In the last two months, the French-UK led Combined Task Force 150 has seized more than 1.75 tons of narcotics from traffickers in the Indian Ocean including heroin, hashish and cocaine. It is warships and boarding teams that make the seizures, and receive deserved praise for doing so, but it is vital to recognise the important contribution of the maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), that have been operating in direct support to CTF 150.

Between April and June 2017, Denmark, France, and New Zealand have all provided MPA in direct support to CTF 150’s operations. The benefits of the MPA are obvious. A frigate without organic aerial surveillance assets is able to patrol an area, visually and using radar, of approximately 5000 square miles over a 24 hour period – dependant on sea state, radar ranges and other factors.

CTF 150’s Indian Ocean Area of Operations is approximately 2,000,000 square miles, meaning that it would take one warship 400 days to cover the entire area. Finding a trafficker that is moving and has an active interest in avoiding a warship is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Equipped with modern sensors, MPA can cover a far larger area of ocean. For example, The Royal Danish Air Force Challenger 604 aircraft can cover an area 15 times larger than a warship, up to 75,000 square miles in a single patrol. Thus to patrol the entire CTF 150 Area of Operations would take only 27 days. With intelligence-led planning, MPA can search specific areas and feed this information to the warships who can pursue and intercept the dhows.

In April, the Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 MPA located a suspicious dhow heading south east towards Africa. The dhow’s position was passed to the French frigate Surcouf, which sprinted to intercept and board the suspect smuggler. During the subsequent search, nearly 200 kg of heroin was discovered hidden in the vessel by the boarding team, which was then seized and destroyed.

Meanwhile, the French Navy’s Falcon F-50 MPA has been operating from Mayotte in the Southern Indian Ocean and has been key to locating dhows in a remote sector of the Area of Operations. “Forward basing MPA in the south of the Area of Operations significantly improves our flexibility and coverage. It increases the time the aircraft can spend on task patrolling, as they aren’t required to make long transits to patrol areas. Their continuous hard work and commitment has enabled many of CTF 150’s successful narcotics seizures,” said Rear Admiral Oliver Lebas, Commander of CTF 150.

Lieutenant Colonel Iversen, the Danish MPA liaison officer at CTF150 headquarters in Bahrain, said: “It has been a pleasure to support the French-UK CTF 150 mission during this past month. The Royal Danish Air Force detachment flying and maintaining the Bombardier Challenger 604 aircraft operating from the Seychelles have worked flawlessly during a busy period in direct support to CTF 150. The challenging tasking made flexible execution essential, and the hard work of the aircraft crew and great support from the Seychelles authorities made it possible to deploy quickly and operate efficiently in support of CTF 150.”

Established in 2002, CTF 150 is primarily focused on disrupting terrorist organisations and their activities by denying them the freedom of manoeuvre in the maritime domain.  In collaboration with international and regional maritime security partners, CTF 150 teams have seized and destroyed billions of dollars in drugs and captured thousands of weapons ensuring they are no longer available to organisations that would cause others harm.