The Philippines has asked the U.S. military to help protect the transport of fresh Filipino troops and supplies in the disputed South China Sea by flying American patrol planes to discourage Chinese moves to stop the resupply missions.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin says he relayed the Philippine request on Wednesday to visiting U.S. Pacific Commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr.

According to Gazmin, Harris assured him of U.S. readiness to provide assistance.

The Philippines has protested past attempts by Chinese coast guard ships to block smaller Filipino motor boats transporting fresh military personnel, food and other supplies to a Philippine military ship outpost at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, which is also being claimed and guarded by Chinese vessels.