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Tonga Defence Services
(His Majesty's Armed Forces)

Tonga and Fiji have the only military forces among the Southern Pacific states of Polynesia. The national police force, under the minister of police and prisons, maintains internal security. His Majesty’s Armed Forces (HMAF), under the minister of defense, is responsible for external security. In emergency situations, the HMAF also shares domestic security duties with the police. Civilian authorities maintained control over the HMAF and police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

The Tonga Defence Services is otherwise known as Tonga's Ministry of Defence. The Tonga Defense Service (TDS) has more than 500 personnel. The force is comprised of a headquarters platoon and a light infantry company. A coastal naval unit of four small patrol boats and amphibious landing craft operates as a component of the TDS. The force's mission is to assist in maintenance of public order, to patrol coastal waters and fishing zones, and to engage in civic action and national development projects. The main base of operations is the capital, Nuku'alofa.

The TDS is partially supported by defense cooperation agreements with both Australia and New Zealand, which support the TDS with small in-country detachments of military technicians. The United States military provides training to the TDS and conducts humanitarian civic action projects in Tonga.

The Tonga Defence Services is comprised of TDS HQ, Joint Force HQ, Territorial Forces, Land Force, Tonga Navy, Training Wing, Air Wing and Support Unit.

The TDS functions and duties are specified in the TDS Act 1992, Privy Council Decision and Defence Board Decision. In Section 5, Part II of TDS Act 1992 the following functions and duties are specified:

  • The defence of the Kingdom;
  • The Aid of civil authorities in maintenance of order in the Kingdom;
  • The support of civil authorities; and
  • Those other functions and duties that His Majesty may from time to time determine.

In addition to these functions and duties, the Privy Council Decision in 1995, directed that Tonga Defence Services is to raise capability for Counter Terrorism Operations. Furthermore, the Defence Board Decision No. 4/04 of 17 September 2004, directed that the Tonga Defence Services contribute to the United Nations operations in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter.

The Land Force is organized into three elements - Tonga Royal Guards, Royal Tonga Marine and the Combined Log and Tech Support unit. The Land Force provides important assistance to national progress, and promotes and maintains capabilities in carrying out the interest of the Kingdom of Tonga.

In military operations the Land Force is able to respond militarily to limited minimal and low level emergencies, assist the Navy in carrying out limited maritime operations, provide beneficial military training, and carry out ceremonial duties. In its non-military activities the Land Force carries out civil defense roles, conducts technical projects, establishes communication (radio) networks, and conducts technical trade training.

His Majesty's Armed Forces of Tonga are also known as the Royal Tongan Marines. Tonga’s armed force declared mission is to defend the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Tonga. The Tonga Defense Force (TDF) came into existence in 1939 at the beginning of World War II. In 1943, New Zealand helped train two Tongan contingents of about 2000 troops, who saw action in the Solomon Islands. At the end of World War II, the TDF was disbanded, but was activated in 1946 as the Tonga Defense Services.

The Commander of the Tonga Defence Services, Colonel Tau'aika 'Uta'atu (55) was made a Brigadier by the Tonga Defence Board on Friday 28 July 2006.

In 2013 His Majesty’s Armed Forces (HMAF) replaced Tonga Defence Services as the new name for the armed forces of Tonga. It took an act of Parliament in which the legislators voted 10-7 in favor of the new name. The Commander is the ‘Chief of Staff’, but in the Constitution, the King is the Commander-in-Chief. In the 1850’s and after, when the tautahi (soldiers from the northern islands) under King George Topou I conquered Tongatapu and launched attacks at localities that were opposed to his rule. The armed forces were also used to carry out persecution on the Wesleyans who refused to join the king’s church. In 2013, giving the name ‘His Majesty’s Armed Forces’ to the defense services and dropping the name Tonga seemed to signal a stepping back from the democratisation process.

With the electoral reform of 2010, in the ‘new democracy’ the government was no longer ‘His Majesty’s government’ as the king no longer appoints the prime minister and the ministers of the cabinet. In the new democratic reform structure, that authority had been given to parliament, which elects the prime minister, who in turn appoints the ministers of his cabinet. Tonga’s armed force declared mission is to defend the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Tonga. The Tonga Defense Force (TDF) came into existence in 1939 at the beginning of World War II. In 1943, New Zealand helped train two Tongan contingents of about 2000 troops, who saw action in the Solomon Islands. At the end of World War II, the TDF was disbanded, but was activated in 1946 as the Tonga Defense Services.

The rate of pension payable to an officer of the Regular Force who retires on reaching the age of compulsory retirement and has completed at least 15 years but less than 22 years of effective service, is an amount per annum that is equal to the percentage of his rate of pay on the date of retirement opposite the number of complete years of effective service.

The Royal Tongan Marine Infantry is organized as a single Battalion size group with a HQ and 3 Light Infantry Companies, based at Fua'amotu.

Since 2002, TDS soldiers have been deployed as part of a multi-national regional peacekeeping force in the Solomon Islands. In the period 2004-2008, Tonga deployed four contingents of soldiers to Iraq for durations of 6 months. Since the November 2006 riots, the TDS has had authority to maintain law and order and assist the police within a declared restricted area of Nuku'alofa.

A contingent of Royal Tongan Marines made a mark upon Camp Victory during a six-month deployment, and they were honored for their service during that time at an awards presentation at the Al-Faw Palace 05 February 2008. Fifty-five Marines from the South Pacific island of Tonga were honored with three U.S. Army Commendation Medals and 53 US Army Achievement medals for their service in support of the Multi-National Corps - Iraq mission. The Tongans were tasked with providing 24-hour internal and external security for the 48,000 square-foot Al-Faw Palace. This was the second contingent of Tongan Marines to be sent to support OIF. The first deployed in June of 2004 to support operations in Iraq's Al-Anbar Province. The unit made up approximately 10 percent of the total Tongan Defense Forces.

In 2010, Tonga deployed the first contingent of 55 soldiers to Afghanistan in support of the British Armed Forces’ efforts in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It is expected that over the next 2 years a total of 220 Tongan soldiers will deploy to support the U.K. forces in Afghanistan.

Distinguished military service members with Regional Command (Southwest) and International Security Assistance Force including Lt. Gen. John Lorimer, deputy commander of ISAF, attended a farewell ceremony and witnessed the lowering of the Kingdom of Tonga flag, aboard Camps Bastion and Leatherneck, Afghanistan, 28 April 2014. The Tongan troops served with the Camp Bastion Force Protection Wing where they helped guard the base perimeter as well as man the entry control points. While in Afghanistan the troops conducted force protection training exercises at least twice a week.

Tongan troops have continuously deployed to Helmand province in six-month rotations since November 2010, when the commander of the Tongan Defense Service signed an agreement in London committing a minimum of 200 soldiers to the mission in Afghanistan, nearly half of Tonga’s entire military force. The last deployed contingent of Royal Tongan Marines accounted for more than 10 percent of total Tongan forces. A 10 percent commitment of troops from a nation of approximately 500 service members strong is equivalent to the US sending approximately 140,000 service members [half the Marine Corps] into the region. Since the beginning of their commitment, the Kingdom of Tonga had sent almost three-quarters of its entire fighting force into Helmand province.

The maritime force was charged with patrolling Tongan waters, which as of mid-1984 extended 12 nautical miles. The nation had yet to declare an EEZ by 1984, although the government stated that it would not hesitate to do so should significant underwater mineral resources be discovered. Tonga was a signatory to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea. As of 1983 the maritime force had two small patrol craft, one transport craft, and a yacht.

The HMAF Navy is tasked as the lead agency for maritime security and has an overarching role in maritime search-and-rescue. Its primary role is the policing of Tonga’s EEZ by enforcing fishing regulations, while it also undertakes a support role with regard to national immigration, customs and quarantine law, and maritime search-and-rescue. HMAF Navy is the only government agency with the necessary capability in terms of platforms, training and personnel to undertake maritime security.

The brand new Guardian-class vessels are changing Tongan Maritime Power. The first craft was VOEA Ngahau Koula (P101), followed by VOEA Ngahau Siliva (P102) - the names mean Golden Arrow and Silver Arrow respectively. Tonga received its first Guardian-class vessel, VOEA Ngahau Koula (P301), on June 21, 2019. Tonga obtained its second Australian-built Guardian-class Patrol Boat (GCPB), VOEA Ngahau Siliva (P302), at a ceremony in Henderson, Western Australia on 30 October 2020.

Australian shipbuilder Austal is delivering 21 Guardian-class Patrol Boat (GCPB) to 12 Pacific nations and Timor-Leste below the Pacific Patrol Boat Substitute (SEA3036) Mission as a part of the Australian Authorities’s $2 billion Pacific Maritime Safety Program (PMSP). The GCPB vessels are 39.5 meters lengthy with a beam of eight meters and a loaded draft of two.5 meters. It’s able to touring at 20 knots and at 12 knots possesses a 3,000 nautical mile vary. Every vessel can accommodate 23 individuals.

Australian Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds stated the handover represented a deal with the improved maritime functionality within the defence cooperation between the two nations. “Australia and Tonga have lengthy labored collectively in pursuit of our shared objectives for sovereignty, safety and prosperity within the Pacific,” Minister Reynolds stated. “Tonga’s second Guardian-class Patrol Boat is a substantial step up in Tonga’s maritime functionality, and I’ve little doubt the vessel will admirably serve Tonga and the Pacific area in assembly their maritime safety objectives.

“This Program, which is the successor to the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, demonstrates a 60 12 months dedication to the Pacific and to regional maritime safety. Now we have already delivered seven Guardian Class Pacific Patrol Boats, with one other 5 below development at Henderson. This is only one element of this Authorities’s as much as $183 billion Naval Shipbuilding Plan which can see greater than 70 naval vessels constructed right here in Australia, by Australian employees, with Australian metal. This funding is creating hundreds of Australian jobs whereas constructing a globally aggressive Australian shipbuilding enterprise.”

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Page last modified: 17-12-2020 20:13:50 ZULU