles conducted a mock assault on imaginary enemies in military drills Monday on a beach in northwestern Philippines fronting the South China Sea, where Manila is locked in a territorial dispute with China.

The amphibious tanks sailed from a U.S. ship anchored a distance away, then rolled onto the beach of San Antonio, Zambales, northwest of the Philippine capital Manila, disgorging the Filipino and American sailors and marines armed with automatic rifles.

The exercise is part of the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training that the U.S. conducts with its allies in Asia, including the Philippines, to address maritime security, strengthen partnerships and enhance interoperability.

A member of Philippine Navy loads bullets for a machine gun during the bilateral maritime exercise in the South China Sea waters claimed by Beijing, Sunday, June 29, 2014. AP/Noel Celis

Sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain depart the Philippine navy frigate BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF16). Philstar.com/US Navy/Jay Pugh

A member of U.S. Navy mans a weapon during CARAT 2014. AP/Noel Celis

U.S. Navy personnel raise their flag during CARAT 2014. The United States and the Philippines kicked off joint naval exercises in the South China Sea near waters claimed by Beijing, amid tense territorial rows between China and its neighbors AP/Noel Celis

U.S. and Philippine Navy officers stand for an invocation during the opening of the 20th Cooperation Afloat Readiness And Training (CARAT) joint U.S.-Philippines naval exercise at the former U.S. naval base of Subic. AP/Bullit Marquez

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) transits into Subic Bay. Philstar.com/US Navy/Jay Pugh

Rear Adm. Jaime S. Bernardino, commander of the Philippine Fleet, shakes hands with Rear Adm. Stuart B. Munsch, commander of Task Force 74, during the opening ceremony. Philstar.com/US Navy/Jay Pugh

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) is moored in Subic Bay. Philstar.com/US Navy/Jay Pugh

Members of the U.S. and Philippine navies salute during the opening ceremony of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014. Philstar.com/US Navy/Jay Pugh

Lt. j.g. Raymond Piana, navigations officer of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48), center, shows a chart to Philippine marine Col. Custodio Parcon, left, during a tour of the ship's pilot house. Philstar.com/US Navy/Raymond Diaz III

Officials say the maneuvers are meant to improve coordination and capabilities but are not directed at China, which has been criticized for its increasingly assertive behavior in disputed South China Sea territories.

"Whenever we do an exercise, we always train to improve our capabilities, it is not meant for whatever threat or situation that are current," said Philippine Navy Commodore Roland Joseph Mercado.

Marine Maj. Damon Torres, commanding officer of the U.S. landing force in the exercise, said the drills are a good opportunity to coordinate and learn about each other's capabilities. - Philstar

 
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