Our MSRT trains U.S. and partner ships in theater on evidence collection, chain of custody and questioning techniques. They host these classes here in Bahrain, with some mockups and trainers available to bring partners in and to conduct those classes. We also send them out to coalition ships to work with their boarding teams, exchange TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) to make sure our forces are proficient.
When conducting bilateral and multilateral exercises, the navies really want to do VBSS training. It’s something that is adaptable to all these countries, and a mission they are trying to do their own. Unlike gunnery exercises, or DIVTACS, conducting the training on their ships gets sailors and young officers working together face-to-face with their foreign counterparts.
Even if you are not doing a physical boarding, you’re doing those approach and assists where you pull up alongside and talking to the mariners and seeing if they need anything or if they’ve heard or seen anything unusual.
How would you describe your operating area?
We have a big challenge posed by the dynamic nature of what happens in the area of operations. When you lay that speed of change over the vast distances that we have to operate in, and the timing and sequencing forces to meet your missions, it has to be very precise. On any given day, we have ships operating at the extreme western edge of the area of operations—from the Suez Canal, Red Sea, all the way over to the eastern extremes, the Strait of Hormuz, to the northern extremes up in the Northern Arabian Gulf and operations that carry south through the entire gulf, and then of course everything in the middle between the Gulf of Aden, North Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Oman. It’s something on the order of 2.5 million square miles, I think, and there’s never a day that goes by that Task Force 55 isn’t engaged in some form of operation or supporting other task forces conducting operations ashore. So it’s really just having a plan and getting to that finite tactical detail of what has to happen in what order to make sure we meet all our missions for 5th Fleet.
So would you say planning is a big function of what you do here?
It is. We have a great Ops and Plans team out here made up of 2nd tour department heads and 2nd tour division officers and some senior operations specialists. Every day, 7 days a week, they’re making the machine work.
In terms of opportunities, what are some things that you see as opportunities where CTF can engage more?
I think our biggest opportunities are with the partner nations we have here, whether it’s the Gulf Cooperation Council nations, or other maritime powers in the area, like Egypt – which a large country with a large population and a large military – and partnering with countries like that is always an opportunity. Not to mention being able to partner with some of our treaty allies such as France and the UK when they deploy forces out here. We have integrated the Charles de Gaulle Strike Group into a Battle Force 5th Fleet Operations, on the large scale. And then on a smaller scale, we have individual French or UK units integrated into operations out here from time to time. The French frigate Courbet will be joining Task Force 55 for a 30-day period. So we will employ and give tasks to Courbet just like we would a U.S. frigate or destroyer.
Do you have a busy exercise schedule?
It’s quite busy. So when you put together the initial planning conference, the main planning conference, the final planning conference, and then the exercise execution – that’s four major planning efforts, per exercise, we have roughly almost a dozen per year. So that’s what keeps our folks on the road.
The Military Sealift Command provides support for your ships, with the assets for replenishment, and it’s an enabling capability for the United States to be able to operate wide and far and stay out there and provide that presence. Obviously, that ability is important to how you plan and execute those plans, and having your ships out there, wherever they may be, to be able to sustain them you need to have that replenishment capability, whether it’s food, fuel or ammo.
The difference between a regional navy and an expeditionary navy is that navy’s ability to resupply itself and sustain itself for long periods of time over great distances. There aren’t many navies in the world that can do that. So the navies that come out here and work with us that can do that are the French, the United Kingdom, and a few others. When the UK deploys a royal fleet auxiliary, we’re able to integrate that logistic scheme and maneuver for that ship into coalition operations. Same for the French. So you can have an auxiliary from another navy resupplying U.S. ships and refueling U.S. ships and vice versa, all the time, routinely, sustain and resupply partner nations through our MSC ships. Our oilers and T-AKEs support our partners, and we will have auxiliaries from our partner nations refueling and supplying our ships.