UK Navy Chief details options for growing Royal Navy at-sea presence

Pacific future Forum - HMS Prince of Wales
Pictured: The First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin CB ADC during the Pacific Future Forum.

The UK Royal Navy (RN) has options for increasing its presence at sea by growing platform numbers, ship availability, and forward deployment, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the RN’s First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, told the UK Government-hosted Pacific Future Forum conference, which took place on 20-21 October onboard the UK aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales at HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, UK.

Adm Radakin explained that the UK has a two-theatre strategic posture, with a government-led focus on increasing Indo-Pacific presence sitting alongside the primary requirement to maintain emphasis on the Euro-Atlantic region: this posture, he added, is now underpinned by additional financial investment and a revitalised shipbuilding programme.

“That allows us to do a little bit more,” said Adm Radakin. “We can maintain all our responsibilities in the Euro-Atlantic and we could strengthen those capabilities, at the same time as reaching out a bit further to the Far East.”

“If I look at it in the maritime dimension, over the next 10 years or so we will grow from 19 frigates and destroyers to 24 frigates and destroyers, but at the same time the availability of those ships – of modern ships – goes from 60 percent to 80 percent,” Adm Radakin explained. “What that gives the [RN’s] Fleet Commander … is twice the number of sea days for our frigates and destroyers over the next 10 years. Therefore, we can do more whilst maintaining our current responsibilities.”

The strategic-level interest in strengthening Indo-Pacific presence is already being enforced at the operational level. Adm Radakin pointed to the September 2021 forward deployment of two RN River-class Batch 2 offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), HMS Spey and HMS Tamar, to the Indo-Pacific.

The expanding shipbuilding programme is set to provide more options for building Indo-Pacific forward presence. For example, five new Type 31 Inspiration-class general-purpose frigates are expected to be in service by 2030, replacing the five general-purpose Type 23 frigates. “What that starts to offer our politicians is a choice in the future as to whether you replace those OPVs [in theatre] with your Type 31 frigates or you supplement your OPVs with those Type 31 frigates,” said Adm Radakin.

by Dr. Lee Willett