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Britain’s Top Admiral: U.S., U.K Planning For ‘Closer and Stronger’ Naval Alliance

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy Adm. Sir George Zambellas participate in a moderated talk focused on the future of the British-American naval alliance at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs on July 15, 2015. US Navy Photo

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy Adm. Sir George Zambellas participate in a moderated talk focused on the future of the British-American naval alliance at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs on July 15, 2015. US Navy Photo

LONDON — Five years ago the Royal Navy was reeling from the impact of the British government’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), a financially-driven undertaking that resulted in the scrapping of the last two Invincible-class light aircraft carriers, the withdrawal from service of their Harrier jets, the sale of one amphibious-dock ship and the mothballing of another and severe cuts to the destroyer and frigate force.

Now the senior service is embarking on a fresh maritime renaissance that will see it deliver enhanced capabilities in partnership with its most enduring ally. That, at least, was the message delivered by the Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord Adm. George Zambellas and his American counterpart at a joint seminar in London on Wednesday.

“There are few areas where our strategic interests are more natural, or our global interests are more aligned, than at sea,” Zambellas told an audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs — also known as Chatham House.

Zambellas said the 75-year-old partnership, which dates to the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II, is about to become “even closer and stronger” thanks to a combination of sustained investment in ships and equipment and on the “direct practical [and] spiritual support we’ve had from the US Navy.”

The introduction of a wealth of new assets—including aircraft carriers, attack and ballistic-missile submarines, destroyers, frigates and offshore patrol vessel—would ensure the Royal Navy is “more credible in the eyes of our most important partner than ever before,” he said.

In December 2014, Zambellas and the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert signed a Combined Sea Power agreement—a shared vision for naval cooperation for the coming 15 years.

The accord addresses five key areas:

  • The close co-ordination of carrier strike operations, with the new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers (including F-35B strike fighters, helicopters and unmanned air systems) reinforcing the capability provided by the U.S. Navy.
  • The integration of U.K. and U.S. ships in one another’s maritime task groups, a process that should become “intuitive.”
  • Additional personnel exchanges, particularly in headquarters and niche roles where it is important to preserve perishable skills.
  • Mutual investment in technologies that permit interoperability, including weapons, sensor systems, data processing and protocols, and autonomous vehicles.
  • Force and capability planning “to ensure that together we maintain a balanced mix of capabilities and that our activities complement our mutual priorities.”

Zambellas said: “Together or individually we must be ready to project power and respond to crises around the world quickly, flexibly and credibly. 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.”

Greenert told the seminar: “We depend on the Royal Navy, very much so, from tactics, to operations to strategy. From world wars, through the Cold War to today, we have always been stalwart allies. Today we enjoy a closeness and an unconditional trust that is really unequalled anywhere around the world. From a schoolhouse, to an exercise, to a deployment, to a real world combat operation, Royal Navy members are embedded throughout our ranks.”

UK Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean (L 12) during the BALTOPS 2015 exercise operation with USS San Antonio (LPD-17). Royal Navy Photo

UK Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean (L 12) during the BALTOPS 2015 exercise operation with USS San Antonio (LPD-17). Royal Navy Photo

The CNO pointed out that already British pilots were the only foreigners permitted to fly Super Hornets on strike missions. “No other pilot can even sit in a Hornet, because they can’t get the clearance. Of all the allied training that we have, we can only trust the [RN-run] Perisher course . . . to qualify our nuclear submarine commanders.”

Greenert said the future belonged to “collaborative operations, integration, truly global force management and force development” and highlighted continuing cooperative technological work in mine warfare (particularly unmanned underwater systems), antisubmarine warfare (advanced sonar arrays) and in “unique high-tech asymmetric capabilities” such as the F-35, carriers and submarines.

He also disclosed that British exchange officers were working on the U.S. electromagnetic railgun program.

 A high-speed camera captures the first full-energy shots from the Office of Naval Research-funded electromagnetic railgun prototype launcher in 2012. US Navy Photo

A high-speed camera captures the first full-energy shots from the Office of Naval Research-funded electromagnetic railgun prototype launcher in 2012. US Navy Photo

“The value of the relationship by far is greater than the sum of our forces.” Greenert said. “It’s a very, very powerful symbol by the two leading democratic nations, and our forces represent freedom and liberty around the world. I hear it again and again from other potential partners: they say ‘We depend on you, we look to you and the U.K. to show us how can two nations come together for these very complicated operations of the future.’”

“Our cooperative SSBN program and our carrier programs are truly iconic and will bring us that true global force management.”

In a turbulant world, Greenert said, one thing would remain certain: “The U.K. will always be our commited ally, and the Royal Navy will be my vital partner and of those that come after me.”

The British government recently committed to spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, meeting the NATO guideline figure, and has a 10-year equipment program valued at $249 billion. The results of a second SDSR—with direct U.S. involvement in the process —will be published in 2016.

Citing collaborative deployments in the Baltic Sea and Persian Gulf, Britain’s Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told the Chatham House seminar that the relationship between the two navies “goes from strength to strength.”

Research agreements for submarines and other undersea systems would ensure “that our two countries maintain our technological edge in a world of weapons proliferation, of exponential technological advance and increased defense competition amongst emerging nations. We do this together as primary partners, indispensible to each other,” he said.

  • Jiesheng Li

    The Royal Navy has also been partnering with the USCG by using their engineers on the Type 23 frigates.

  • Hugh

    A pity the RN won’t have catapult launched F35s rather than the more limited ski jump.
    As for Super Hornets, the RAAF have some, and are using a few in the Middle East.

    • Secundius

      @ Hugh.

      It’s not a reason that they WON’T. The reason is, that they CAN’T. It’s not in their Naval Defense Budget, they simply Can’t Afford the System…

      • Navyjag907

        The Brits could afford much more but the People and their leaders don’t support bigger defense budgets.//The cuts in all their services’ personnel is particularly worrisome.

        • Secundius

          @ Navyjag907.

          You should go onto the British website Think Defense (the British USNI News) and see it from their Point of View. It’s a Real Eye-Opener. Unlike our Government which Trying” to run our Military Into the Ground, Their’s DID…

          • Navyjag907

            Thanks very much. I’m now signed up with the site. It’s really impressive compared with many of ours.

  • RobM1981

    “Of all the allied training that we have, we can only trust the [RN-run] Perisher course . . . to qualify our nuclear submarine commanders.””

    Does that mean that USN sub commanders are now running through Perisher?

    If so, that’s news to me. Good news, too. I hope it’s true, either literally or via a US-Version of it.

  • Murgatroyd

    ‘LONDON — Five years ago the Royal Navy was reeling from the impact of
    the British government’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review
    (SDSR), a financially-driven undertaking that resulted in the scrapping
    of the last two Invincible-class light aircraft carriers, the withdrawal
    from service of their Harrier jets, the sale of one amphibious-dock
    ship and the mothballing of another and severe cuts to the destroyer and
    frigate force.’

    The 2010 review needed to be financially driven given the mess the previous Labour government had made of the UK economy and defence. Blair and Brown made more cuts than Cameron but they were done by stealth. The Invincibles were not really much of a loss as they were almost at the end of their service lives anyway (Illustrious decommissioned in 2014 at the age of 32) and only a handful of the ageing Harrier GR9s were actually operational. In fact the only destroyers and frigates to go in 2010 were the 4 remaining Type 22s from the late 1980s. The previous Labour government cut 12, 3 of them almost new, yet it went virtually unnoticed.

    • Jiesheng Li

      It wasn’t really unnoticed; it meant that the frigate force was going to be stuck at 13. Big hope that there will be 16, not 13 Type 26s. Just a hope.

  • Arbuthnaught

    Well, perhaps the RN should look at uncancelling Cooperative Engagement Capability then.

  • Business Cat

    When the UK say “greater cooperation “, what they mean is: ” Please prop up our meagre capabilities “.

    • Ronsoppinion

      Not so quick Business Cat , Britain has a high degree of technological inventiveness, take the Astute Class Submarine’s possibly the finest Hunter Killer subs in the world, the new wing design on Eurofighter Typhoon’s that give it amazing performance, new missile’s for all occasions “meagre capabilities ” sorry but I think your not keeping up with developements.

  • Secundius

    It probably has more to do with the Lend Lease Act of March 1941. The 99-year Lend Lease Act is due too expires in March 2040. And they want to get the Most they Can out of it, before it expires…

  • Michael McGuffin

    I am concerned this arrangement benefits Britain and the Royal Navy more than the US. Could Britain respond today to an invasion of the Fauklands as they did in the 1980’s? Even when the Queen Elizabeth class carriers are deployed, does the Royal Navy have sufficient ships and planes for an effect strike force. I for one love the rich history of Royal Navy and lament the decline of the Royal Navy in the last 25 years. I would love to see the Royal Navy as an equal partner to the US Navy. Britain is still a major player and dependent on sea roots being protect for trade and commerce.

    • Navyjag907

      No. They couldn’t mount an operation like they did in the ’80s. Too many cuts in surface ships, no Harriers, the Army is the smallest it has been since before the Napoleonic Wars (?), and the list goes on. Fortunately, the Argentine armed forces are even worse off.

      • Jiesheng Li

        have you been to the Falklands?

    • David Ham

      Do you honestly believe there isn’t an Astute Class sub there. Plus we have plenty of Air Defense (Rapier) and a T45 would be there within days, we also have something that Argentina doesn’t, battle hardened troops, who are on the ground.

      The RG’s would not stand a chance, the initial attack would be fought off, and during that time, the air bridge is much much smaller now, thanks to the new airport at St Helena. It would not take 2 weeks to get a rapid response team flown over.

      You seem to forget, during the 80’s, we were busy with the Cold War, and the USSR. They were on our doorstep, not yours. Yet we went and fought a war 8000 miles away to liberate our people, as well as defend against a possible Soviet strike.

      WW2, we fought alone for many years. Don’t underestimate us plucky Brits. xD

      We know what we are doing.

      • Jiesheng Li

        That’s the big guess for the UK and the adversary–no one knows if there’s a SSN there or not.

    • Jiesheng Li

      Yes, considering that the Argentians have weak forces and that now there’s a tri-service element in the Falklands.

  • Earl Tower

    The idea of all five nations of the ‘Anglosphere’ working as one cohesive unit on the high seas is an excellent ideas. But to truly get the right level of interoperability would require tough decisions that I do not think the nations are prepared to make. The USA would have to accept some necessity of consultation with its allies before acting, and maybe even their approval; but the other nations would have to accept USA ships home porting out of their ports.

  • Hugh

    Actually, wouldn’t the top British Admiral nominally be Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, as Admiral of the Fleet, not only to the RN but also the RAN and RNZN??

    • David Ham

      NO, he has zero say in political decisions, and can not order anything. The Queen is the only person with that power, but she never ever gets involved.

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  • David Ham

    It’s about time the two great allies joined once again, after all the damage Obama has done.

    But, why make it an Anglosphere? The Danish have a very impressive navy, and have been with us both since WW2, including Bosnia, Iraq etc etc.

    Maybe, just maybe it is time to think outside the box given the ISIS/ISIL threat

  • Howard Shakespeare

    UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand forces integrated. That is the key to a free and democratic world.

    • Jiesheng Li

      They are far away. US-Aus-NZ yes. UK is dislocated from the Pacific.

  • Ed L

    Well at least the Royal Navy knows what a proper Frigate needs to look like and how to correctly outfit. That new Type 26, shame we can’t build it under license here. GAS turbine, 4 diesels generators and two electic motors. 28 knots A complete sonar suit. 48 AAW VLS, 24 Strike VLS, Torpedoes, 5 inch gun couple of CIWS and Chain guns, pair of miniguns and some machine guns plus a helicopter in strike and asw ability Instead of the British building 13, With our shipyard ability there could be at least 60 type 26’s running around the first dozen within 2 years