Tonga Defence Services

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Tonga Defence Services
A group of Royal Tongan Marines during a training exercise in the United States in 2007
A group of Royal Tongan Marines during a training exercise in the United States in 2007
Service branches Land Force, Tongan Navy, Air Wing, Training Wing, Support Unit, Territorial Forces
Headquarters Vilai Barracks, Nuku'alofa
Commander-in-Chief HM King ʻAhoʻeitu ʻUnuakiʻotonga Tukuʻaho
Minister of Defense Acting Minister of Defence, Hon Fred Sevele
Commander, Tonga Defence Services (CTDS) Brigadier Tau'aika 'Uta'atu
Military age 18
Conscription None
Available for
military service
34,254 males, age 16-49 (2010 est.),
32,974 females, age 16-49 (2010 est.)
Fit for
military service
27,404 males, age 16-49 (2010 est.),
28,509 females, age 16-49 (2010 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
1,448 males (2010 est.),
1,392 females (2010 est.)
Percent of GDP 0.9% GDP (2006 est.)

The Tonga Defense Services (TDS) is the armed force of Tonga. It is composed of three operational command components, two support elements (logistics and training groups).

The mission of the Tonga Defence Services is to: Defend the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Tonga.

The TDS is partially supported by defense cooperation agreements with Australia, United States, China, United Kingdom, India and New Zealand. These Security Cooperation aim at capacity development through training of TDS personnel in leadership, academic and trades while support for infrastructure development is another part of these Security Cooperation.

In recent years, members of the TDS have supported Coalition of the Willing in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands.


The Tongan Defense Service is organized in a unified command system. It consists of three forces; the Regular Force, the Territorial Force, and the Active Reserve. The three main component units of the Regular Force are the Land Force, Support Tongan Defense Service, and Navy.


The main elements of the Tonga Defence Services are:[1][2]

  • Tonga Defence Services Headquarters
  • Joint Force Headquarters
  • Territorial Forces
  • Land Force
    • Tonga Royal Guards
  • Tongan Navy
    • Royal Tongan Marines
  • Air Wing
  • Training Wing
  • Support Unit

The TDS Maritime Force[edit]

The Tongan patrol boat VOEA Savea (P203) in Sydney Harbour, 2013.
For more details on this topic, see Tongan Maritime Force.

The Maritime Force is equipped with three Pacific-class patrol boats, a tanker, a Landing Craft Mechanized and a motor boat that is the royal yacht.[3]

The TDS Air Wing[edit]

The Air Wing was established in 1996 and operates one Beechcraft G.18S aircraft in the maritime patrol and search and rescue roles, and an American Champion Citabria light trainer.[4]

A Beechcraft G18S similar to the one operated by the TDS Air Wing

International Defense Organizations[edit]

The TDS is a member of the following international defense organisations:

  • Pacific Armies Management Seminar (PAMS)
  • Pacific Area Senior Officers Logistics Seminar (PASOLS)
  • Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS)
  • International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)
  • South Pacific Hydrographic Commission (SPHC)
  • NATO Codification, where though Pacific Codification System (PCS), Tonga and Fiji are sponsored by Australia

Tonga has an agreement to share "disaster response knowledge" with the United States Nevada National Guard.[5]

History of Tonga Armed Forces[edit]

Royal Tongan Marines in Iraq.

Tonga participated in World War I, as part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

The Tonga Defense Force (TDF) came into existence at the beginning of World War II in 1939. In 1943 New Zealand helped train two Tongan contingents of about 2000 troops, who saw action in the Solomon Islands. In addition, New Zealand and US troops were stationed on Tongatapu, which became a staging point for shipping.

At the end of World War II, the TDF was disbanded, but was reactivated in 1946.

Former Prime Minister Prince Lavaka Ata 'Ulukalala joined the naval arm of the Tonga Defense Service in 1982 and became Lieutenant-Commander of the defense force in 1987. From 1990 to 1995 he commanded the PPB VOEA Pangai and his time in charge included peacekeeping operations in Bougainville.

In 2002, TDS soldiers were deployed as part of a multi-national regional peacekeeping force in the Solomon Islands. In July 2004, a 45-member contingent of the TDS served in the Solomon Islands. A third contingent was sent in July 2005. This contingent consisted of 33 TDS troops, and was expected to remain four months.

In March 2003 Military to Military talks began between Tonga and the United States about Tonga providing troops for the Multinational force in Iraq. Support arrangements were finalized in May 2004. 45 Royal Tongan Marines led by the Chief of Defense of the Tonga Defense Services, Colonel Tau'aika 'Uta'atu, departed Tonga on 13 June 2004. From July 2004, the Royal Tonga Marines were augmenting the 1st Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEF) in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. The Royal Marines supported the 1st Marine Division's security and stabilization mission at Camp Blue Diamond. Tonga first served with the 1st MEF on the Solomon Island during World War II. The Royal Tongan Marines returned from Iraq in December 2004.

Tongan troops training in England with the Royal Air Force Regiment in 2010.
Royal Tongan Marines participate in a "haka," a ceremonial dance, during a flag lowering ceremony aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 28, 2014.

In 2006, TDS soldiers, in cooperation with local police, were deployed to deal with the Nuku'alofa riots.

In December 2008, the Tonga Defence Services ended their mission in the Iraq War and returned home.[6]

In 2010, Tongan troops began training with the RAF Regiment, in preparation for operations in Afghanistan; the first troops deployed to Afghanistan during February 2011.[7] Tongan troops were tasked with base-perimeter guard duty during the September 2012 Camp Bastion raid. Prior to the attack there were complaints that Tongan troops were prone to falling asleep while on post. [8]

Tonga's military size is approximately 500 troops, half of which were sent to fight in the War in Afghanistan. [9]

In April 2014, the Royal Tongan Marines ended their mission supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Tranche 7 was the seventh and final rotational contingent of Royal Tongan Marines to Afghanistan.

Equipment of the Tongan Army[edit]


  1. ^ "TDS Organisation". Tonga Defence Services. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  2. ^ "Tonga". The World Fact Book. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  3. ^ Moore, John (1984). Jane's All The World's Fighting Ships. Jane's Publishing. p. 465. ISBN 0710607741. 
  4. ^ Flight International, 16-22 November 2004, Directory: World Air Forces (p. 90).
  5. ^ Fournier, Dennis (2014-05). "State begins partnership with Kingdom of Tonga". National Guard 68 (4) (National Guard Association of the United States). p. 39. Retrieved 2014-06-05. 
  6. ^ Susman, Tina (December 5, 2008). "Tonga troops end Iraq mission". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
  7. ^ "RAF trains Tongan troops for Afghanistan". Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  8. ^
  9. ^