The Philippines and the United States began Monday a large-scale annual military exercise, which includes naval drills off the coast of Luzon island facing the disputed South China Sea.
Close to 8,000 troops will participate in the 12-day exercise, dubbed "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder), with troops from Australia joining the drills, as well as observers from seven other countries.
"This year, Balikatan activities will focus in addressing traditional as well as non-traditional security concerns," Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, Philippine exercise director said, noting activities will include planning and simulation trainings, operational trainings and civic activities.
U.S. Exercise Director Brig. Gen. Chris McPhillips said the drills will involve F-35B stealth aircraft, F-18 fighter aircraft and V-22 vertical takeoff aircraft, among others.
Similar to last year, the military exercises will be held mostly in the northern part of the country — in parts of the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales.
Scarborough Shoal, claimed by the Philippines but controlled by China, lies some 200 kilometers off Zambales.