The littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords, front, trains in the South China Sea with the Philippine patrol vessel BRP Gregorio del Pilar, Feb. 9, 2024.

The littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords, front, trains in the South China Sea with the Philippine patrol vessel BRP Gregorio del Pilar, Feb. 9, 2024. (Jacob Ruder/U.S. Navy)

U.S. and Philippine warships trained together in the South China Sea on Friday, two days before Manila accused Beijing of dangerous maneuvers by vessels there.

The littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords joined the Philippine patrol vessel BRP Gregorio Del Pilar for drills in communication, coordination and tactics, 7th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Kristina Wiedemann told Stars and Stripes by email Tuesday.

The exercise — what the Navy calls a Maritime Cooperative Activity — was the third of its kind, the 7th Fleet said in a Friday news release.

“The MCA has become a routine activity for both militaries to continuously enhance interoperability through the conduct of maritime security and maritime domain awareness operations,” Wiedemann said.

Interoperability is a military term used to describe the ability of a country’s armed forces to use another’s training methods and military equipment.

The two ships, along with MH-60S Seahawk and Philippine AW109 helicopters, drilled division-level tactics, said Wiedemann, who did not specify an exact location for the training.

Beijing claims nearly all the South China Sea as its territorial waters, and the region often plays a part in China’s attempts to assert its claims against other claimants, including the Philippines.

On Sunday, the Philippine coast guard accused Chinese vessels of dangerous maneuvers near Scarborough Shoal, according to a Monday report from AFP-JIJI.

The shoal, a low-tide feature occupied by a Philippine garrison, has remained a point of tension between the two nations. Chinese and Philippine coast guard vessels squared off in 2023 over access to the shoal.

The Philippine coast guard said Chinese vessels performed “dangerous and blocking maneuvers” toward a Philippine patrol ship and later shadowed that vessel more than 40 times over a nine-day patrol, the report said.

Friday’s exercise happened a day after the Gabrielle Giffords and the guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn joined the Japanese destroyer JS Sazanami and the Australian frigate HMAS Warramunga for two days of drills, also in the South China Sea.

The two exercises were not related, Wiedemann said.

“Every day, U.S. Navy forces operate with allies and partners, defending the rules-based international order and ensuring the Indo-Pacific remains free and open for all,” she said.

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Alex Wilson covers the U.S. Navy and other services from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., he holds a journalism degree from the University of North Florida. He previously covered crime and the military in Key West, Fla., and business in Jacksonville, Fla.

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