First Sea Lord, Admiral Radakin

DefenceSynergia is pleased to publish the full text of the First Sea Lord, Admiral Radakin, speech to Defence and Security Equipment International 11th September 2019

Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning. I am delighted to be here, and I’m particularly delighted because this is my first DSEI.

And I know everybody is now wondering how on earth can that be, but we will save that for a conversation later.

Because what I want to cover is really to reflect on being in post after just a couple of months and to lay out: where the Navy currently is; why I think we need to change; what we are going to change; and finally some details of how we are going to change.

And in terms of where are we, I am unashamedly bullish: we are a Service that is enjoying the buzz and the ‘busyness’ of operations. We took part in 111 operations last year; and we have some 25 ongoing operations at the moment.

And we are doing all the things that we normally do and much more. Reaching out to the Indo-Pacific and supporting our partners, whether enforcing UN Security resolutions on North Korea or emphasising freedom of navigation in the South China Seas.

We’re responding to the pressures in the North Atlantic and doing even more to maintain the freedom of manoeuvre for our nuclear deterrent. And, at the same time, preparing for the future by making – and if we are honest – better than expected progress with First of Class Flying Trials with HMS Queen Elizabeth.

And that buzz and busyness is literally manifest today. I am saddened by the tragedy and the devastation in the Bahamas. But I am immensely proud of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and RFA Mounts Bay and her embarked Royal Navy aviation, Royal Marines, and the British Army Engineers who are doing all that they can to stabilise a very difficult situation.

And this audience has seen very clearly our operations in the Gulf and the immense effort to try and temper a volatile situation and ensure that British and international shipping is free to go about its business.

And on top of all this, we really are being invested in with a substantial recapitalisation programme:  Dreadnought and the decision to replace our nuclear bomber submarines; aircraft carriers, and HMS Prince Of Wales setting sail later this month for sea trials; the Type 26 frigate programme shortly to be joined by another frigate programme – Type 31; new OPVs, new support ships, and all of our aircraft either being renewed or replaced or new buys, such as the F35.

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 the Service and that’s a great place for me as a newly appointed First Sea Lord. 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: Defence and the Navy’s strategic context has changed, and we need to change with it.

I am not going to dwell on the reasons why, but I will just touch on them, and I will make sure that I score my points on the DSEI buzzword bingo.

These are the things that you’re familiar with. The rise of potentially state-on-state conflict, where sub threshold and grey zone activity is becoming the norm. The global economy increasingly shifting towards the east.  Brexit is another obvious strategic change. And one where we need to support the government and play our role in highlighting that we are not withdrawing from the world stage: in fact quite the opposite.

We are a Global Navy, supporting a Global Britain. And finally, we are in an era of rapid technological change. Our adversaries are exploiting this. And we need to embrace, match and utilise this pace of change.

So, that’s the why we have to change. Let me now turn to the what we are going to change in the Royal Navy and my five main areas to focus on:

Firstly, the North Atlantic. This is key to ensuring the freedom of movement of the nuclear deterrent, but it is an area where we are facing increasing pressure, especially from Russia. And I can’t talk about operational details.

But the activity that we are seeing is the highest for at least three decades. Consequently: we are investing even more; we are binding even more strongly with our Allies and NATO; and we will leverage off the RAF’s P8 coming into service later this year; and we are leading one of Defence’s innovation areas called ‘ASW Spearhead’ where we are investing hundreds of millions in both traditional things like upgrading our sonars as well as introducing novel and disruptive technologies.

This whole approach seeks to change ASW from delivery by individual platforms, to a battlespace of networked sensors.

My second priority is Carrier Strike. We are enormously grateful for the investment by successive governments and the nation. My task now is to deliver on this, increase and magnify the value of that investment. We need to shift the whole Navy to being a Carrier Task Group Navy. This will allow us to project our power around the world. And at a level alongside our American and French allies.

And I am also very clear that to do this is much more than ‘just’ the Royal Navy. We are doing this on behalf of Defence and the nation. And I know that is exactly the same approach that Mike Wigston, the Chief of the Air Staff, wants to take. The pair of us will lead our Services to deliver Carrier Air Power. Plain and simple. Great for both of our Services. But particularly great and all about Defence and the nation.

We are doing well: HMS Queen Elizabeth has sailed on her second Atlantic deployment – and she will embark British F35 Lightning jets for the first time. HMS Prince Of Wales’s Ship’s Company have just moved on board.

She has turned her shafts for the first time, and very soon she will be sailing for sea trails. And this has all been done about 20-25% faster than when we built Queen Elizabeth, which is a tribute to the fantastic steps forward that we have made through UK shipbuilding and how we’ve learned as we’ve progressed.

And these two carriers really will have a strategic impact, both nationally and with NATO and with our allies. We are used to thinking of the US as having enormous power and reach with its 11 carrier strike groups. And it does have enormous power. But even with all this power, the US normally has only one carrier strike group in any one area at a time. And it really does make a big difference when we can add to that force flow.

And the same is just as true of our other ships, our frigates, our destroyers, our OPVs and our submarines. We all use the phrase ‘Economy of Force’ – that wonderful military euphemism for not quite having the laydown that an Operational Commander would prefer to have. But economy of force operations abound across the world. And where we can contribute in whatever guise, it tends to make a big difference.

My third priority is the Future Commando Force. We will build on the amazing cachet and specialness of our Royal Marine Commandos, blending them with technology to have 5th Generation Commando Warriors.

We plan to have more Royal Marines deployed forward and ready to respond: whether to deliver humanitarian support, link with our security partners across government or in their more traditional war fighting role as the door-openers for heavier US forces coming in behind.

We have 5th generation aircraft carriers. We have 5th generation aircraft operating from those aircraft carriers. And it makes sense to have 5th generation Commando Warriors.

My fourth priority is Forward Presence. This is about being able to demonstrate a Global Navy, project influence and respond to threats more quickly. We have already seen the success of forward basing in Bahrain.

Now I want to have a conversation about whether we could deploy more ships, permanently stationed forward in areas where we have significant interests. This is a real manifestation of Global Britain. But it’s much more than that for us as a Royal Navy. It’s brilliant for our men and women, to enjoy the opportunity to develop their careers in a range of exciting places.

And finally, we have to embrace Technology and Innovation in a much bigger way. We are doing some great things across the Service. But it has to be stronger, bolder and much more impactful.

Those are my five transformation priorities. And I now want to touch on how we are going to transform. One of the key elements of is technology.

The world is moving faster than the time we take to assess, trial and introduce equipment. That is why we are introducing NavyX. This is our new Autonomy and Lethality Accelerator. It will rapidly develop, test and trial cutting-edge equipment across all maritime environments.

One of the examples of this is the Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed, an autonomous surface vessel that is being put through its paces in the harbour force protection role.

Another example of where we are bringing autonomous systems into being rapidly is what we are doing in terms of mine countermeasures ships. Presently they go into mine danger areas, with a full crew, and they slowly work up and down an area to find and then neutralise mines.

This involves lots of ships and puts the ship’s company and those ships in harm’s way. Autonomy is allowing us to contemplate a mother ship with a crew operating in relatively safety; and using autonomous systems to go into the danger area, search the area much more quickly and then deal with any mines.

This will be more effective, safer and potentially cheaper; and the profound piece is that it may not require the same numbers of ships. And this is more than just an aspiration, it is being demonstrated in the Clyde right now.

But I think there is still much more for us to do. We need to speed up our acquisition processes. And it’s just the Royal Navy saying this: our plan ties in with Head Office’s ambition for Acquisition Reform. Can we take existing, proven equipment far more quickly and bring it into service? Such as taking Land Attack Missile Systems and putting those on ships. That is what we want to do to with our Harpoon replacement as Harpoon approaches the end of its life.

Another facet of our technology push, though, is about changing our mentality. I learned in my last job that we had created a drone capable of firing a supersonic target. Fantastic. But why not at the same time, develop that drone to fire a supersonic missile?

And as we progress this journey there are huge opportunities for UK industry to help lift us from where we currently are, which is with lots of prototypes, and shift to those prototypes being mainstream and in service.

Finally, let me highlight the five enablers that underpin the five transformation priorities: Infrastructure; Support; People; Training; and Acquisition; as well as looking to restructure our headquarters. I am not going to talk in detail about those, but I do want to talk about People, which is the most important. 

It has been a real privilege for me to be able to visit our ships, our submarines, our various units, our shore establishments and our air stations in my first couple of months in this job. And as I do so I have been struck again and again by the quality of our people, their enthusiasm, their commitment, and their sheer ability.

We need to do much more to harness the potential of our people, and remove some of the processes that are getting in the way of them doing their jobs. We need to invest in our people, and we need to trust them much more.

And we need to shift the Navy so that the best place to be is at sea and on the front line. I want our people on the front line to have the best deal: able to take all their leave; attend their professional courses and develop their careers; and be able to book and expect to go on adventurous training. And they then return to sea refreshed and better qualified and even more ready to deliver where it is needed most.

And this will need more people available to go to sea. We need to look at the balance of people ashore versus at sea.

So these are some of the changes that we intend to make. And we are going to drive and implement these changes at pace. Because we need to. Because the opportunities are too good to miss. And because our potential foes are already doing the same.

I will conclude there. The Royal Navy is operationally very busy and in demand. We are being invested in. But we have to do more to reflect the changing strategic context. We will focus on the North Atlantic, Carrier Strike, a Future Commando Force, Forward Presence, and Technology and Innovation.

We have great people, doing great things. And we can be even better. This is about more than just the Royal Navy. It is about Defence. And it’s about Britain: a Global Britain, with a Global Navy.