BEIJING — China's navy carried out a "live firing drill" in the South China Sea Tuesday in a bid to improve its maritime combat ability, state media reported, as tensions flare over the disputed waters.

The exercise involved at least 100 naval vessels, dozens of aircraft, missile launch battalions of the Second Artillery Corps and information warfare troops, Xinhua news agency said, citing navy sources.

It added that dozens of missiles and torpedoes, as well as thousands of shells and jamming bombs, were fired during the drill, which tested the navy's air defense and early warning system.

It also "improved its ability to react quickly," Xinhua said.

China has rapidly expanded its navy in recent years, commissioning its first aircraft carrier in 2012 and adding to its submarine and surface fleets.

It is currently pursuing a rapid program of artificial island construction in the South China Sea, despite being locked in disputes with several countries over its claims to almost the entire area.

Japan last week slammed Beijing's bid to reclaim land there as a "coercive attempt" to make sweeping maritime claims that comes as Tokyo is expanding the role of its own military.

The Philippines is meanwhile planning a 25 percent hike in its defense budget next year, mainly to bolster its claims in the disputed waters.