NEWS FROM DSEI: New Carriers Give Royal Navy a Renewed Sense of Purpose
Photo: Ministry of Defence
LONDON — With two new aircraft carriers entering service soon, the head of the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy struck a bold tone during his keynote speech at the world's largest defense exhibition.
The Royal Navy is benefitting from its largest recapitalization program in 70 years, and the service must use the opportunity to adjust to a rapidly changing security landscape, Adm. Tony Radakin, first sea lord and chief of the naval staff, said Sept. 10 at the Defence and Security Equipment International conference.
He rattled off the new systems that have recently come online, or will soon. They include: a replacement of all its nuclear submarines; two new types of frigates; new support ships; and all its aircraft either being replaced or refurbished, including the introduction of the F-35 joint strike fighter.
Radakin highlighted the end to the nation’s so-called “carrier gap.” The decommissioning of the final Invincible-class vessel in 2014 resulted in the Royal Navy not having an aircraft carrier for the first time in 100 years.
The new aircraft carriers will be a major change for the service, he said. The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will use two new ships, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the soon to be sailing HMS Prince of Wales, as platforms to carry the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet.
“These two carriers will have a strategic impact both nationally and with NATO and our allies,” Radakin said. Adding them to the forward-deployed U.S. and French carrier forces will make operations more robust.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth will hold F-35 trials this fall and the HMS Prince of Wales is expected to leave its dock and undergo sea trials over the next year.
“The upshot is that the Royal Navy is growing for the first time in 70 years and that's a great place to be in for us as a service. ... But that is not enough. We have to do much more than just bask in the avoidance of decline. We need to change, and the reasons why are compelling,” he said.
Changes to the strategic landscape include the rise of potential state-on-state conflict; a global economy shifting to the East; rapid technological change being exploited by adversaries; and Brexit.
As for the latter, Radakin said: “We are not withdrawing from the world stage; quite the opposite. We are a global navy supporting a global Britain.”
The Royal Navy is also determined to maintain freedom of movement in the North Atlantic in order to support the nation’s nuclear deterrent. Pressure there from Russia has resulted in the largest spike in military activity in the past 30 years, he noted.
The nation is investing “hundreds of millions of pounds” to upgrade systems and support operations in the North Atlantic, which includes more cooperation with NATO and other allies, upgraded sonars, and coordination with the Royal Air Force, which will soon have new P-8 surveillance aircraft coming into service later in the year. Other “novel and disruptive technologies” are in the works, Radakin said, but did elaborate.
The Royal Navy will be more forward deployed in the future with a new generation of marines to take on missions. “We have fifth-generation aircraft carriers. We have fifth-generation aircraft operating from those carriers. It makes sense to have fifth-generation commando warriors,” he said.
The idea for more forward presence is “about being able to demonstrate a global navy, project influence and respond to threats more quickly,” he said. He wants to see more ships permanently stationed overseas.
Finally, Radakin said the sea service must embrace technology and innovation in a “much bigger way.” It has to be “stronger, bolder and much more impactful.”
The world is moving quicker than the service can acquire new technology, he said. To that end, he is setting up a NavyX technology accelerator to take advantage of new autonomy and lethality systems. “It will rapidly develop, test and trial cutting edge equipment across all maritime environments,” he said.
Two examples of this pursuit are an autonomous testbed boat that carries out harbor patrols and a new system of counter-mine robots that can greatly reduce the number of ships needed to execute the mission, he said.
To reach this goal, “we must speed up our acquisition processes, and its not just the Royal Navy saying this,” Radakin said. The Ministry of Defence wants the military to take advantage of proven technologies much faster, he added.