The Minister for Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge’s speech at the First Sea Lord’s Sea Power Conference, 2023.
It’s a great pleasure to be here and even to those like me with no naval background, Sir Henry Leach needs no introduction.
It is a great honour to have been asked to deliver this lecture in his name, especially with his daughter Henrietta here in the audience.
With many distinguished guests, colleagues and of course senior chiefs and indeed from our many allies around the world – it’s a great pleasure to meet and see all of you.
During the Falklands conflict, as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s so-called “knight in shining gold braid”, Sir Henry played a pivotal role in ensuring the Iron Lady stuck to her guns and secured freedom for the islanders.
Yet as we prepare to mark the 80th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Atlantic next weekend, we shouldn’t forget that Sir Henry’s early years were spent as a midshipman and later First Lieutenant in the stormy seas of the Second World War.
Indeed, he had been assigned to serve on HMS Prince of Wales until his father Captain John Leach was given command of the ship.
Tragically, Captain John went down with his ship just two days after the pair had enjoyed a gin sling and swim together.
Despite such tragedy, Sir Henry distinguished himself in the war and as a junior lieutenant, was in charge of one of the 14-inch gun turrets in the battleship Duke of York which helped sink the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst off the North Cape in December 1943.
There can be little doubt that such formative experiences helped shape the character and resilience of the man who went onto become First Sea Lord.
A man who, when asked for his view on whether or not to send a taskforce to the Falklands, replied firmly: “It is not my business to say whether we should or not, but if we do not, if we pussyfoot in our actions and do not achieve complete success, in another few months we shall be living in a different country whose word counts for little.”
On the surface 2023 appears to have very little in common with 1943.
Yet, as Royal Navy and Allied warships sail to the Mersey ahead of three days of Battle of the Atlantic commemorations, it is striking how many of those challenges from Leach’s early wartime experiences remain relevant for us.
We might not be at war but we find ourselves once more having to confront the resurgence of state-based dangers.
President Putin is blockading trade in the Black Sea, threatening the undersea cables which support everyday life and increasing activity in the South Atlantic.
And just as in the Second World War, the threats are truly global.
We see, for example, in the South Pacific, that China is continuing to expand its Navy while using its military and economic might to intimidate its neighbours.
Again, much like the Battle of the Atlantic, we know these maritime challenges – coupled with the diverse dangers of terrorism and global criminal networks – will unfortunately endure.
Because the world is more dependent than ever on the oceans.
Global financial markets dependent upon tens of thousands of miles of underwater cabling.
90% of UK trade is carried by sea.
And climate change is expected to raise the stakes – resulting in new sea lanes and accessible natural resources in the High North as temperatures rise and ice caps melt.
So, Sir Henry would not be surprised to find his beloved Royal Navy more in demand than ever.
Over the last year, our ships have been all over the world.
Supporting NATO in Eastern Europe, leading exercises and training Ukrainian sailors in mine clearance.
Operating in the High North alongside partners in the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF).
And conducting numerous weapons and drugs busts in the Gulf region.
All the while, demonstrating the very best of naval soft power around the globe with HMS Tamar and Spey visiting some 15 countries, delivering medical support to Pitcairn and emergency support to Tonga after the devastating volcano.
And who could forget the poignant role they have played at home? With 140 naval ratings pulling the Queen’s coffin through Westminster on the day of her funeral.
As well as those who marched through the streets of London in the King’s coronation processions earlier this month.
So to those of you here today – and indeed all those who couldn’t make it – thank you for doing your duty for our country.
However, the Sea Power Conference is not an arena for self-congratulation.
As you all know our challenge now is to move our thinking on from the past and present to the future.
None of us has a crystal ball. But here’s what we do know.
We know the threats are growing.
We know that rising demand is colliding with tighter budgets.
And we know, in Sir Henry’s words, that, “effective deterrence involves maintaining a high state of readiness, being well equipped and trained, and deploying wherever and whenever the situation demands.”
How, then, can we reconcile these competing objectives?
To my mind we must borrow three lessons from the Battle of the Atlantic.
Lesson one is about strengthening that key stakeholder our industrial base.
In the Second World War, our force depended on the enormous power of our sovereign industries.
With great yards on the Clyde, Mersey and Tyne churning out mighty warships at a rate of knots.
Now, we’re determined to reinvigorate the famous British maritime sector.
Not just so we can produce the hard power required to succeed in this more dangerous era.
But so the sector itself becomes a kind of soft power deterrent – showing our adversaries that our small island has the capability to keep making battle-winning ships for as long as it takes.
And we’re going to achieve that by providing industry with a clear demand signal – with a fresh pipeline of cutting-edge vessels coming in over the next 30 years including Dreadnoughts, Astutes, SSN-AUKUS, Fleet Solid Support ships and next-generation frigates.
By working much more closely with suppliers, giving them the confidence to invest and upskill in the right areas.
And by helping them win commercial and export orders in major new global markets.
The totality overall demand or demand signal is something I’ve thought about and will do much more in future as Procurement Minister.
We’re also supporting the next generation of shipwrights by investing in training programmes and skills academies.
With the likes of Babcock, BAE and others as they put apprentices and graduates through their paces around the country.
Ensuring we have a powerful on-shore advanced manufacturing skills base for decades to come, so that the Royal Navy always has the firepower it needs to carry out its plans.
Lesson two is about encouraging innovation across the sector.
The advent of radar and sonar helped swing the Battle of the Atlantic our way in days gone by.
But today, technologies are advancing at a frightening pace.
AI, for example, is already revolutionising the way data and satellite imagery is informing decision-making in battle, while also enabling forces to carry out dangerous missions with uncrewed aircraft, vehicles and ships.
If we don’t stay ahead of the curve there is a risk that vessels designed in 2023 could be obsolete in ten years’ time frankly a lot less.
Part of that is about integrating new technologies onto existing platforms.
And this is where NavyX comes in, the team with the mission to get new technologies from the drawing board to the frontline as quickly as possible.
And to help them do that, they’ve got the new and unique Experimental Vessel Patrick Blackett.
Named after the former sailor and Nobel Prize winning scientist, Patrick Blackett provides the safe environment we need to test all the game-changing ideas coming over the horizon.
Now we just need to make the most of it.
By working with the regulator to unlock the maximum potential of Patrick Blackett and future technology.
While adapting our existing platforms in the here and now, to ensure we stay one step ahead of our adversaries.
Which brings me onto my third and final lesson. The importance of partnerships.
Sir Henry wouldn’t have got far in the Battle of the Atlantic without the support of allies like France and later the US and Canada.
As we are seeing today in Ukraine, great partnerships are still a great capability in their own right.
And this year we’re also celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Polaris Sales Agreement.
A major part of one of the most enduring bilateral relationships in history, it saw the US supplying us with our very first nuclear missiles, heralding the start of the ultimate deterrent which has kept us safe from the most extreme threats ever since.
The truth is that while our adversaries lack allies they can trust, we are part of a large family united by values we’ve fought and died to protect – Freedom, justice and a commitment to democracy.
And as the dangers around us grow, we’re seeing a renewed commitment to NATO across the board.
That’s why, here in the UK, the Navy is making a substantial commitment to NATO’s New Force Model – including our Carrier Strike Group – in addition to regular contributions to NATO operations.
But we’re also operating on a smaller multi-lateral level, ramping up our collaboration with our partners in the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) which is the 10-nation coalition aiming to preserve peace in Northern Europe.
Over the last year, the JEF has been at the forefront of providing military, economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Joint patrols, led by the British Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond, have been joined by Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, and Danish ships, supported by Swedish and Danish fighter aircraft.
And last year we held Exercise Cold Response near Norway, one of the biggest exercises in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
We’re also strengthening our partnerships beyond Europe.
In the Indo-Pacific, which we all know is one of the main strategic chokepoints in the world, we are persistently operating two ships to reassure allies and partners, while helping to uphold freedom of navigation in the region.
By 2030, our five new Type-31 frigates will further enhance our global reach.
And at an industrial level, the T-26 continues to garner interest in the export market, having already been selected for the Hunter class frigate programme in Australia and the Surface Combatant programme in Canada.
But you and I know there is much more we can do.
And one of my priorities will be to make sure we get even more out of our international ties both at an operational and industrial level.
The three lessons I’ve outlined today – strengthening industry, encouraging innovation and bolstering partnerships – are embodied in what is our most powerful partnership of the last few decades – AUKUS.
AUKUS is not just creating thousands of skilled jobs here in the UK, strengthening our industrial base.
And it’s not just enabling the sharing of skills and expertise as we break new ground together on cutting-edge designs.
But, crucially, it’s uniting three great allies as we work together to protect our common interests.
That is the benchmark for the kind of deals we’re looking to make in the coming months and years.
So, as I’ve said, we’re living at a dangerous time.
A period of rising dangers.
But some things have not changed.
Our maritime power is as important as it has ever been.
So we must do everything we can to enhance Sir Henry’s great legacy through industry, through innovation and through international partnerships.
We must continue to channel his great willpower and his great belief in the values that underpin our daily lives.
Because, if we do not, the warning he gave to Mrs Thatcher still holds true; “We shall be living in a different country whose word counts for little”.