Think navies, think technology

Speech by First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas.

Admiral Sir George   Zambellas KCB DSC ADC

It’s a great pleasure for me to be here at DSEI, again, amongst many familiar faces, because we’re right on the cusp of the next stage of defence’s maritime journey, and it’s all about technology.

In case you haven’t got it, what should be dawning on you, as it does us, is the full enormity of the Royal Navy’s future responsibility.

We wait for final confirmation in the defence review, but the government has made it very clear that defence needs to plan for the delivery a brand new continuous at sea deterrence and a brand new continuous carrier capability.

Together, I believe these 2 capabilities will define our nation’s strategic and maritime security authority, for the next half century. Or more.

In Rosyth dockyard, The Queen Elizabeth’s engines have been running. Her radar has begun transmitting. Every day she is more alive. And the Prince of Wales is not far behind, rising above the River Forth, block-by-block.

It is the same story in Barrow, and in Glasgow, and in specialist manufacturing around the country: The Royal Navy and British industry in lock-step: building our future fleet; and growing and re-growing the skills and the expertise that will define our maritime-industrial authority for years to come.

This is such a great opportunity for our island nation. Such a great chance to show our resolve in an uncertain world. But, most of all, it’s a chance to flex some British technological muscle to a global audience.

So while many of you here will eagerly be awaiting the defence review, the Royal Navy isn’t waiting around; because we’re already very much on the case.

Value for money

And we do so with pride. The government has set an ambitious agenda. And, by committing to the NATO 2% spending target they have given us an economic baseline to work from.

So, it’s for us to deliver, not just for the navy, but for the whole of defence, and industry too.

We must use all of our energy and effort to do this job well, by spending public money wisely.

Both the government and the public, rightly, demand value for money. And value for money is driving us hard towards innovation.

So that’s what I want to talk about. Innovation. And the efficiency, value and operational effectiveness we must get from it.

And we all know that the UK’s innovation expertise exists.

In ship terms, this journey starts the Type 26, which will form the backbone of the Royal Navy, with a design that has the potential to meet the operational needs of a number of major navies around the world.

But innovation is so much more. It’s, of course, as they say “about the whole, not the hull”. It’s more about sophisticated sensors and systems, and their integration, than steelwork. Equipment like Sonar 2076 on our submarines. Like the Sea Ceptor missile. Like the integrated fire detection system on the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, so sensitive that it can spot, I am told, the overheating coating on a shorted wire before it catches alight.

This country is an extraordinary source of of technical talent and innovation. And these are essential values to us.

Lord Sterling commissioned King’s College London to explore the economic contribution of the maritime defence sector. Their report ‘A benefit not a burden’, judges that on the evidence it has, that for every pound spent on the Royal Navy, the UK economy gets 2 pounds back.

So spending on innovative defence can be viewed as a plus, not a minus, on the nation’s balance sheet. A strength for our security and a strength for our economy. Some thing to be proud of.

Innovation and agility

But the world in which we operate does not stand still.

The judgement that the spectre of state-based conflict had gone from Europe has evaporated. So our future capabilities must match or outpace the threat. And areas such as anti-submarine warfare and maritime ISTAR now have heightened significance.

It’s another pressing reminder of the need to replace our respected but ageing Type 23 frigates. There is an opportunity as well as a necessity here; recognised at the highest levels of government, in the Chancellor’s support for the ‘National shipbuilding strategy’.

So the demand for credible seapower, and with it credible technology, requires agility for the Royal Navy and from our industrial partners.

We are already experimenting with novel technologies and concepts, and ways to deliver them into service quickly

We will lead the way for the UK, because the space, weight, and cooling and power requirements are best met from ships, and this approach will help de-risk our wider approach within Defence.

Flexibility, mobility, capacity, self-sufficiently, all conventional attributes of maritime forces that can serve unconventional capabilities.

And in developing these technologies, it is at sea where we can most easily find the happy medium between risk and opportunity, because we can experiment at safe distance from the shore. We are very largely in unregulated, or less regulated space.

So I’m looking for imagination and ambition, both from inside the navy and outside it. Civil and military technological development has always been intertwined. Electric propulsion was first used by cruise ships long before it was adopted by navies. The Scan Eagle remotely piloted aircraft was first developed by the fishing industry to seek out tuna shoals.

And the history of the Royal Navy, our unrivalled pursuit of success, is built on innovation, from Nelson’s audacity at Trafalgar to Fisher’s Dreadnoughts. This is what we do. This is what we’ve always done. We enjoy it, and we’re quite good at it.

And now we’re on the cusp of the next revolution.

On the outside, a modern frigate or a submarine may look similar to how they appeared 20 or 30 years ago. But on the inside, behind the grey facade, the guts are different.

I very warmly welcome the Global Marine Technology Trends 2030 Report, published last month by Lloyd’s Register, QinetiQ and the University of Southampton, my alma mater, as a vehicle to articulate and understand the long-term challenges and opportunities that come with technological developments.

The report examined more than 56 critical technologies that might be developed in the next decade-plus, within the naval, shipping and ocean space sectors.

Today, I choose to highlight just 6. Six which, alone, have the power to change how we operate.

As I will demonstrate, in each of these 6 areas the UK is at the leading edge of research and development, design and application.

And by working together, the Royal Navy, and the UK defence sector, can lead the world.


The first development is autonomy, which is making our ships and submarines more efficient.

Take the ‘Highly mechanised weapon handling system’ on board the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier.

It makes the process faster, it frees up space for embarked forces and it reduces manpower, one of the reasons why the Queen Elizabeth class will, despite being 3 times larger, have the same ship’s company as the vessels they replace.

But autonomy is more than automated shipboard systems.

It is the ability to deploy intelligent systems at sea, under the sea, in the air and on land, and it will revolutionise maritime operations.

In the Gulf, our first squadron of Scan Eagle has achieved 2,000 flying hours. Now we are working with the French Navy to develop unmanned mine clearance capabilities, and in future we will explore how networks of distributed sensors can detect and trail an enemy submarine from the moment it leaves port.

The opportunity extends from operations, to equipment and support. In June, a miniature unmanned aircraft was used to inspect and photograph the mast of HMS Diamond, saving the time and cost of scaffolding. It’s normal business in the oil and gas industries and it must be part of the way we work too.

But we don’t just want to follow industry, we want to lead.

So in October next year, we will use our bi-annual NATO exercise, Joint Warrior, to stage Unmanned Warrior, for industry to demonstrate autonomous systems in a relevant tactical setting.

And whether you’re a small start-up, or an established global player, whether you attend in person or remotely, there is a place for you.

We want you to show how your technology, how your developmental expertise, can change the way we operate. We invite you to take up this challenge. Those who do participate will be attributed to our Unmanned Warrior logo, as a signal to the rest, that you are part of our journey into maritime autonomous systems.

Additive manufacturing

The history of technology tells us that the best innovations come not in isolation but through collaboration.

And often the breakthrough comes when two parallel developments are brought together. The combination of maritime autonomous systems with additive manufacturing, which is the second development I want to raise, is a good example.

Earlier in the summer, the Royal Navy worked with Southampton University to test the world’s first experimental 3D-printed unmanned aircraft in the maritime environment.

Low cost, simple production. No lead in time, no requirement to wait for parts to arrive in theatre, equipment from the drawing board to the front line, in the click of the button. The advantages in a fast changing, high threat environment are obvious.

And if we combined technology with biology to create a 3D-printed unmanned aircraft which is biodegradable, we wouldn’t have to worry about recovery or environmental impact either. A consideration that I know is foremost in the minds of those with a commercial interest in this technology. Sensors are getting smaller and lighter, and cheaper, with wider spectral coverage. Engines are getting more efficient. Endurance and payload is rising. Don’t be sniffy about this experimentation.

But beyond operations, additive manufacturing could change the way we support and sustain maritime power, reducing the need for stocks and inventories and opening up new acquisition paths.

Novel Weapons and Energy

The third development I want to raise is energy, by which I mean novel weapons and their associated power requirements.

Energy weapons don’t require conventional ammunition. With a cost-per-shot potentially measured in pence rather than pounds, they offer a route to address the spiralling costs of missile development and production, as well as reducing supply chain demands.

With Dstl, the Royal Navy plans to demonstrate a directed energy weapon at sea by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, in the United States, Royal Navy exchange officers are working on the US Navy’s electromagnetic rail gun project.

Ships are not just launch platforms for these systems, but power stations as well.

So we are currently working with the Dstl to explore the role that electric flywheel technology, the kind of which is used in Formula 1 racing, could play to generate and store the power required for high energy weapons.

And the Royal Navy and the United States Navy are working together to combine this UK energy storage technology with US advanced power systems control techniques.

It’s another example of where collaboration between naval and civil research can herald mutual benefit, and where the Royal Navy’s pursuit of innovation strengthens our international partnerships.

### Interoperability

The fourth development must be the technologies that allow us to work more closely together.

Through our alliances, predominantly NATO, and our partnerships, particularly the United States and France, we can contribute to the global network of navies, extending our reach, our capability and our effect.

But we can only do this if we, and those we work with, have the necessary interoperability in our equipment from the word go.

Open systems and architecture will allow us to benefit from modularity, allowing us to swiftly reconfigure for the mission in hand, and the possibility for communities of global users, for instance, in unmanned maritime systems. That, in turn, delivers interoperability, sustainability and value for money.

And as well as working together, the ability to talk to one another, and share information will be crucial, which brings me to the fifth development, data, which is the biggest one of all.

### Data

We no longer have a choice between the conventional and the unconventional. Recent events in Eastern Europe have shown how they can be blended and obscured through hybrid warfare. Nothing new there. But we must be ready for an attack in the virtual realm as much as the physical realm, at sea, on land and in the air. This is particularly true for the Navy, operating as we do, uniquely, across all domains.

But our information challenge, our information opportunity, is so much more than cyber security.

It’s about the open source revolution which is changing software from being closed to being open and free. It’s about the 50 billion devices in the world that are linked together. It’s about the vast quantities of information being generated as a by-product of 21st century technology and society. In short, it’s about data, big data, that is changing the way we live and the way we work, and will change how we fight too.

Already the nature of intelligence is changing, to incorporate the traditional, with that which is available as open source.

So the same networked, decentralised spirit that permeates the information age must become a part of our culture too. We must change our processes and structures, and our behaviours, to be agile, to be faster - and especially, to be first.

Moore’s Law suggests that the power of computing doubles every 2 years, this alone presents massive implications within the 50 year lifespan of our new aircraft carriers. And in the same period, developments in areas like quantum computing and carbon nanotubes, currently still in their infancy, could herald astonishing advances.

Commanders will have access, should they choose, to astonishing levels of information, in real time, offering quicker decision making and immediate results.

But data is a raw material. How we collect it, how we handle and exploit it will determine our fighting edge, providing we have the connectivity and the right form of information architecture.

Take the F35B Joint Strike Fighter.

It’s offers unprecedented situational awareness, recording everything it does, and everything it sees; gathering data far in excess of what can be streamed live or fully analysed in real time. So we must establish the data handling protocols to select and prioritise and exploit that information, on a mission-by-mission basis according to commanders’ requirements.


And this brings me to my sixth and final point, which is the most important because it binds all the others together.

It’s about people. We look to them to make sense of the deluge of information. They must marshal these distinct opportunities and capabilities together into a single, credible battle-winning force.

Of course, we also welcome the advantage of contracted support to military capability. But the limits are clear: the law of armed conflict, the contract difference between benign and contested environments, be they land, sea or air, or space and cyber. And we need to understand the factors relating to guaranteed availability. Our flexibility makes the economics of outsourcing seem less attractive. But the opportunities are there, especially in the unmanned domain.

So we’re reforming. Work is also underway to establish an Information Warfare cadre, our data warriors, which will bring together our intelligence, hydrographic, photographic, communications and CIS functions into a single stream.

The young men and women standing on the parade ground today have grown up with 24-hour news and social media. The connectivity of the modern world, in all its complexity and immediacy, is instinctive to them. They will change the Royal Navy and we must change with and for them.

Of course, the nature of warfare demands discipline. This will never change. But we must make room for people confident enough to question, brave enough to challenge and bold enough to take risks.

So we will redouble our efforts to recruit more women, and from minority communities, because we cannot afford to miss out on this huge pool of talent. The uniformity we seek on the parade ground, must not get in the way of the highly valued diversity of human ingenuity, in all its forms.

Partnership for the future

And our focus on people and skills isn’t confined to those in uniform.

The Royal Navy stands alongside some of the leading names in defence, and in engineering, in sponsoring five University Technical Colleges.

It’s also why the Royal Navy is incredibly proud and pleased to support the Startpoint initiative, which brings together the best of British imagination and expertise in Naval Combat Systems to meet the demand for advanced and affordable technology.

A big part of that is the ‘show and tell’, to stimulate and inspire young talent to smell the excitement of a career in technology and engineering.

Because without them, we will lose our technological advantage, as a Nation and as a Navy.

And do not underestimate the quality of the young men and women entering the Royal Navy and Royal Marines either. They are excited about our technological future. Their enthusiasm is infectious. I challenge you to speak to them and not be bowled over.


So, let me conclude:

Think Navy, think technology: automation, additive manufacturing, power and energy exploitation.

Think Navy, think ideas: interoperability, data manipulation and smart people.

These 6 ingredients themselves, will drive us to do more, with less, and to do it better.

And when I say us, I don’t mean the Royal Navy. I don’t even mean defence. I mean you and us. Research, industry, manufacturing.

Technology is our ticket to being the best, operationally and strategically. It will give us the advantage, it will hold the Royal Navy’s place in the premier league of navies, in a dangerous and uncertain world.

Thank you.

Published 16 September 2015