Australian Navy keeps the helm

Published on CPL Mark Doran (photographer), CPL Mark Doran (author)

Topic(s): Operations, Operation MANITOU, Drug interdiction, Counter-piracy, Counter-terrorism, Deployment

Royal Australian Navy officer Captain Tony Aldred, Director Operations Combined Maritime Forces and Commander Maritime Operations Support Group, is seen at the Naval Support Activity in Bahrain. (photo: Corporal Mark Doran)
Royal Australian Navy officer Captain Tony Aldred, Director Operations Combined Maritime Forces and Commander Maritime Operations Support Group, is seen at the Naval Support Activity in Bahrain.

Australian leadership in a key Middle East role has been passed between two Royal Australian Navy officers who share a passion for maritime security operations.

Captain Tony Aldred assumed the role of Director Operations with the multinational Combined Maritime Forces from Captain Michael Turner in Bahrain, on 3 December. 

The Combined Maritime Forces is a 30-nation naval partnership promoting security, stability and prosperity across nearly 3.2 million square miles of international waters, which encompass some of the world’s most important shipping lanes. 

In the dual role, Captain Aldred, who is on his second rotation with the Combined Maritime Forces is now also the commander of the Australian personnel who form the Maritime Operations Support Group who are deployed to the region under Operation MANITOU. 

The Maritime Operations Support Group fills key leadership and operations support positions within headquarters and deliver services to Royal Australian Navy units deployed in the Middle East region. 

Captain Turner, who began his deployment in December 2014, said the Director Operations was responsible for the coordination of the day-to-day operations of the three Combined Task Forces.

“The multinational force is comprised of Combined Task Force 150, which conducts maritime security and counter-terrorism, CTF 151, which conducts counter piracy and CTF 152, which is responsible for the Arabian Gulf security and cooperation,” he said.

“There is also an Australian responsibility as the Maritime Operations Advisor to the Commander of Joint Task Force 633.

“My previous RAN operational experience in the Middle East, along with my time working with CMF in 2007/08 and the last Australian-led CTF 150 in 2013/14 as the Plans and Regional Engagements Officer, prepared me well for the role in a multinational environment.”

From the 30 member nations, there are up to 3,000 personnel, 15 warships and three maritime patrol aircraft in the region available for Combined Task Forces.

Captain Turner said his final task was to brief the UN Sanctions Committee of the Security Council in New York in a joint presentation with the Afghan Ambassador to the UN, the UN Al-Qaida Taliban Monitoring Team and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. 

“The concept is for contributors to be endorsed to work with these agencies and use the full powers of the UN Sanctions Committee, particularly UNSC Resolutions 1988 and 1989, which deal with Al-Qaida and Taliban funding,” he said.

“The Combined Forces want to work with their international law enforcement partners and the UN to use boardings to generate a direct effect against terrorist financiers.

“One of the key achievements has been to progress from conducting purely military operations to recognising and developing a method to work together with international law enforcement agencies and international organisations, such as the UN, to defeat serious trans-national criminal networks with terrorist links.” 

The force’s ongoing success in intercepting high-purity Afghan-origin heroin crossing the Indian Ocean – more than eight tonnes in the past three years – has attracted international attention, with 2015 being the most successful year to date.  

Captain Aldred said he was also well prepared to be Director Operations as he previously served in the role in 2011 and has deployed after busy posting as Director Current Operations at Headquarters Joint Operations Command. 

He said the job and the nature of the threats to be countered had changed dramatically since his last deployment.

“The persistent efforts of CMF, the European Union Naval Force and NATO over the past few years have suppressed piracy in this region,” he said.

“Now we are focused on regional maritime security and counter-terrorism, particularly in regards to meeting our responsibilities under United Nations Security Council Resolutions and international maritime law.

“A key role now is interdicting illicit narcotics or weapons, spear-heading our efforts to undermine the flow of money to terrorist organisations.”

Captain Aldred said measuring success in the Middle East region is different for the various contributing governments and their militaries, however for the CMF its day-to-day success is evident through the interdiction of the illicit trade that funds terrorist activities.

“Each interdiction is a tactical victory, with continual tactical success impacting on the terrorists’ funding arrangements,” he said.

“Terrorists groups have come to understand we are watching them and can stop them through disrupting their business model, so CMF is contributing significantly to the global counter-terrorism effort.”

The 30 nations, whose collective motto is “Ready Together”, are not bound by a political or military mandate.

Instead, the multinational naval force is a culmination of alliances, such the European Union and NATO, and like-minded nations.

As a result nearly a third of the world’s sovereign states are engaged in maritime security operations in the Middle East region.

Captain Aldred said maritime security was the lynchpin to global security.

“Close to 50,000 ships pass through the area of operations each year, representing nearly 90 per cent of the world’s trade and nearly the same percentage of the world’s fuel supplies,” he said.

“Most of these ships pass through three major choke points, namely the Straits of Hormuz, the Bab-el-Mandeb at the southern end of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, so any event affecting these areas could severely impact this trade.

“No one can predict the future, but I have no doubt terrorist groups will continue to threaten global security for some time, while other security threats, such as piracy, could also re-emerge with little notice.

“We need to be fully committed to tackling such threats for the long term, hence organisations like CMF, who focus the efforts of like-minded nations to contribute to global security solutions, are invaluable.”