Speech: First Sea Lord’s defence and security lecture to the City of London

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  1. My Lord Mayor,

    It is a tremendous privilege to be the first service chief invited to deliver your annual Defence and Security Lecture, and to be joined by so many distinguished representatives from the City of London and beyond, including many of the Royal Navy’s long standing friends amongst the Livery Companies.

    It’s also personal honour to be here tonight.

    Thirty three years ago a previous Lord Mayor, Christopher Leaver, joined the PM Mrs Thatcher and the Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Lewin on the balcony of Mansion House to salute the men of the South Atlantic Task Force in a memorable commemorative parade.

    Having been part of that Task Force, as a 22 year old acting Sub Lt, I was disappointed to be told I couldn’t be spared for the Parade, I was required to continue my training and instead spent the day in the altogether less jubilant environment of a lecture theatre in the Royal Navy’s School of Maritime Ops near Portsmouth.

    So it is with some personal satisfaction that I have completed the loop as it were, and finally stand before you in Mansion House as First Sea Lord.

    A huge amount has changed in the intervening period, for the navy and for the City. The year before the Falklands conflict, my own vessel, the amphibious flagship HMS Fearless, had been earmarked for scrapping as a result of the Nott Review. An unmistakable air of stagnation and decline hung over the fleet and, to an extent, the nation also, during that deep recession.

    Yet the audacity of our victory 7,000 miles from home changed how the world viewed our nation and our armed forces. More importantly, it changed how we viewed ourselves.

    As Mrs Thatcher told the guests at the lunch in the Guildhall given in honour of the Task Force:

    “In those anxious months the spectacle of bold young Britons, fighting for great principles and a just cause, lifted the nation…doubts and hesitation were replaced by confidence and pride.”

    Nowhere was that new found confidence more apparent than here in London, which has since then risen to become the world’s pre-eminent centre of global finance.

    Here in the Square Mile, the spires of Wren and Hawksmoor have been joined by the glass cathedrals of Rogers and Foster.

    On the skyline in Portsmouth, meanwhile, the iconic silhouette of HMS Victory will next year be joined by that of a 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier.

    The City and the Navy are both defined by tradition and modernity in equal measure. Our shared strength reflects the UK’s international standing as determined by history and geography - but our success has the power to shape the UK’s continuing place in the world.

    Last year, this lecture was delivered by the Director General of MI5, and the Home Secretary the year before, both of whom focused on the most immediate domestic security challenges we face today.

    The Royal Navy shares that agenda.

    We support the National Crime Agency to police our territorial waters, we have a range of forces at very high readiness for maritime counter terrorism and the Royal Marines make a significant contribution to our Special Forces.

    It’s also worth noting that seven Royal Naval Reservists from HMS President here in London have been serving on UK Border Force cutters in recent times. They have civilian careers, perhaps in the City even, but, with the support of their employers, they’ve taken the decision to serve their country and gain new skills in the process.

    I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the City of London Reserve Forces and Cadets Association for their work to promote reserve service among employers. Together, you’ve helped the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Marines Reserve grow in recent years, alongside those of our sister services, in accordance with government policy, and we are hugely grateful.

    All these tasks are important, but the Royal Navy’s remit is as much global as it is domestic, and this is my focus tonight.

    Last month, the people of the United Kingdom made a big decision in the EU Referendum. Charting a way forward is a matter for government and you will understand that I do not intend to speculate on any of that this evening.

    But I do intend to describe what the Royal Navy is doing in the world today, together with the building blocks that are shaping our own future.

    These were set in train before the Referendum and have not changed. They highlight Britain’s continuing, and indeed growing, position of global maritime leadership.

    They also support the commitment expressed in last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review for the work of the armed forces to more closely support the UK’s own prosperity.

    Continued commitment


    The full implications of last month’s vote will take time to become apparent, but for the Royal Navy the fundamentals remain the same.

    Britain will always be an island nation, totally dependent on the sea for our security and prosperity; an understanding I know I share with this audience.

    We remain in a position of global leadership, which includes the Royal Navy’s permanent command of NATO’s maritime forces.

    Among the nations of Europe we continue to lead by example through our investment in credible hard power.

    The Royal Navy has delivered the nation’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent for almost 50 years. Now, through the regeneration of Carrier Strike, we will also deliver the nation’s principal conventional deterrent.

    Both these projects continue irrespective of last month’s Referendum. On Monday, Parliament voted to build a new generation of Trident submarines. The 2 carriers are both structurally complete, and the first begins sea trials next year. In both cases, the government has made clear its intent. The nation expects, the world is watching and the Royal Navy will deliver.

    Despite the inevitable internal focus over the last month, our international security challenges have not diminished. The security of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean is no less concerning today than it was before the Referendum. Russia and Daesh have not changed their character. The seas and oceans of the world will continue to be cluttered and contested.

    So it’s business as usual for our sailors and marines, and for the UK armed forces as a whole.

    Even before the Referendum, the Royal Navy was making our largest contribution to NATO in over a decade.

    Across Europe’s southern flank, we continue to contribute to the EU and NATO led response to the migrant crisis.

    The survey ship HMS Enterprise has now been on station in that role for a year, in which time she has rescued over 5,600 people.

    Even since the Referendum, the government has announced the additional deployment of RFA Mounts Bay to the EU force in the Central Mediterranean and HMS Mersey to the NATO force in the Aegean.

    So our commitment to working with our continental partners has not waivered, nor will it.

    Supporting global maritime trade


    Our shared interests and values, not to mention our geography, will always bind our defence to that of the continent.

    Yet as an island nation and a trading power, the UK’s security and prosperity is indivisible from that of the wider world.

    Our historic relationship with the City of London is testament to this.

    Three hundred and fifty years ago, the City’s wealthiest citizens raised £16,000, not an insignificant sum back then, to fund the construction of a new warship. The King, so taken with this display of patriotism, named her Loyal London.

    But those 17th Century Londoners weren’t motivated by loyalty or patriotism alone. They were merchants and traders, they knew that prosperity and security were intertwined; and that a strong, credible Royal Navy was necessary to protect and advance their own commercial interests.

    From the earliest days of exploration to the height of Empire and beyond, the Royal Navy has always been the guardian of maritime trade. Long before Trafalgar, the teenage Horatio Nelson was protecting the ships of the British East India Company. It was naval power that opened China and Japan to Western markets. It was strength and security at sea that enabled Britain to become both the workshop of the world and the mother of Parliaments. Twice in the last century, the Royal Navy protected the convoys that formed Britain’s wartime lifeline.

    Now, as the government looks to extend the UK’s economic partnerships, as signified by the creation of a new Department for International Trade in the last 2 weeks, the Royal Navy’s role in supporting prosperity rises to the fore once more.

    Nowhere is this more apparent today than in the Gulf, where we are working with our partners to promote stability and prevent the arteries of world from hardening.

    We’ve been there not just for the wars but for the peace too: a 40 year strategic commitment to the UK’s long term interests and one that shows no sign of lessening.

    The Royal Navy holds a significant position of leadership in the region through the deputy commander role in Combined Maritime Forces, a US Navy led coalition of 31 nations, from Australia and Canada to Thailand and South Korea, drawn together by a shared commitment to maritime security throughout the Middle East.

    The opening of our new naval base in Bahrain in the next few years will, quite literally, cement the Royal Navy’s commitment to the Gulf.

    It will also enable us to reach further East. Every major financial centre in Asia-Pacific is on or near the coast. Every rising power in the region is investing in maritime power. And as the economic pull of Asia-Pacific continues to grow, so too does our commitment to security in that region.

    Earlier this year the Royal Navy was for the first time granted observer status at the Western Pacific Naval Symposium. Piracy in the Straits of Malacca and cooperation in the South China Sea matter to us because the UK’s own economic wellbeing, like that of the international system, is reliant on the rule of law at sea.

    But the Royal Navy’s contribution to prosperity is more than just the physical protection of maritime trade, important though that is.

    At the weekend, the new Foreign Secretary wrote of his desire for “a truly global Britain using our unique voice, humane, compassionate, principled, to do good around the world and to exploit growth in markets to the full”.

    Three years ago, the Royal Navy provided disaster relief to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, as did the RAF. The fact that we responded with greater speed and effect than even some neighbouring countries did not go unnoticed, particularly among the leading regional powers.

    Wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, be it countering narcotics in the Caribbean or searching for missing aircraft in the Indian Ocean, the world is watching.

    So the hard punch of military power is often delivered inside the kid glove of humanitarian relief or the mailed fist of maritime security. But the Royal Navy also delivers the soft touch of engagement: that reassuring and persistent UK presence in the world that underpins the friendship and commitment upon which so many economic partnerships rest.

    This influence runs deeper than mere physical presence.

    Our young sailors and marines are some of the best ambassadors for Britain you could wish for.

    Many of our closest diplomatic and military ties today were forged on the parade ground 30 or 40 years ago. Britannia Royal Naval College has trained the current heads of 2 dozen navies.

    Over the past 10 years, the Royal Navy’s Flag Officer Sea Training and his staff have trained 105 of the world’s navies and coastguards, 58 of them in 2015.

    Across the board, the message from our friends in NATO, the Commonwealth, the Gulf and beyond is clear: they want more of the Royal Navy.

    Carrier Strike


    The introduction of the first of 2 new aircraft carriers into the Royal Navy next year is a huge opportunity for the UK to signal its continuing ambition in the world.

    At the moment, the United States is the first and only country in the world with both a Continuous At Sea Nuclear Deterrent and a continuously available Carrier Strike capability.

    Within the next few years, the UK will join them in wielding both these totemic capabilities: ahead of China, ahead of India, ahead of Russia.

    The F35B Joint Strike Fighter made its first appearance in the UK earlier this month. It’s an extraordinarily capable aircraft. The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will operate it together in partnership, from the sea and the land. By 2023 up to 24 will be available to fly from the carriers.

    The combination of 2 operational carriers and a credible numbers of jets is crucial to shaping Britain’s military power in the world

    It will offer the largest dedicated air group of fifth generation fighters at sea, and the most potent Carrier Strike capability outside the United States.

    It will endow the UK with the means to take our place alongside our closest allies, chiefly the United States and France, but others too, in providing maritime air power in defence of shared interests around the world.

    And it will form the centrepiece not only of the Royal Navy, but to many of our international alliances too, reinforcing our position of leadership within NATO, reaffirming our commitment to continental Europe, and projecting our influence far beyond.

    Because while they are first and foremost fighting ships, these carriers will embody the Government’s full spectrum approach. They will support exports for UKTI and the Department for International Trade, diplomacy for the Foreign Office, security for the National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office and they will deliver aid for DFID.

    So like the Royal Navy itself, these ships, and their aircraft, offer something unique and invaluabl, hard and soft power bound together.

    National shipbuilding Strategy


    Far from detracting from the needs of the wider Fleet, as some commentators have suggested, these ships are a catalyst for investment across each of the Royal Navy’s fighting arms.

    The third new Astute-class attack submarine has now entered service, and 4 further boats are in various stages of build. New tankers are under construction for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and new stores ships will follow. Every type of helicopter in the Fleet Air Arm is being upgraded and replaced and our Royal Marines remain the UK’s go-to contingency force.

    Meanwhile our current Type 23 frigates, the backbone of the Fleet, will be replaced with 8 Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates and “at least” 5 lighter Type 31 General Purpose frigates.

    The build programme for the Type 31, and subsequent classes of ship, will be determined by the National Shipbuilding Strategy which is being developed by Sir John Parker and is expected to report later in the year.

    Within this Strategy is the opportunity to both strengthen our security overseas and also invest in Britain’s prosperity at home.

    Type 26 is a case in point. The hull may be built on the Clyde, but the benefits are shared across the country. It includes gearboxes from Huddersfield, stabilisers from Dunfermline and countermeasures from Bridgend: high-tech systems that demand high-skilled jobs and create new apprenticeships.

    The Type 31 offers the same prospect; but with an additional potential for export orders for the UK from the international market.

    The National Shipbuilding Strategy therefore represents a historic opportunity to reverse the decades old decline in surface ship numbers, and to re-establish a sustainable and prosperous long term shipbuilding capability that sits above short term economic and political tides.

    There will be challenging trade-offs to achieve in order to keep the price down, and the timescale is tight. But if we get this right, and I am determined that we will, then there is a real chance to grow the size of the Royal Navy’s fleet for the first time in decades.

    This could enable a more frequent, or even a permanent, presence in parts of the world where we have admittedly been spread thin in recent decades.

    Together with the aforementioned naval base in Bahrain, the Royal Navy has also been working with the government of Oman to explore berthing options in the new commercial port of Duqm. Situated outside the Strait of Hormuz it provides immediate access to the Indian Ocean and capacity for aircraft carriers and nuclear powered submarines. Under the Five Powers Defence Agreement, the Royal Navy also retains berthing space in Singapore.

    All of these facilities provide the government and defence with the option, should we wish, to project power and influence beyond the Atlantic.

    Given our long standing defence relationships in the Middle East, it is certain that a Royal Navy task group, centred on a Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, will regularly deploy East of Suez.

    And it will be perfectly possible, should we wish, for Type 31 frigates to permanently operate from the Gulf region or from Asia-Pacific in the decades ahead.

    These are examples of what we could do and not yet policy, and I am never complacent about the challenges we continue to face in recruiting and retaining the very best men and women in a competitive employment market.

    But navies are strategic in nature and the genesis of these opportunities is found in the present.

    The success of both Carrier Strike and the National Shipbuilding Strategy in the near time has the potential to help match the UK’s defence capabilities to our national economic ambitions in the longer term: however, and wherever, they may develop.

    A new era of maritime ambition


    I’m looking forward to taking your questions, so I shall draw to a close.

    For 500 years the Royal Navy has been the most consistent and visible expression of the mercantile character of our island nation.

    Today we are ready once again to be melded and aligned for best effect with the UK’s political, economic, diplomatic and trade ambitions.

    The opportunities are coming thick and fast.

    2017 will truly be the ‘Year of the Carrier’, as HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves her builders, commences sea trials and arrives in Portsmouth for the first time. Before the end of the year she will hoist the White Ensign for the first time, and her sister ship will be officially named in Rosyth.

    Throughout this time, the spotlight will be on the United Kingdom.

    These ships, and our continued national investment in maritime power, send an unmistakable message about our place in the world:

    Far from being a diminished nation, withdrawing from the world, the United Kingdom has both the intent and the means to protect our interests, shoulder our responsibilities and support our prosperity across the globe.

    And as the most senior serving veteran of the Falklands conflict, I know better than most that whatever our current preoccupations may be, ‘events’ will always have the power to surprise.

    So rest assured, the Royal Navy is here whatever the future holds for our maritime trading nation and its great global City.

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