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Trinidad and Tobago - An Emerging Security Scenario PDF Print E-mail
Contributed by Dr. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj   
Nov 30, 2011 at 04:33 PM
An illustrated, in-depth report about the Trinidad and Tobago Police and Defence Forces, with an accent on aerial assets, exploring the short history, the present and the likely future of this exotic air arm.

Trinidad and Tobago is a twin Island Republic located at the Southernmost tip of the Caribbean archipelago. A relatively rich and diverse country, Trinidad and Tobago is an atypical Caribbean nation in that, unlike the tourism and agriculture that dominate the economies of many of the other Caribbean islands, the economy of Trinidad and Tobago is driven by its energy sector with oil, natural gas and petrochemical industries contributing the lion’s share of the country’s economy. There are also vibrant manufacturing and services sectors supported by a well-educated professional class with universal free education adding to its numbers every year.

The other distinction between Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean nations is the ethnic/religious composition of the population of 1.3 million with the largest racial group being of Indian descent (from India, brought as indentured labourers 166 years ago), comprising about 40% of the population with its attendant large groups of Hindus and Muslims. The second largest group is of African descent with a large and growing mixed-race population.

The nation is a Westminster-style democracy that has never known dictatorship and while racial divisions mar the political discourse and, it is alleged, the distribution of State patrimony, relations between the major racial and religious groups have generally been harmonious and free from violence. An independent judiciary, though slow, has been a bastion of preserving the civil rights of the population alongside a free press.

Trinidad and Tobago’s security lies in the hands of an armed police force – the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) – with a strength of 6219 and armed with pistols, submachine guns and assault rifles – and the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF), an all-volunteer force which has a strength of approximately 5000 active and reserve members. A 700 strong anti-crime unit – SAUTT (Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago) – was stood down on 31 August 2011 as it was deemed to have been improperly constituted and legally untenable. Its air assets have gone to the TTPS Air Support Unit.

Trinidad and Tobago faces no external threats but its geographical location has made it a major trans-shipment point for illegal narcotics. Crime has been the bane of the nation for many years and a recent explosion in violent criminality has led to the imposition of a State of Emergency, allowing the Defence Force police powers. There have been two major uprisings against elected governments, one in 1970 brought about in part by poor internal conditions in the TTDF and another in 1990 by a radical Afro-Muslim group, the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, which took then Prime Minister, Arthur N.R. Robinson and much of his cabinet hostage. The situation was successfully handled by the TTDF, greatly enhancing that force’s national prestige. The nation’s oil, gas and petrochemical industries are in the main undefended and remain vulnerable to terrorist strikes.

The Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard

The Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard as an independent service has had a very short life, being formed in 2005 by Cabinet Minute #1936 dated 28th July 2005. However, the TTDF has had a military aviation component since 1966 when the Air Wing of The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard was formed with a single Cessna 337 (serial TTDF-1) which served from 1966 to 1972 when it was replaced with a Cessna 402 Utiliner (serial 201). A brief flirtation with military helicopters began with the formation of the Rotary Wing Flight in 1973 with the first of four Aerospatiale SA-341 G/H Gazelles (serials 9Y-TFN, 9Y-TFO, 9Y-TFU, 9Y-TGU) coming into service. However, by 1976, these were transferred to the Air Division of the Ministry of National Security which morphed into the National Helicopter Services Limited in 1990. It was not until 2011 that the TTAG would get an independent military helicopter fleet.

A Gazelle wreck – when in service, these helicopers wore an orange and white paintscheme. The markings consisted of a single national flag, serial and Ministry of National Security titles. To the right, the empty cabin and engine section of a Link/Frasca trainer can be seen. (author’s collection)

Besides the addition of a single Cessna 310 in 1985 (serial 202), the Air Wing of the Coast Guard stagnated for decades with capabilities being severely limited and aircraft being procured second-hand rather than new. The acquisition of an old Cessna 172 in 1991 added little to the Air Wing’s capabilities and it was withdrawn from service in 1994 but spent at least six years occupying space in the AirWing’s sole hangar propped on tyres. The Cessna 402 was withdrawn from service in 1998 but again remained in the hangar on supports for at least two years. The late 1990s, however, were to bring a fresh lease on life to the outfit.

The only Cessna 310 in TTAG service, serial 202, photographed on 15 October 1999. (author’s collection)

To the right, the old Cessna 402 acquired in 1972 is seen inoperational in 1999. To the left, the Cessna 310 from the photo above. (author’s collection)

At a time of enhanced counter-narcotics cooperation between the United States and Trinidad, the sight of US DEA Blackhawk helicopters was common at the Air Wing’s base and in exchange, the United States transferred 2 seized PA-31 Piper Navajos (serials 203 and 204) and 2 Swearingen C-26A Metro aircraft (serials 215 and 216) to the Air Wing.

The Navajos, after becoming unserviceable (the bane of Trinidadian military equipment) were phased out in 2009-2010 but the C-26As form the most potent fixed wing assets of the force, renamed the Air Guard in 2005. C-26A serial 216 has been fitted with MR radar and FLIR while 215 appears to serve in the transport role capable of carrying 14 troops as far as Puerto Rico – a useful capability when handling disaster relief operations within the Caribbean.

The fixed wing assets of the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard, therefore, are limited to three serviceable and notionally operational aircraft – 2 C-26A and one Cessna 310. Total flight time in 2008-2009 was over 250 hours in 121 missions – a figure substantially lower than the norm in 2000-2001 when over 350 hours were logged.

The largest aircraft currently in TTAG service - the C-26A - this one is serial 216, photographed on 15 October 1999. (author’s collection)

Rotary Wing Assets

The SA-341 Gazelle had an unfortunate and ill-fated record in Trinidadian service with three of the four acquired being lost. The surviving example, 9Y-TGU was sold to a private operator in the US in 1996. The country then switched to a combination of Bo-105 CBS-4 and Sikorski S-76 helicopters. Of the former, one (serial 9Y-TIC) is painted blue and was the sole helicopter dedicated to the support of law-enforcement agencies and is still a regular sight in Trinidad, flying in support of TTPS and TTDF to control criminality.

A small, but clear photo of the blue and grey Bo-105 “9Y-TIC”. Note the flotation devices mounted on the skids. These – and the civilian registration – are due to the fact that this helicopter belongs to the NHSL, its main task being to support the off-shore gas and oil rigs. (author’s collection)

The other helicopters of the National Helicopter Services Limited, while being theoretically available to assist State agencies for transport, casevac and SAR duties, are heavily committed to supporting Trinidad’s off-shore oil installations. Serviceability of NHSL’s assets are high.

The requirement for a dedicated military helicopter force was advocated for considerable time being resurrected in the late 1990s but the first tentative steps in this direction were taken with the formation of a curious unit in 2003 – the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT). This unit which peaked at a strength of 700 personnel including foreign contract workers and seconded personnel from the TTPS and TTDF was never given a proper legislative basis, leading to its disbandment on 31st August 2011 after a review of its performance by the Government of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar which was elected in 2010.

SAUTT’s aviation wing operated at its zenith 4 helicopters - 1 S-76A+, 1 AS.355 and 2 BO-105 CBS-4 - and a Westinghouse Skyship 600. The latter became something of a national joke, with its enormous bulk being easily detected. However, the helicopters (apparently purchased second-hand) were used for a multiplicity of tasks, the most mundane of which was serving as transports for Government Ministers. The aircraft were equipped with FLIR turrets on external pylons and Night-Sun searchlights. After SAUTT’s disbandment, these helicopters formed the TTPS Air Support Unit.

The only S-76A++ to be operated by the TTPS Air Support Unit – former SAUTT-01. M.N.S stads for Ministry of National Security – the title which is written in full under the coat of arms. (photo courtesy of “Trinidad & Tobago Monitor”)

In 2009, the TTAG contracted for 4 Agusta-Westland AW-139 helicopters to be used for search and rescue, surface surveillance, law enforcement, drug interdiction and disaster relief operations.The first two helicopters were delivered in May 2011 and formally commissioned two months later. These are the first new aircraft to be acquired by the TTAG but are as yet rarely flown. At least one is equipped with FLIR and Night-Sun. The helicopters are capable of being armed with GPMGs and FFAR launchers.

State of Emergency

On 21st August 2011, a State of Emergency was declared in Trinidad and Tobago and a curfew imposed in several parts of the country. The reason for this drastic step was an incredible surge in violent crimes with a shocking 11 murders taking place in 48 hours. Crime registered a staggering rise during the rule of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning (2001-2010) with the TTPS seeming to be either unable or unwilling to halt the rising tide of lawlessness. The formation of SAUTT made little practical difference. The State of Emergency is notable for empowering members of the TTDF with the powers of the TTPS to arrest suspects. Since the State of Emergency has been declared, however, freedom of speech and expression, the right of political dissent (though not protest) and the right to a fair and independent trial have all been upheld. There has been no muzzling of either the press – sections of which are fiercely antagonistic to the current Government – or the political opposition.

The TTPS Air Support Unit along with Bo-105 reg. 9Y-TIC are heavily involved in day and night surveillance and support operations while the TTAG and other arms of the TTDF have deployed their personnel in support of the TTPS, conducting raids and roadblocks as needed with the TTCG deploying its assets in an attempt to curb the flow of narcotics and firearms into the country. It is assumed that the limited MR assets of the TTAG would be employed in support of the TTCG. Surprisingly, however, there has been little evidence of activity by the AW-139 helicopters. The state of emergency was finally lifted on 6 December 2011

TTAG’s latest acquisition, the AW139 multirole helicoper, seen here shortly after delivery still wearing the provisional US registration. Notably, the AW139s are the only camouflaged aircraft in Trinidad and Tobago’s security forces inventory. (photo courtesy of “Trinidad & Tobago Monitor”)


The TTAG is plagued by problems common to the TTDF – poor serviceability, problems retaining trained manpower and resources that are wholly inadequate to meeting potential threats. Grandiose schemes for the TTAG to grow to 1200 personnel by 2019 are completely unrealistic as Trinidad and Tobago lacks the means to train that number of personnel in such a short space of time. The TTAG is currently struggling to reach the 350 personnel mark.

While fuel should be no problem in an oil-rich country, the flying time logged by the TTAG does give cause for concern as aircraft utilization appears to be low. Recruiting efforts have been stepped up but while attempts to attract pre-trained pilots have made some progress it is unclear if pilot shortages have been fully rectified. Some progress has been made in attracting engineers but whether in numbers commensurate to needs is questionable.

Serviceability has been a major problem for all branches of the TTDF and the TTAG is no exception. Thanks to the country’s close relationship with the United States assistance has been forthcoming to keep the Cessna 310 and the C-26As serviceable and operational but the demise of the Piper PA-31 Navajos and the Cessna 402 speaks volumes for the inability of the TTAG to maintain force levels. It remains to be seen whether the infrastructure being put in place to maintain the AW-139 fleet proves effective.

The creation of the TTPS Air Support Unit has attracted derisory remarks from members of the TTAG who question the ability of the TTPS to maintain, sustain and operate helicopters, pointing to the inability of that service to maintain its own cars and other vehicles to an acceptable standard. Such a view is not without foundation as the Police Maritime Branch was absorbed into the TTCG owing in part to the complete inability of the TTPS to maintain and/or operate its vessels to achieve any meaningful results.

A question that comes to mind when looking at the air assets available to the TTAG is whether the assets are suitable for the tasks assigned to the unit. The AW-139, while undoubtedly an excellent machine, would appear to be rather large for TTAG requirements and adds to the logistical burden of the force especially when one considers the successful record of the BO-105 and S-76 in the country.The Cessna 310 and C-26A are good aircraft but neither is particularly suitable for the MR or surveillance roles in which they have been employed.

To some extent, the problems being faced by the TTAG are due to an appalling lack of “defence awareness” amongst Trinidad and Tobago’s population. Indeed before the events of 1990 there were calls to disband the entire TTDF as it was a “waste of money”. This may gradually be changing for, despite all its shortcomings, the TTDF has conducted itself in a professional manner whenever its services were requested.


Other than the pending delivery of the remaining two AW-139 helicopters, there has been little articulation of plans for either expansion or modernization of the TTAG. The purchase of 9 ATR-72-600s by the national airline (Caribbean Airlines Ltd.) has sparked informed speculation that the TTAG will acquire the type to either supplement or supplant the C-26A. However, no contract or indication of the same has yet been done – indeed up to late 2010 there was a move to procure a single second-hand Bombardier Dash-8.

One of the striking aspects about Trinidad and Tobago’s Air Guard is that, unlike other oil-producing nations (Brunei for example) or the country’s Latin American neighbours and co-belligerents in the war against narco-trafficking , there is a complete lack of any ability to defend its own airspace from incursion or to interdict the shipments of narcotics that travel by air up the Caribbean archipelago. The TTAG also lacks any meaningful ability to halt aerial attacks on the country’s oil, gas and petrochemical installations though the TTCG does have on its vessels several dual purpose weapons that couldperform adequately in such a role.

While the country faces no external threat, it seems incredible that with such a profusion of high value targets and regular narcotics flights not even a nominal combat capability exists to deal with these risks. There may be some interest in acquiring armed trainers such as the EMBRAER Tucano but nothing formal has yet been made public nor has any such speculation surfaced.

One of the recently delivered AW139s with its final registration, 9Y-AG312. (artwork by Ugo Crisponi)


Chief of Defence Staff - Brigadier Kenrick Maharaj

Trinidad and Tobago Regiment

CO TTR – Colonel Anthony Phillip-Spencer

1st Battalion (Infantry), Trinidad and Tobago Regiment: Camp Ogden, St James
2nd Battalion (Infantry), Trinidad and Tobago Regiment: Chaguaramas Heliport
3rd Battalion (Engineers): Camp Cumuto, Wallerfield
4th battalion (Service and Support): Teteron Barracks, Teteron Bay, Chaguaramas

Personnel strength 2900

Standard rifle: Galil
LMG (Light Machine Gun): Negev
GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun): FN MAG
60mm mortars at company level
6 81mm mortars
13 B-300
24 Carl Gustav
4 Shorland APV, 3 Shorland APC – unserviceable and probably phased out

Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard

Staubles Bay (HQ)
Hart’s Cut
Point Fortin

CO TTG – Commander Mark Williams

1 Island class Fisheries Protection Vessel – TTS Nelson (CG20)
2 Coastal Patrol Vessels (TTS Gaspar Grande CG21 & TTS Chacachacare CG22)
6 Fast Patrol Vessels (Austal 30m) (CG 11-16)
12 assorted interceptor craft
1 Sword Class patrol craft (TTS Matelot CG 33)
4 Point Class Patrol vessels (TTS Corozal Point CG7, TTS Crown Point CG8, TTS Galera Point CG9, TTS Bacolet Point CG10)
4 Souter Wasp 17 metre class (TTS Plymouth CG27, TTS Caroni CG28, TTS Galeota CG29, TTS Moruga CG30)
2 Wasp 20 metre class (TTS Kairi CG31 & TTS Moriah CG 32)

Heaviest armament - 20mm cannon and M2HB Browning 0.50 cal MGs on CGs 11-16 and CG-20-22
On others weapons are infrequently carried but limited to 7.62mm GPMGs
There is a coastal radar network with Elta M-2226 radars of dubious serviceability
Serviceability of all surface vessels is questionable

Personnel Strength: 1367

Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard

Ulrich Cross Air Station, Piarco International Airport, Trinidad
Crown Point International Airport, Tobago

CO TTAG – Group Captain Tyrone Rudolfo

2 C-26 (1 equipped for MR duties) – (TTAG 215 and 216)
1 Cessna 310 (TTAG 202)
2 Piper Navajos (TTAG 203 and 204) – withdrawn from use
2 AW-139 (N220YS and N221YS) + 2 more on order

Personnel Strength 196

Defence Force Reserves

3 rifle companies – 9 officers 240 men
1 Coast Guard detachment

Personnel Strength 339

Trinidad and Tobago Police Service

Commissioner of Police: Dwayne Gibbs
Personnel Strength: 6219
Weapons: Galil Rifle, MP-5 and Uzi submachine guns, 9mm pistols
Air Support Unit:
2 BO-105CBS-4 (SAUTT-03 & SAUTT-04)
1 AS.355 (SAUTT-02)
1 S-76A++(SAUTT-01)

National Helicopter Services Limited

2 Eurocopter Bo-105 CBS-4 (9Y-THP, TIC – deployed in support of the police)
3 Sikorsky S-76C++ (9Y-NCN, MCK, ERA)
3 Sikorsky S-76A+ (9Y-NHS, TJJ)
1 Sikorsky S-76A++ (9Y-TJW)

Last Updated ( Dec 29, 2011 at 07:12 PM )
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