Royal Navy reiterates strategic importance of undersea battlespace to UK

HMS Victorious
HMS Victorious is one of four RN SSBNs that carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The fact that the UK’s deterrent is submarine based is a core reason why the underwater battlespace remains strategically important to the UK.

The undersea battlespace remains critical to UK security and interests, a senior Royal Navy (RN) officer told a major underwater defence show in London.

Giving a keynote address at the annual Undersea Defence Technology (UDT) exhibition – taking place this year at London’s ExCel events centre – Rear Admiral James Parkin said “Nowhere – nowhere – is more important than the underwater domain.”

As the RN’s Director Develop, Rear Adm Parkin is responsible for harnessing new concepts and technologies to improve RN capabilities across all domains. Primarily, this includes the weapons and sensors – but also the enablers – that deliver such capability and effect. In the context of the underwater domain, enabling capabilities are particularly important, given the need to generate control, command, and co-ordination of uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs), the admiral explained.

Rear Adm Parkin pointed to two examples of why the underwater battlespace is particularly important to the UK. First, is the fact that the UK’s independent strategic nuclear deterrent is submarine based. The UK’s Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability is carried across the RN’s four Vanguard-class nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNSLBMs), which are deployed in a continuous at-sea deterrent (CASD) cycle.

Second, “control of the underwater domain determines whether we can control our sea lines of communication (),” said Rear Adm Parkin. He added that such SLOCs – including maritime trade, sea-based energy networks, and seabed data and communications cables – are of strategic significance to the UK.

To secure its interests, Rear Adm Parkin explained, “the RN aspires and strives to be [present] at the place and time of choosing” in the underwater battlespace. “The underwater domain is physically arduous, it is unforgiving, and it is … not well understood,” the admiral added. Nonetheless, being at the leading edge of technology and capability in the underwater battlespace will help the RN maintain its competitive edge, he continued.

In the longer term, the RN is recapitalising its underwater force structure. The Vanguard-class SSBNs are set to be replaced one-for-one by the Dreadnought-class SSBNs. The RN also operates a fleet of seven Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), which it is planning to replace under the SSN-AUKUS programme, being delivered within the Australia/UK/US AUKUS strategic partnership.

by Dr. Lee Willett