Since the 6th April, France has commanded Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 to lead counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East and Indian Ocean regions, for the ninth time since the creation of the Task Force in 2001. The singularity of the French command remains with Capt. René-Jean Crignola. The Commander CTF-150 (CCTF-150) and his staff, are leading the Task Force operations at sea from French Flagship Var, a supply (oil-tanker) ship equipped with Command and Control capabilities.
After taking over command from Canada, earlier in April 2015, CTF-150 staff, composing of predominantly French, Spanish, and Italian officers, embarked French Ship (FS) Var for a 4 month deployment at sea. FS Var is the Command and Control high value unit of CTF-150 which directs and coordinates the maritime effort in stopping illicit activities and ensures the sea lanes remain open. More recently CCTF-150 has been coordinating international efforts to ensure maritime security operations meet the CTF-150 mandate of stopping illegal activities which have the potential to fund terrorist activities. On the basis of information gathered by the different units of the coalition, and under French tactical command, CTF150 has been responsible for seizing over 981Kg of high quality heroin with a USD street value of over $625m. This high quality heroin in an indication of early testing but will be confirmed by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in the coming months.
The benefit of CCTF-150 being embarked on FS Var is that he has the opportunity to meet and work with coalition partners and more recently have interactions with Her Majesty’s ship (HMS) Richmond, Her Majesty’s Australian Ship Newcastle, French Ship (FS) Surcouf and Her Majesty’s New Zealand Ship Te Kaha. This international cooperation shows how ships can remain at sea for prolonged periods of time ensuring the Maritime environment remains safe and free from illegal activities. Thus, CTF-150 headquarters capacities and organisation on board are the same that the Task Force’s staff could find ashore. The ship can provide all units in Direct Support to CTF-150 with all the operational assets necessary for the completion of their mission. The staff of CCTF-150 have all the latest command and control tools, communications systems necessary to meet the CTF-150 mission. They are trained and highly capable to coordinate intelligence information and deploy both maritime and air units to achieve mission goals. They are in constant contact with Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) headquarters and also with their allied counterparts at sea, in the aim to get the best maritime situation awareness and to allocate the Task Force assets to Maritime Security Operations in the most efficient way. In the seven weeks, CTF-150 could count on an outstanding force flow from its international partners coordinating the action of up to five surface units, helicopters and fixed winged assets from different nations. Among them were CTF-150 flagship, FS Var, but also FS Surcouf, HMS Richmond, HMAS Newcastle and HMNZS Te Kaha, along with the New Zealand Air Force P-3K Orion providing essential air intellegence. The encounter of allied assets inside the Area of Responsibility was the opportunity to conduct combined operations off East-African coasts, from April 29 until June 15.
“For us it is really a good thing to monitor all the operations, being located at the heart of the action. For example, when we are working with FS Var’s crew to coordinate friendly approach visits or flag verification boarding on vessels, we can directly follow live operation, giving us an accurate understanding of the processes and eventual constraints of the ships”, Master Chief Petty Officer Fabien, Battle Watch Assistant, said. Also for Capt. Crignola, this position at sea brings considerable advantages: “This gives me a clear understanding of the regional maritime environment. It is also the opportunity to meet at sea with Commanding Officers and crew members involved in CTF-150, as well as with my counterparts from other Task Forces operating in the area, which is always a good way to exchange our views and to get accurate maritime situation awareness. Moreover, on a regular basis, our port visits are a good occasion to give visibility to our mission in the fight against terrorism, meeting with regional partners also involved in maritime security and conducting capacity building exercises with regional Coast Guards or Naval Forces”. “Until now, I am pretty proud of the successes we achieved working all together. We will keep on with our mission in the coming weeks, in the aim to enhance maritime security in the region”, he added.
CTF-150 is one of three naval task forces operated by CMF, which is a multinational naval partnership of 30 nations. CTF 150’s principal mission is to suppress the exploitation of the maritime environment by those who keep up links with terrorist organizations. CTF 150 is committed to building maritime counter-terrorism capability in regional navies and to promoting regional security and stability. Its vessels also assist mariners in distress and other humanitarian work as required.