RUSI Future Maritime Operations 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.

Thank you Michael for inviting me to address this year’s RUSI Maritime Conference, at which I’m grateful to hear the minister’s endorsement of the maritime dimension.

Most here would agree, I think, that security and prosperity are 2 sides of the same national interest coin. And so I welcome the fact that, as an island nation, the maritime is recognised as bringing value to that national interest coin, despite inflationary pressures.

Utility of maritime power

Cast your minds back, if you will, to Tuesday 8th May [2012].

When, after their FA cup final defeat, Liverpool beat Chelsea 4-1 at Anfield, and when the anniversary of VE Day was being commemorated around the world.

But also on that day, in pursuit of our national interests, the Royal Navy had, as it typically does, over 40 ships and submarines, and some 3,500 sailors and marines on operations worldwide or undergoing pre-deployment training.

On that day in the Gulf our MCMs were on operational notice for mine clearance whilst also participating in a multinational exercise with Oman, the US, France and Saudi Arabia;

To which the Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring also participated whilst contributing to wider Combined Task Force 150 maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. And RFA Fort Victoria also joined the exercise whilst acting as the flagship for Rear Admiral Likitawong Royal Thai Navy, in command of CTF 151 units undertaking counter-piracy ops in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin.

On the same day, HMS Westminster was charged with maritime security and maritime counter-terrorism responsibilities around the southern Arabian Gulf, in direct support of CTF 152.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday 8th May [2012], our Naval Air Squadrons were operating out of Mussanah in Oman, as well as Camp Bastion and Kandahar.

And on that same day, HMS Dauntless had undertaken a successful counter-drugs op having just assumed Atlantic Patrol Task (South) duties from HMS Montrose. And the submarine HMS Talent, off South Africa, was looking forward to an operational stand-down in Simon’s Town.

Meanwhile, in home waters, the Olympics LIVEX was underway, with HMS Bulwark and RFA Mounts Bay off Weymouth, and HMS Ocean here in London, whilst 45 Commando remained primed for contingent tasking as the nation’s lead commando group, and 40 Commando continued their preparations for deployment to Afghanistan.

Further afield, HMS Protector, our ice patrol ship, was transiting the Panama Canal having supported the British government’s wider commitment to the Antarctic Treaty. And on Tuesday 8th May [2012] we continued to provide the strategic deterrent.

The list goes on. I’m proud the list goes on, but I won’t. However, from this rapid sweep across the operational horizon, I do want to make a couple of points.

Smart power

In particular, maritime power’s contribution to smart power, which the minister referred to earlier, and which I hope this conference will deepen our understanding of exactly what that contribution means.

Smart power, this ability to employ both soft and hard power assets more effectively, and with all the levers of national power to produce more enduring outcomes, is especially relevant in an age of austerity; and is precisely what we were doing on Tuesday 8th May [2012], and indeed what we do every day.

Without the maritime power that we uniquely provide, not one of the activities, nor their accompanying effects:

  • of international reassurance
  • of capacity building
  • of collaboration
  • of promoting collective security
  • of deterrence

Not one of these effects that we seek to leverage, would have been accomplished.

Indeed, it is this capacity for maritime power to deliver effect in more nuanced ways that makes it, I believe, the epitome of smart power.

And because the delivery of smart power places a premium on prevention, the ultimate prize in our national security strategy, exercising smart power has a number of implications for navies; not least for the RN contribution to defence engagement.

At sea

First, and most obviously, navies need to be forward deployed; at sea. Just as we were on Tuesday 8th May [2012], working with many other navies; a number of which I’m pleased to see are represented here.

Only by having a persistent presence in regions of interest can navies deliver maritime power, that ‘effect from the sea’, with the greatest expression:

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

As I like to put it, “the more one deploys, the less one needs to be kinetic”.

At readiness

But it’s not just about being ‘at sea’, it’s also about being ‘at readiness’.

It’s about having the capabilities to respond swiftly, and right across the ‘spectrum of uncertainty’; as world events last year served to remind each and every one of us.

Consider, for example, one of the key innovations that came out of the SDSR: the Response Force Task Group, already mentioned by the minister and otherwise known as the RFTG, that proved so successful in achieving effective influence across the Maghreb.

The RFTG is a highly capable quick-reaction force consisting of ships, aircraft and marines, and as such is suited to a wide range of defence tasks:

  • from maritime strike to disaster relief; and
  • from amphibious operations to civilian evacuation.

In many ways it’s the cornerstone of the ‘Adaptable Britain’ security posture articulated in the SDSR.

Which is why we can look forward to the RFTG becoming all the more capable as Carrier Strike comes online from 2018. With its return, our ability to influence events ashore, whether by promoting stability, deterring aggression, or providing options for military intervention, will become correspondingly much more effective.

Now, this audience hardly needs reminding of the utility of air power from the sea, nor of just how compelling an expression it is of our nation’s outward-looking character.

But when it comes to the utility of air power from the sea, for the UK the year 1989 is instructive.

I say that, not because it was the year the Berlin Wall came down, but because it was the only year between 1945 and 2010 that the UK did not deploy her carriers in support of her national interests.

To put it simply, countries that aspire to strategic international influence have aircraft carriers, and countries that have them, use them. Air power from the sea was an important part of our national story last century, and it will continue to be a vital part of our national story this century.

But to return, for a moment, to this broader notion that exercising smart power places a premium on prevention, which in turn demands navies to be ‘at readiness’.

There are 2 aspects of being ‘at readiness’. The first is straightforward; it’s about speed of response. The second aspect concerns this spectrum of tasking.

Indeed, our ability to be ‘smart’ is a function of the recognition given to matching the ‘spectrum of capabilities’ with the ‘spectrum of uncertainty’.

After all, smart power is only as effective as the range of hard and soft options it has at its disposal.

Clearly this includes the employment of all the levers of national power, but within the military sphere, and the maritime component specifically, it’s about providing the greatest range of capabilities.

Constabulary capabilities absolutely, but high-end warfighting too. And, of course, if you can do the latter you can, by implication, do the former.

It goes without saying… but I will… that if your deployed units are capable only of providing constabulary tasks then, when a more robust response in the region is required, a prompt, timely reaction simply is not possible.

That is why we’re investing in highly capable Type 45 destroyers, 3 of which are now on deployment. And that is why we’re maximising the versatility of the Type 26 global combat ship.

Ultimately though, effective prevention is about credible deterrence. Of course we need to be able to respond to the ‘most likely’, but we must also be able to respond to the ‘most dangerous’.

Smart power needs the capacity to be an effective influence across both. And so it makes sense therefore that, if you want to keep your options open, you have to invest in those capabilities which offer options.

Value of integration

Whilst maritime power offers such options, in my view what makes it an important component of smart power is its ability to integrate.

At one level, as indeed the minister alluded, maritime power already integrates much of the cross-government agenda by contributing to national security and prosperity in a number of ways:

  • from meeting SOCA’s requests in the area of counter-narcotics
  • to maintaining confidence in maritime insurance
  • and from protecting our energy security
  • to understanding the consequences of climate change

There’s not much that maritime power doesn’t actually touch.

And, at another level, maritime power integrates nations, because our shared global commons drives shared common purpose. As a result, interoperability comes naturally to maritime forces. Just think of the 16-nation maritime element off Libya last year, or the 25 navies in the Combined Maritime Force in the Middle East, or the multinational exercise I mentioned earlier that was taking place in the Gulf of Oman on Tuesday 8th May [2012].

But above all, maritime forces instinctively understand the integration of joint capability to deliver joint effect. Routinely operating at sea, from the sea to the air, and from the sea to the land, integrating the environments is what we do. As mariners we know our environment as we have to understand the risks that attend operations in this most hostile of surroundings.

That’s why, personnel operating at sea, be they aviators or marines for instance, need to be experts in the maritime environment. As such, the risks unique to the operation of aircraft from ships, and marines to the shore, are fully understood and the operating envelope fully exploited.

What’s more, in an era when value for money is uppermost in our minds, it won’t be lost on you that forces designed to operate at sea or from the sea can also operate ashore, while the converse is not usually the case. Take the Fleet Air Arm, the Fleet Diving Unit and Royal Marines, amongst other naval personnel, in Afghanistan; where we witness the adaptable nature of maritime forces to other environments at its best.

The bottom line is this: the instinctive capacity of maritime forces to integrate maximises their utility and their employment, and they offer real opportunities to be smarter.


Ladies and gentlemen, to conclude. In a world that, for economic and security reasons is beginning to ‘look seaward’ again in terms of threats, opportunities, and interests, a maritime perspective, with its ability to integrate, brings welcome value, especially in these straitened times, to the national interest coin.

And the wide utility of maritime forces gives maritime power a breadth of expression which can make a telling contribution to the delivery of smart power, especially in terms of upstream prevention; to which being ‘at sea’ and being ‘at readiness’ are vital features.

But while defence is about preventing wars, we can only do so if we can win them, and that means we must retain the capability to operate, nationally and multinationally, right across the ‘spectrum of uncertainty’.

Thank you.