In July, HMAS Newcastle completed an intensive counter-terrorism focused operation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden with the multi-national Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150).
During the focused operation, Newcastle executed 58 boarding actions, three replenishment activities with foreign ships and five deterrence transits of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait (BAM).
The BAM, which translated from Arabic means the ‘Gate of Grief’, is a critical choke point that connects the Gulf of Aden to the Southern Red Sea, leading north to the Suez Canal. The narrow body of water is part of a global shipping network that connects the West and the East. It is frequently used by ships travelling from Europe to nations whose maritime boarders are on the Indian Ocean. CTF 150 estimates that between 55 and 65 merchant ships transit the BAM daily.
Principal Warfare Officer, Lieutenant Mike Forsythe described the BAM as a high risk area for terrorism related activities.
“It is high risk because of the width of the strait and the number of small boats that operate in it,” Lieutenant Forsythe said.
“The aims of the coalition and regional partners involved in the focused operation were to build a better understanding of the patterns of life in the area, to deter terrorist activities, and restrict the terrorist’s freedom of movement,” he said.
The boarding actions executed by Newcastle during the focused operation were Approach and Assist Visits (AAV), which are conducted regularly by coalition warships to build rapport with local mariners and seek information on what they may have seen in the area. The visits allow the coalition ships to collect intelligence on patterns of illegal activity.
Newcastle used her S-70-B2 Seahawk helicopter to survey the area of operations to gather intelligence on patterns of life and identify targets for her Boarding Party to visit.
During the focused operation, Newcastle also conducted three replenishment activities with coalition ships, from France and the United States, to take on fuel and stores ensuring that Newcastle could remain in the area and focused on her mission.
The Australian crew battled through 97 percent humidity for more than four hours to complete one of the Replenishment at Sea (RAS) evolutions with the United States Naval Service oiler USNS Patuxent, which included a Heavy Jackstay. Newcastle also conducted her first evening RAS with French Ship (FS) Somme, their third replenishment activity together since Newcastle arrived in the Middle East Area of Operation (MEAO).
The focused operation was a true multi-national affair with the Australian warship interacting with British, French, US and Spanish units.
“The BAM is an important strategic strait to the international community. Without it, ships would have to transit all the way around Africa. We all have an interest in the security of this region,” Lieutenant Forsythe said.
On completion of the counter-terrorism focused operation, Newcastle was assigned to another CTF 150 operation – targeting the smuggling of weapons.
CTF 150 is one of three task forces operated by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a 28-nation coalition based in Bahrain. The principle mission of CTF 150 is to deter, disrupt and defeat attempts by international terrorist organisations to use the maritime environment as a venue for attack or as a means to transport personnel, weapons and other materials.
Newcastle is in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) assigned to Operation SLIPPER - the Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, counter smuggling and counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and enhancing regional maritime security and engagement. Her deployment is the 55th rotation of an Australian warship to the MEAO since 1990.
Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Media Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20130668.