Speech: UK/US naval partnership

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  1. Admiral, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    It’s a pleasure to be back here at Chatham House, and I’m delighted to have alongside me a man who has been one of the Royal Navy’s most enduring supporters, and, as is the way with good friends, one of our toughest maritime partners, Admiral Jon Greenert.

    Between us, we own one of the most fundamental and consistent partnerships that has bound the United Kingdom and the United States together so tightly over the past 75 years.

    There are few areas where our strategic interests are more natural, or our global interests more aligned, than at sea.

    We heard from the Secretary of State about our recent naval cooperation in the Baltic and the Gulf. Reassuring regional partners, whilst ourselves in partnership.

    And then there’s our astonishing and unique nuclear alliance, half a century strong, still the ultimate guardian of transatlantic and NATO security.

    But, today we’re here to talk about the future of our maritime partnership, which is about to become even closer and stronger.

    In part, because of the sustained investment that the Royal Navy is receiving in equipment and capability.

    But also because of the direct practical and spiritual support we’ve had from the US Navy for our own maritime journey.

    RN Renaissance

    Yet, when Admiral Greenert first became Chief of Naval Operations 4 years ago, as some of you will recall, the Royal Navy was in a very different place.

    We had decommissioned the Ark Royal and said goodbye to the Harrier jump-jet.

    Of our 2 future carriers, the second ship faced the unedifying prospect of mothballing or sale overseas.

    Meanwhile, the future of our nuclear deterrent was unclear.

    Of course, the context was very different. The UK was working its way out of the deepest recession since the 1930s, and the armed forces, still in daily contact in Afghanistan, were adjusting to necessary public spending restraint.

    But as the heavy burden of two enduring land campaigns took their toll, it was perhaps not surprising that some openly questioned whether we had the means to sustain our place in the world.

    But 4 years later, things are very different.

    The government is committed to replacing all 4 existing deterrent submarines on a like-for-like basis; indeed long lead components are already on order. Manpower is being prepared. The design is advanced.

    We now have a clear and welcome commitment that both our new carriers will enter service, giving us continuous availability in future.

    So, the carrier debate has now moved well beyond the question of “why?” Instead, I find myself being asked “Can you produce more capability, more quickly?”

    In addition to their complement of F35B Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, these ships are large enough to simultaneously deploy Special Forces and drones, provide support to them from the sea and then recover them too. One of great the benefits of having a large moveable sovereign airfield at your disposal is a sustained capability and a reduced footprint ashore.

    And it’s not difficult to imagine how this flexible strike capability, when ready, could be brought to bear against terrorism and extremism wherever they are found in the world.

    So Continuous At Sea Deterrent and Continuous Carrier Capability, those 2 great expressions of sovereign power and strategic intent, are now politically double locked in place.

    Meanwhile, the third of the Royal Navy’s 3 core capabilities, the partnership between our Royal Marines and our specialist amphibious shipping, has proven again the kind of flexible military options it offers to our Nation through our humanitarian response to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

    And the Chancellor has twice this year committed himself to a National Shipbuilding Strategy, including the next generation of frigates, with his aim to “build the most modern navy in the world”.

    What a turnaround from where we were a few years ago. What an opportunity and responsibility for our 2 nations in the decades ahead.

    Perhaps here in the UK, certain quarters have been slow to grasp the maritime renaissance quietly unfolding before us.

    But Admiral Greenert has, from the outset, recognised the scale and potential of the Royal Navy’s recapitalisation and the US Navy has been unstinting in its enthusiasm and support. The same is very true for those 2 other American brothers of the sea, the US Marine Corps and US Coast Guard.

    And if our closest ally, our strongest friend, believes in our maritime future, you won’t be surprised that we do too.

    Mark my words. When the first of our new carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, deploys on her first mission in a few years, with fifth generation fighters and drones embarked, she will scotch at a stroke any talk of Britain’s retreat from the world.

    So, for anyone still questioning Britain’s willingness to protect her interests and shoulder her responsibilities in the world, we have given you an answer. A Royal Navy on the rise. More technologically advanced, more credible in the eyes of our most important partner, than ever before.

    Shared maritime future

    As outward looking, trading nations, with the largest and fifth largest economies respectively, our prosperity and security are globally determined.

    And yet the international system at sea, so vital to our interests, is fragile and, sadly, the world is less safe.

    We’ve seen this all too clearly from a decade of piracy off Somalia.

    And, more significantly, it’s at sea that rising regional powers now seek to assert their growing military might and reach.

    This is the tale of things to come.

    … Growing competition and regional instability, tensions over sovereignty, and disputes over natural resources.

    …But also failing states and transnational crime, with its sorry overspill of human suffering.

    Both the UK and US recognise the need for combined, credible, and forward deployed sea power to protect our interests in this uncertain world.

    But, at the same time, advanced navies like ours will need to balance the affordability of new technology against continued public spending restraint.

    And our freedom of access at sea will be challenged by new constraints, like the proliferation of cheap ballistic missiles, mines, precision weapons and conventional submarines and the continuing and penetrating rise of cyber, not just militarily but in the military industrial sector too.

    So, to remain prosperous, to remain secure, to remain credible, we must capitalise on our long established relationship. Not for the sake of history, but for the sake of our future; to ensure we retain our position of leadership in a time of rapid technological and strategic change.

    Five features of our partnership

    At the end of last year, Admiral Greenert and I signed a Combined Strategic Narrative to articulate our vision of closer cooperation and to agree 5 areas of work to deliver results over the next 15 years.

    Firstly, we will use the regeneration of the UK’s carrier strike capability to coordinate our future carrier operations closely.

    The US Marine Corps will also operate the F35-B Joint Strike Fighter, in common with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

    We are working with the US Navy and Marine Corps to best exploit this extraordinary machine, in both technology and tactics.

    We have started, and are planning more exchange personnel in the test and operational squadrons, in strike group staffs, and on each other’s flight decks.

    This will allow us to take our integration, our efficiency, our utility and value-for-money to new levels, with the practical and strategic option of operating UK and US Joint Strike Fighter aircraft from ships of both navies.

    And this makes greater collaborative force management possible, which is the second feature of our future partnership.

    This means coordinating our global presence by sharing engagement plans and by prioritising together, in order to maximise finite resources and make best use of our comparative advantages.

    Put simply, it’s about working together intuitively.

    So for example, in the past year the presence of a Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer in a US carrier battle group in the Gulf allowed a US ship to be released for duties elsewhere in the Middle East.

    And when one considers the rising importance of Asia-Pacific, it is not difficult to see how the presence of a UK led task group, centred on a Queen Elizabeth class carrier, in one theatre, could provide greater flexibility in committing maritime forces for service in another.

    Thirdly, we will seek even more opportunities to exchange personnel.

    Already a joint UK-US battlestaff have deployed on operations. I see this type of interchange becoming the norm, particularly in headquarters roles, but we are also exploring the opportunity to mutually support niche or perishable skills.

    Fourthly, we will pursue mutual investment in the technologies that will allow us to operate together, because innovation has always been the hallmark of battle-winning navies.

    And absolutely crucial to this relationship, is interoperability.

    Not as bolt-on or an afterthought, but right from the word go.

    So, through the joint development of a Common Missile Compartment for our Strategic Missile Submarines, a common airframe for the Joint Strike Fighter, common weapon systems and stocks, common data protocols, we are establishing interoperability from the outset.

    And, through the obvious opportunities in interoperability, the Royal Navy is already exploring what lessons from US Marine Corps trials of the F35-B can carry over to our own trials to make them quicker and simpler.

    Looking ahead, these aircraft represent a massive data gathering tool, offering unprecedented situational awareness. Together, we must understand how to manipulate the data, how to corral it, how to discipline it, in order to maximise this opportunity.

    Which leads me to the fifth area of cooperation, which is force and capability planning, to ensure that, together, we maintain a balanced mix of capabilities and that our activities complement our mutual priorities.

    Where appropriate, this will include making use of each other’s research and development and the pursuit of compatible weapon systems and sensors to improve interoperability.

    I know there are a range of areas, from high voltage power generation to data processing, where we can explore natural synergies.

    And few areas offer more opportunity than Maritime Autonomous Systems.

    The operational benefits are well recorded: persistence, stealth, range; real time information; greater interoperability; reduced risk.

    But the economic benefits are equally powerful, including incremental, off-the-shelf or even disposable acquisition solutions.

    Already the Royal Navy’s Scan Eagle remotely operated surveillance aircraft have proven their worth in the Gulf, but we’re only scratching the surface of what automation offers.

    So my view is that if it swims, dives, flies, walks or crawls, or any combination thereof, then the Royal Navy is interested, because it’s going to be a big part of our shared maritime future.

    RN/USN Partnership in 2030

    So 5 extraordinary areas of opportunity. Five areas which will shape our partnership for the years ahead.

    And let me provide you with a practical illustration of how these draw together.

    Towards the end of the next decade, the first of the Royal Navy’s 4 Successor strategic missile submarines will slip beneath the waves on her maiden patrol.

    Two years later, she will be followed by the first of the US Navy’s next generation of ballistic missile submarines.

    Both will carry the same Common Missile Compartment. The symbolism of that shouldn’t not be lost. Together they will represent the power and authority which underpins our continuing sovereign, but mutual, commitment to defence and security.

    And by 2030, the Royal Navy will also have accumulated a decade of experience operating two 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers, operated in ever closer cooperation with the United States.

    So when a crisis brews and the US President and the British Prime Minister talk the issue through, the first item for discussion may well be what our 2 navies can send and which carrier goes.

    Because together, or individually, we must be ready to project power and respond to crises around the world - quickly, flexibly and credibly.


    So, in conclusion, you know we have, in the Royal Navy and the US Navy, a long history of cooperation, ready and willing to fight alongside each other, shoulder to shoulder.

    And, in this cooperation, our forces have been interoperable, but separate.

    But, on the back of the UK government’s ambition, this is changing.

    For the next 15 years, and more, we are designing and deploying naval forces to be more than interoperable. From the outset we aim to be integrated, working in unison, not in tandem.

    And seen through the lens of strategic partnership, our investment in the Royal Navy is obvious for what it really is.

    Not an accident of political process or a series of unconnected investment decisions; but a statement of intent about the kind of nation we are and the role we seek to play in the world.

    A great nation, a great maritime nation, a great trading nation, a great partner nation. Above all, a credible partner of choice.

    A choice we choose to reflect in transatlantic naval cooperation, one that has done so much to protect our mutual interests in peace and war, one that continues to be the foundation of our security in the decades ahead.

    One that Admiral Greenert, his officers and civil service colleagues have done so much to make a possibility. That is partnership. That is friendship.

    Thank you.

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