The guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain linked up with the Royal Australian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force in the South China Sea to conduct naval exercises on Monday.

The exercises, which signify the fifth time this year that the U.S. has conducted exercises in the 7th Fleet’s area of operations with Australia and Japan, aim to enhance the ability of forces to work together and maintain maritime security and readiness, the U.S. Navy said.

Specifically, JMSDF’s destroyer JS Kirisame and the Australian Royal Navy’s frigate HMAS Arunta teamed up with the McCain to carry out surface, subsurface, and air defense exercises and other training events.

“By operating with our close allies in this way, here in the South China Sea, we promote transparency, the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, all principles that underpin security and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific, so that all nations in the region may benefit,” Cmdr. Ryan T. Easterday, commanding officer of the McCain, said in a news release.

Royal Australian Navy Cmdr. Troy Duggan, commanding officer of the HMAS Arunta, and JMSDF Capt. Yokota Kazushi, commander of JMSDF Escort Division 8, also stressed the value of the trilateral exercises.

“This activity is a valuable and important opportunity for all three nations,” Duggan said in a Navy news release. “Operating with our partners is essential for building and maintaining high levels of interoperability, and contributes to our shared commitment to the security, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.”

All three nations are set to participate in naval exercises known as Malabar sponsored by India next month, Reuters reports.

The U.S. Navy convened in the 7th Fleet area of operations with JMSDF and the Royal Australian Navy during exercise Sea Dragon in February and Exercise Pacific Vanguard last month. The three nations also came together for a trilateral exercise with the Reagan Carrier Strike Group in July, and a multinational group sail with the guided-missile destroyer Barry last month.

Additionally, the McCain, Carrier Air Wing 5, the guided-missile cruiser Antietam and the guided-missile destroyer Halsey joined the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and its strike group earlier this month in the South China Sea as the strike group carried out flight operations, maritime strike exercises and training between surface and air units.

The Reagan has visited the South China Sea’s waters a total of three times during its 2020 deployment, Navy Times previously reported.

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