Commander of Combined Task Force 150 talks about the mission

Article / January 2, 2015

Commodore Brian Santarpia, Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), assumed command of the multinational maritime counter-terrorism task force, Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150), on December 4, 2014, a position he will hold until April. CTF-150 is one of the three task forces operating under Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a 30-nation naval coalition based in Manama, Bahrain, in the Arabian Gulf.

To conduct his mission, the Commodore can count on a team of 23 CAF/DND military and civilian personnel, as well as seven members from the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

Cmdre Santarpia recently talked about the important work he and his team are currently conducting.

What is CTF-150’s mission?

CTF-150 is a maritime security and counter-terrorism task force, in other words, we ensure that the seas in the Middle East region are safe and secure for international trade and these waterways are not used for terrorist activities. International terrorist networks operating from South-West Asia, Eastern Africa or the Arabian Peninsula use the maritime domain to finance their activities, conceal their movements or conduct attacks against merchant shipping.

We work to stop them from doing so in three ways:

  •  First, under international maritime conventions, we conduct maritime security operations to ensure security and safety in international waters, so all commercial shipping can operate freely while transiting the region. We do this by having ships on the water and aircraft in the air observing what we call “pattern of life”. We then analyze all this information and take action when and where required. These operations also complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations to disrupt the use of the seas as a venue for attack or to illegally transport illicit cargo, such as weapons, narcotics, luxury goods, ivory and, more recently, charcoal.
  • Secondly, we stand ready to respond to any maritime terrorist threats or attacks, environmental and humanitarian crises, as well as safety of life at sea situations. Such attacks are a real threat in the region and could have a huge impact on the global economy; so we are ready to deter and deny terrorists the ability to conduct such attacks against coalition forces or merchant vessels.
  • Finally, we conduct leadership engagements and capacity building activities to help regional navies and security agencies to improve their readiness and capabilities, and also to constantly improve interoperability between all partners. This is a huge international team effort and every nation can play a significant role.

How important is that mission?

Very important. This area of the planet is a vital artery of world trade that includes the main shipping routes from the Far East to Europe and North America with over 23,000 shipping movements per year.

Any disruptions to maritime trade caused by terrorist activities increase the cost of shipping, create uncertainty in financial markets and pose threats to stable energy and other commodities supplies. Global security and stability is dependent on safe and secure sea lines of communication, the free flow of international trade and guaranteed energy supplies. Protection of sea-lanes maintains the free flow of maritime commerce and trade and contributes to global economic growth.

How long has Canada been involved in maritime counter-terrorism missions?

Since the attack of September 11, Canada has demonstrated a firm resolve to fight the threat of terrorism. From Afghanistan to Libya, to the struggle against ISIS, Canada’s military has consistently contributed to coalition operations to deter terrorism, to defend the freedom of the seas, and to act as a force for good in the world.

We are a long time contributor to CTF-150 and CMF as a whole. Our government has regularly deployed ships and/or staff to operate with CTF-150 since the beginning of the coalition in 2001 with great success. The RCN is deemed by the international naval community to be one of the most competent navies of the world in the conduct of maritime security operations. We can be very proud of the work done by our predecessors here.

Talking about vast oceans, you have a large area of operation to cover. This offers quite a challenge, doesn’t it?

Yes it does. Our area of operations is vast and complex; it covers 2 million square nautical miles, from the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and further south and west in the Indian Ocean. We are nonetheless successful in this mission because of the team approach valued by all contributing nations within CMF. Coming together with a united effort allows us to do more than one country could do alone.

If you consider the past year’s operational milestones, CTF-150 units have denied international terrorist networks access to over $100 million from illicit trafficking by seizing and destroying close to 22,000 kg of different illicit narcotics.

The area to cover is certainly vast, yes, but all our nations are ultimately facing the same threats and challenges.

But do you need ships and aircraft?

Having ships at sea and maritime long-range patrol aircraft in the air help tremendously, true enough, but there are also complementary ways of doing the business. Capacity building, for example, is one of them. Leadership engagement is another.

Also, we are now quite effective at coordinating our assets to make sure we have the right ship or aircraft at the right place at the right time. It is truly a team effort.

Don’t get me wrong, we still need all contributing nations to keep sending naval and air assets to CMF, but we consider that each contribution is important, regardless of how big or small it is in time and space.

Finally, your team is composed of both Canadians and Australians, which is rare for CMF. How is this unique team composition working?

Very well. They make a pretty good team, I must admit; very much dedicated and focused on the mission at hand. This does not surprise me. The Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Australian Navy are long time collaborators; we share similar origins, we both value operational excellence at sea and have conducted very successful operations in the past.

But this team is unique in other ways as well. We also have members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Canadian Army and the Canadian Public Service. We are a joint and combined, multidisciplinary team. It is a concept that is working very well for both of our countries. I anticipate our success will result in more of this type of co-operation in the future.

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