Trust between Western naval partners gives asymmetric advantage over adversaries, says CNO

HMS Queen Elizabeth
The trust that exists between key Western navies like the French Navy, Royal Navy, and US Navy is demonstrated in aircraft interchangeability onboard aircraft carriers. Here, a US Marine Corps F-35B is pictured operating from the RN carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth during the CSG21 deployment. (Crown copyright/UK MoD, 2021)

London – Navies with close partnerships between them – like the French Navy, the UK Royal Navy (RN), and the US Navy (USN) – hold an asymmetric advantage over potential adversaries because of the trust that exists within these partnerships, according to the USN’s Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Michael Gilday.

“That’s an asymmetric advantage we bring to the table,” Adm Gilday told a press conference following the inaugural, French Navy-led Paris Naval Conference, held at IFRI (the French institute of international relations), Paris on 18 January.

The three navies share the benefit, for example, of being able to interchange their aircraft between each other’s aircraft carriers for operations. This was demonstrated when the RN carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth embarked 10 US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft within its airwing for the CSG21 deployment in 2021. Adm Gilday noted that if urgent operational requirements needed such interchangeability to be conducted faster, at short notice, this could be done. “I think potentially we could accelerate timelines if we needed to,” he said.

Trust is a critical enabler for accelerated interchangeability, Adm Gilday continued. “A fundamental piece of this, for interoperability and interchangeability, is that it is all grounded in trust,” he explained. “At [the chief of navy] level – and it permeates down our chains of command – we have explicit trust in each other. I think that’s fundamental. That’s something that the Russians don’t have, and that’s something that the Chinese don’t have.”

A mark of such trust is that the close links between the three navies endure even at times of higher-level political turbulence.

UK First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sir Ben Key said that such trust, alongside professionalism and an obligation to maintain strong partnerships, can help maintain these naval-level strategic links in the face of any shifts in the political winds.

At the press conference, it was noted for example that neither the UK’s exit from the European Union under ‘Brexit’, nor the UK/US decision to support Australia’s building of a nuclear-powered submarine under the AUKUS (Australia/UK/US) agreement in place of Australia building a conventional boat with France, had affected the navies’ strategic partnerships.

The three services retain and maintain a wider, shared commitment to security and stability at sea, said Adm Key. “We are invested in professional relationships that can endure,” he added. “We have to think long term.”

by Dr. Lee Willett