11th International Naval Engineering Conference 2012

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, First Sea Lord.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. And thank you John for your introduction.

Many of you will be familiar with entering Farnborough train station near London, where it says on the platform “Welcome to Farnborough - The home of innovation”. Well, I’m delighted that we are here in Edinburgh for this Conference, for the Forth Rail Bridge, the inventor of the telephone, and now the Aircraft Carriers in build near by, very much make this “the home of the engineer”.

This morning I, as the UK’s maritime advisor for defence and security, want to give you a sense of what I believe our shared future security environment will look like and some of the shared implications. Particularly, of course, for you here at this conference, focussed on engineering for the maritime.

Future security environment: uncertainty

What form will our future global security environment take? An environment that is, as it always has been, dynamic:

  • one that is complex
  • one that is multi-dimensional
  • and one that is uncertain

It will, I would suggest, be an environment in which wealth and opportunity will increasingly be in the hands of the minority. Less equitably distributed.

An environment in which competition for scarce resources will intensify.

An environment which, largely because the conveyor belts of globalisation are accelerating us closer together, will lead to nation states’ economic, political and security interests being affected, both more rapidly and more unpredictably by world events.

Indeed, who would have anticipated the sweep of insecurity across the Maghreb and Levant?

Who would have thought that the global economic crisis would acquire such a depth and breadth?

And reflect too, for a moment, upon the range of world events over the last 12 months that illustrate the kaleidoscope of our global security environment:

  • the crisis in Libya,
  • the massacre in Norway
  • famine and piracy around the Horn of Africa
  • the earthquake in Turkey last October
  • the internal unrest in Syria
  • the rise in the flow of narcotics from Latin America
  • and the Iranian nuclear challenge

So it’s little wonder that, together with a number of other countries, the UK’s National Security Strategy concludes that, “the risk picture is likely to become increasingly diverse”.

Given this common strategic context, as well as our shared experiences of fiscal restraint, necessarily placing difficult demands at our Defence Department doors, it strikes me that, like it or not, we are all sailing through the same strategic storm.

Dawn of maritime era: certainty

And yet, amidst such a climate of uncertainty, there is I believe one thing about which we can be certain, the approaching dawn of a maritime era. Why do I say that? Why do I believe that we are entering an era of re-emerging maritime importance?

The first reason is economic. Our sea, our global commons, is a cradle for resources. It fuels us and it feeds us.

Furthermore, our sea is the oil that lubricates the global economic engine. Over a third of global GDP is currently moved by sea. And rising by 2.5% every year.

Because of this increasing economic dependence upon the sea, not just by coastal states but land locked countries too, it means that a nation’s ability to control or deny access to the sea is, even more so than before, a security issue.

So I think we are witnessing an “economisation of international security affairs”, and to which there is a strong maritime dimension. The Arabian Gulf, the South China Seas dispute and, increasingly, the High North (by which I mean ‘the Arctic’) are all examples of where resource and access from the sea are driving security agendas.

The other reason why I believe the maritime will become increasingly important in the years ahead, is because the largely ungoverned space of our global commons is a security issue itself.

Ungoverned space which, if unchecked, will become a vector for global security threats like piracy, international maritime terrorism, human trafficking, and potential conflicts over energy security and resource depletion.

All of which are de-stabilising influences with the potential to descend into conflict. And, in turn, with disastrous consequences for global trade and international and domestic security.

There are some ‘continental’ commentators who ask “so what?” Frankly, from my perspective, as sure as the wind blows from high to low pressure, so the high pressure of future insecurity will fill the low pressure of our largely ungoverned global commons.

But let me be clear. Having said all this, I would not wish you to think that I regard the defence of our shores no longer important. Of course navies must be ready to safeguard their nations’ shorelines.

Rather, what I am saying is that, given the threats, opportunities and interests that are likely to emerge in the maritime domain - there is little doubt in my mind that it will be our international straits and our oceans that will occupy our attention most in the years ahead.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is not a view that I and the UK have reached alone.

One has only to glance at, for example, the outcomes of China’s, Australia’s, Japan’s and India’s defence reviews. And testimonies from the US Chiefs and not just the Chief of Naval Operations!

Between them, I think, the common theme in the years ahead is one of ‘looking seaward’. And as some of you here will be aware, from my dialogue with my opposite numbers in your nations over the last year, we all recognise that theme.

So, against such a strategic backdrop, I think those of us in the international naval community are presented with two enduring principal roles.

First, we must ensure that confidence in using the maritime environment, to conduct trade and harness resources, remains high.

And second, when threats to the nation state need to be dealt with at range, we must continue to be able to use the maritime environment to project power to reassure and ultimately protect our national interests.

Implications for navies

What does this all mean for navies and for engineers? Let me consider navies first.

In some ways it means we need to continue doing exactly what we are doing.

Providing maritime security in key choke points and areas of interest around the world. Keeping our seas safe just as we would wish our streets to be kept safe.

But equally I take the view that, if we really are entering an era of re-emerging maritime importance, then it has two particular implications for navies.

The first is that navies will need to be deployed navies. Providing forward presence. Doing so will allow us to deliver maritime power, effect from the sea, with the greatest expression:

  • by maintaining confidence in sea trade
  • by building trust with an ever-widening circle of international partners
  • by bringing hope to fragile states
  • by preventing the consequences of illegal activity reaching our shores
  • and by deterring potential aggressors from challenging our national interests

It is in this way that, as some might have heard me mention here in Edinburgh recently and elsewhere, we can most effectively leverage events ashore through what I have termed “engagement without embroilment”.

But the bottom line is this, in an era of re-emerging maritime importance, navies need to be at sea because the more one deploys, the less one needs to be kinetic. So, in my view, this means platforms need to be resilient, low in maintenance, high in availability.

It also means that ships need to be agile and have a breadth of capability, from humanitarian assistance to high-end war fighting. For if you are going to be forward deployed, it makes sense to have the capabilities to respond across the spectrum of uncertainty.

The second implication for navies is that collective defence will need to be at an entirely different level of collaboration.

I think most, if not all, of us would agree that “collective defence is the only practical response to the world we live in.” Something that the UK Secretary of State for Defence has said on a number of occasions, including to the Atlantic Council at the beginning of this year.

But in an emerging maritime era, which would witness an increase in the demand for maritime power, we will need to ask ourselves, not just “what can our navy do for our country?” but “what can our navy do for our collective defence?”.

A subtle yet crucial change of emphasis. And a change of emphasis that will place upon us an even greater need for interoperability with all our allies.

Many nations represented here contributed to the 16 nation maritime element of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector off Libya last year. And many nations here are already contributing to the 25 nation Combined Maritime Force in the Middle East.

But if navies are to build upon this, then operating together effectively will be enhanced by procuring together collaboratively. A central theme in the UK’s recent White Paper entitled ‘National Security Through Technology’. Hence our commitment to bilateral and multilateral programmes, with the US and France, and indeed NATO and beyond.

Implications for engineers

But what are the implications for the international naval engineering community? - for many of you?

Certainly, your engineering judgement will continue to be tested as you strive to find the right balance between, for example:

  • high-tech and high-maintenance
  • between being safe to our selves and lethal to our enemies
  • and between the short term need and the long term desire

But there are two implications which, in my view, will characterise your work most in the years ahead. The two that represent, arguably, the greatest challenge.

The first is concerned with ‘adaptability to change’. Something that Darwin, an alumnus of Edinburgh University, recognised.

Adaptability to change, to evolve, not just in terms of ensuring a dexterity in our organisational decision making, nor simply in terms of flexibility in the way we employ our people.

But adaptability to change in terms of the design of our platforms, ships, submarines, aircraft and landing craft.

Adaptability to what? To the changing threat environment, to the changing operating environment, and to the emergence of new technologies. New technologies which are, of course, themselves part of the solution - developments in modular design, maritime ISTAR, unmanned systems and platforms etc.

Building in adaptability to such change from the outset is critical. Take the Type 23 Frigate for example. Designed in the 80s and operated from the 90s, it had to change as the world’s security environment changed.

Primarily an ASW frigate designed to operate in the North Atlantic, its flexible design was exploited quickly as the need for a more general purpose frigate emerged.

And yet, despite a degree of inherent adaptability, it nevertheless became clear that, as it started operating beyond the North Atlantic, so the keel needed strengthening. Why? In part because of the different wave lengths of other oceans.

So whilst modular design in our platforms is increasingly attractive, as it embodies adaptability into the platform, the example of the Type 23 is a fundamental one if we are to ensure that our future platforms are able to operate, in years to come, in say the Arctic ocean.

Such flexibility doesn’t always come cheap. And of course, there’s the rub, to which an age of austerity potentially brings further friction. So I think the challenge is to be innovative in a way that preserves platform adaptability without increasing through-life cost.

There’s another reason for thinking innovatively of course. It allows us to, as the UK Chief of Defence Staff has put it, and I quote, “maintain the intellectual flame to adapt to new technologies even though we may be unable to acquire them immediately.”

This means we all need to recruit, and retain, high quality people (operators and engineers) who are able to think outside the box and keep the intellectual flame burning brightly. Ultimately, we need leaders and innovators more than ever if we are to, with a shorter fiscal vaulting pole, still get over the high bar of ambition.

This brings me to the second implication and the second challenge: “value for money”.

This is a significant driver for every organisation, especially in the current global economic climate. But our necessary and laudable pursuit of efficiency must not be at the expense of the very operational effectiveness that we seek to enhance. Finding the optimal balance between efficiency and effectiveness is therefore vital.

Studying physics as I did at University, I think there is a risk that this balance between efficiency and effectiveness could begin to behave less according to Newton’s first law and more according to Boyle’s law.

350 years ago, Robert Boyle stated that: “For a fixed amount of gas kept at a fixed temperature, pressure and volume are inversely proportional”. While one doubles, the other halves.

So the challenge is this. As efficiency and effectiveness become evermore finely balanced, so we need to ensure that we don’t find ourselves in a position where increasing efficiency, decreases effectiveness.

Here again, I believe science, technological innovation and engineering skill can all contribute significantly in the solution space.


Ladies and gentlemen, as I draw to a close, I think the uncertain nature of our future security environment means that the naval engineering community needs to understand the nuance of that environment more fully.

Because in a world of such complexity, no single organisation has all the answers. And because, in a world of such unpredictability, there is no single owner of the crystal ball.

It’s beholden upon us all to recognise that we have a shared responsibility to understand our future security environment. So that, ultimately, by making better sense of it we shall design platforms that help navies better shape it.

Finally, despite the current global economic climate of constraint, we must ensure that, as we sweep our sights across the horizon of future security, we retain the ability to think with imagination and ambition. For it is ambition that fuels change, fuels progress and, in the business of defence, fuels military advantage.

Thank you.