1SL Speech to the Cohen Group – UK/US Naval Partnership

Topic: PeopleSenior leaders

In his first visit to the United States since becoming First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones spoke yesterday about the relationship between the Royal Navy and the United States Navy at the Cohen Group in Washington.

Secretary Cohen, Admiral Loy, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to be invited to speak to the Cohen Group this morning.

As a representative of the nation that captured two of your six original frigates, set fire to the White House and built some really rather effective commerce raiders for the Confederate Navy, I am humbled – and a little relieved - by the unfailing warmth I have encountered on my first visit to the United States as First Sea Lord.

Special Relationship

You will know that, today, the term ‘special relationship’ is jealously guarded by commentators in the United Kingdom.

But what they sometimes miss is the fact that the United States has many special relationships, all across the world.

Your oldest ally, after all, is not Britain, but France. You have a growing relationship with Australia, forged through the Vietnam War and re-charged in the realities of 21st Century Asia-Pacific geo-politics; and important ties with Japan and Germany based on post-war history.

And these are just some examples of a network of alliances that are a perquisite for a global maritime power today.

And yet the relationship between the navies of the United Kingdom and the United States is in an altogether different league.

In the Persian Gulf, not only has a Royal Navy destroyer been protecting a US carrier battle group, but British pilots have been flying US F18s from the decks of US carriers. As your previous CNO put it, “no one else can get cleared even to sit in the cockpit”.

In the training world, future US Navy submarine commanders regularly pass through the Royal Navy’s qualifying course – the ‘Perisher’: a huge symbol of the mutual respect we have for one another’s professional ability under the water.

Meanwhile, considerable effort is being made to further interoperability between the US Marine Corps and our own Royal Marines, as they both re-focus on maritime operations once more, after so many years fighting alongside one another in Afghanistan.

And then there is the nuclear dimension.

What began with an unlikely relationship between Rickover and Mountbatten all those years ago, is just as strong today.

Naval architects from our two countries are designing a Common Missile Compartment that will serve the next generation of ballistic missile submarines in both our navies.

No other two nations today are prepared to cooperate over such sovereign and supreme strategic capabilities. No other two navies have the political will, the technical ability, or the professional trust to make it possible.

In breadth and depth - in scope and scale - our maritime partnership is different to any other – it really is ‘special’.

Royal Navy's Future

I stand before you today at an incredibly exciting time for the Royal Navy.

For the first time since the Second World War we are set to grow. The increase in people and ships is, for the time being, modest, but the pendulum is at least moving in the right direction, and the leap forward in capability is huge as we become a big-deck, fast jet carrier Navy once again.

There are challenges of course. Engineering and technical manpower continues to be a particular constraint.

I’d like to put on record how grateful I am to the superb men and women of the US Navy and US Coastguard currently serving with us on exchange and helping us to mitigate those constraints while we re-grow.

But I am enormously privileged to inherit a Royal Navy with such a bright future.

And I’d like to briefly outline three ways in which a resurgent Royal Navy can offer our partnership so much more in the years ahead.

Investment in Strategic Capabilities

The first area is investment in strategic capabilities.

The election of a new UK Government in May last year confirmed that Parliamentary approval will be sought to replace our current generation of Trident submarines and that both of our new carriers will enter full operational service, providing continuous availability.

The number of nations that can deliver both Continuous at Sea Deterrent and a Continuous Carrier Presence is currently a club of one; and I am proud to be standing in the Club House with some of the Club’s strongest supporters.

So this investment in the Royal Navy is significant because it means that even when measured against the rise of India and China, the resurgence of Russia and the enduring capability of France, the UK very much remains in the top flight of global maritime powers.

Over the next few years we will put in place the supporting components for these strategic capabilities. This includes the restoration of our MPA capability through the purchase of P8 Poseidon, the construction of a new generation of anti-submarine frigates and solid support ships, together with significant investment in Special Forces, cyber and Intelligence.

Crucially, last year’s Defence Review included a commitment to greater numbers of F35B jets earlier than originally planned, so so that up to 24 will be available to embark on our carriers by 2023.

This is significant in itself.

It represents a greater number of F35Bs than will be embarked by the US Navy’s LHDs or will be carried by other European flattops in the future.

And although the US Nimitz and Ford-classes carry more jets in total, their air groups will remain a mix of fourth and fifth generation fighters.

All of which means we are very proud that the Queen Elizabeth class will be able to operate the largest dedicated air group of fifth generation fighters in the world, and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future.

We are hugely grateful for the support of the US Navy and US Marine Corps as we get to grips with this impressive aircraft, and to re-learn the skills associated with operating such large vessels.

And as we explore the potential of UK Carrier Strike in the years ahead, we’re going to discover new opportunities for bi-lateral and multi-lateral cooperation.

We are aware of, and salute, the United States Navy, which has borne the brunt of back-to-back carrier operations in the Persian Gulf in recent decades.

We acknowledge the fact that when the French carrier Charles De Gaulle enters refit, as she does next year, it will leave Europe without a large aircraft carrier available for contingent operations.

It is not difficult to see how, in both cases, a UK-led task group, centred on a Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, could help take the strain in the decades to come.

Global leadership

The second area I want to highlight is the Royal Navy’s own position of maritime leadership.

Within NATO, the Royal Navy already provides the permanent 3* maritime commander and currently holds 2* command of the maritime element of the NATO Response Force.

The Royal Navy’s bi-annual Joint Warrior exercise off the coast of Scotland regularly draws dozens of ships and scores of aircraft from NATO and beyond.

It also plays an important role in training and validating those US destroyers forward deployed to Europe for ballistic missile defence.

But Britain is also assuming a wider military leadership role in Europe more generally, in a way that is separate but complementary to NATO.

As the two most comparable European navies, Britain and France are pulling closer together.

The Anglo-French Combined Joint Expeditionary Force brings together deployable forces from both countries under a properly integrated staff with common procedures, so that we may better contribute to and lead coalition operations together in future.

In the same vein, the UK Joint Expeditionary Force will provide the framework and critical military mass around which 6 Baltic and Nordic nations can contribute forces at short notice.

Beyond our own backyard, the UK holds permanent leadership of the European Union Naval Force Somalia and we provide the deputy commander for the US-led 31-nation Combined Maritime Forces in the Persian Gulf.

Further East, we are active members of the Five Powers Defence Agreement in South East Asia and recently joined the Western Pacific Naval Symposium as an observer.

Three years ago we deployed a destroyer and a helicopter carrier to the Philippines in response to Typhoon Haiyan, and a nuclear submarine and a survey vessel to the Southern Indian Ocean to search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight.

So while our presence in Asia-Pacific is inevitably selective, the Royal Navy can, on occasion, still project credible forces into the region with greater speed and effect than some regional navies who are – on paper – better placed to respond.

Of course, with finite resources, the Royal Navy cannot be everywhere with the frequency we would wish.

Yet the UK has other maritime levers at our disposal.

The Royal Navy’s Flag Officer Sea Training and his staff have trained 105 of the world’s navies in the past ten years – 58 of them in 2015. 

Such is its success, that a number of European navies have now folded their own sea training programmes altogether.

Similarly, Britannia Royal Naval College has trained the current heads of two dozen navies.

And looking across Government more widely, the UK Hydrographic Office, a trading fund of the UK Ministry of Defence, is advising on maritime territorial disputes worldwide, including the South China Sea.

So by using all the instruments of maritime power – hard and soft - the UK retains influence and engagement on a global scale.

Notwithstanding the difference in size between our two navies, with the world as it is we both risk an ‘asset-poor, demand-rich’ future unless we exploit the opportunities that come through partnership.

And as I hope I’ve demonstrated, the Royal Navy already has a well-established position of global maritime leadership which, like our capabilities, will strengthen in the years ahead.


The third and final area I want to raise is potentially the most significant - technological innovation.

Both our navies can cite examples of the spiralling cost of conventional equipment and how it can limit surface ship numbers.

Meanwhile anti-access/area denial technology, and the associated expertise, continues to proliferate.

In future, the UK may no longer be able to compete with certain other rapidly proliferating navies when it comes to platform numbers and manpower.  But it is no longer just about counting Dreadnoughts, and we can retain our advantage by pushing technological boundaries.

We have great interest in the US Third Offset Strategy which sits well with our own Innovation Initiative.

As technology advances on both sides of the Atlantic, there will undoubtedly be new, mutually beneficial, opportunities for rapid development, deployment and cost sharing.

So for instance, hot-on-the heels of US progress on energy weapons and rail guns, the UK not only plans to test its own directed energy weapon at sea within the next two years but  we’re also looking at the role of electric flywheel technology to generate and store the power required for these novel weapons.

Last year, we hosted navies from the Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence Forum for an at-sea demonstration that culminated in the tracking and destruction of a live ballistic missile - and our Type 45 destroyers have shown that they have huge potential in this area.

Later this year, technology companies from around the world will demonstrate their unmanned and autonomous systems through Exercise Unmanned Warrior off the coast of Scotland.

And it’s just the start – Exercise Information Warrior is now in planning for the following year, which will introduce information management, cyber and artificial intelligence into the exercise scenario.

So our ambition is to help lead, not just to follow, in technological innovation.


In drawing to a close, I have covered quite a lot of ground over the past fifteen minutes, which has hopefully given us plenty to chew on in the Q&A.

Clearly, as you would expect, I’ve been banging the drum for the Royal Navy, but my point is this –

For years the United States has rightly been looking to its European allies to take on a greater share of responsibility for defence and security and to play a stronger role in NATO.

You laid down the challenge and now, through your investment in the Royal Navy, and through our continuing maritime ambition, the UK has grabbed the baton.

So I encourage you to take a fresh look at your old ally – because our maritime partnership has huge potential to become even closer and stronger in the years ahead.