Royal Navy takes command of key Middle East security force

Topic: Operational activity Storyline: Indian Ocean

The UK has taken charge of a key naval force tackling terrorism and drugs smuggling across the Middle East.

The Royal Navy has taken up the reins of Combined Task Force 150; tasking international warships and aircraft to patrol the Indian Ocean and waters of the Middle East to deter terrorism and illicit activities which support it, such as drugs smuggling. This is the eleventh time the Royal Navy have taken command of the Task Force.

The force has proven to be particularly successful in the fight against the illegal drugs trade. Since July 2022, and under the recent command of the Royal Saudi Naval Force, there have been six busts: capturing more than eleven tonnes of hashish, three tonnes of heroin, two tonnes of methamphetamines and three tonnes of opium – taking over £150m drugs off the streets.

One of those seizures – totalling nearly £15.5m of illegal narcotics – was carried out by Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose in October. She’s now been replaced in the region by her sister ship HMS Lancaster which has been on patrol in the Strait of Hormuz with the US Navy.

The Royal Navy’s Captain Jim Byron took charge from the Royal Saudi Naval Force at the group’s HQ in Bahrain.

Capt Byron said his predecessor, Rear Admiral Abdullah Al-Mutairi had achieved “huge success” in his six months in charge.

“Commanding Combined Task Force 150 is a huge privilege and I am delighted to have been welcomed so warmly to Bahrain to work once again with our Combined Maritime Force partners.

“The work these 38 nations do – ready and stronger together – is a clear demonstration of what can be achieved when like-minded nations come together for the common good.”

“Through persistent military presence, we will do all we can to maintain maritime security across the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman, ensuring the legitimate use of the global maritime commons and disrupting the illicit activity of terrorist organisations and narcotics traffickers.”

He continued: “My Royal Navy staff, supported by personnel from both the Royal Navy of New Zealand and the Italian Marina Militare, will work tirelessly to keep a watchful eye over the region”.

The Chief of Joint Operations at the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, Lieutenant General Charlie Stickland, highlighted the United Kingdom’s long history of contributing to regional security in the Middle East, working with allies and partners.

“Taking Command of CTF150 for the eleventh time demonstrates our continued commitment to supporting maritime security in the region. During the UK’s Command, CTF150 will bring together our partners to collectively respond to malign smuggling activity and promote the international rules based order to deter the illicit use of the seas.”

CTF 150 is one of several task groups operated by the Combined Maritime Forces, the world’s largest international naval partnership, with more than 30 nations providing security for merchant shipping by conducting, supporting counter-piracy, counter-terrorism and maritime security patrols.

They cover the Red Sea, the Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean and include three of the world’s busiest maritime chokepoints – the Suez Canal, the Bab el-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz.

Disruption to the regular flow of traffic would impact not just the UK – which benefits from regular supplies of liquid natural gas from the Gulf – but the global economy.

Commanding Combined Task Force 150 is a huge privilege and I am delighted to have been welcomed so warmly to Bahrain to work once again with our Combined Maritime Force partners.

Captain Jim Byron