Many congratulations to Admiral Sir Tony Radakin KCB ADC who, following Her Majesty the Queen’s approval, is now confirmed to succeed, on November 30th, General Sir Nicholas Carter GCB CBE DSO ADC Gen as the next Chief of the Defence Staff.
In the formal MOD announcement this morning Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace is quoted saying “Admiral Radakin has been an outstanding First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff overseeing a period of transformation in the Royal Navy that has seen more ships deployed, for longer, all over the world. That includes the inaugural voyage of HMS Queen Elizabeth at the head of our new Carrier Strike Group which set sail in May. Few can argue with that and while it was his predecessor Admiral Sir George Zambellas who set in motion a revitalisation of Royal Navy PR Navy there can be little doubt that Admiral Rankin moves to the most senior position in UK defence having left the Royal Navy in a much better place than he found it.
From November 30th, ironically the anniversary of the birth of Sir Winston Churchill who served as First Lord of the Admiralty and the beginning of both World Wars, should we expect Admiral Radakin to take a rather different direction in regard of UK military? I believe that we will see significant change although that is not to suggest that we should anticipate change in political stance. Having learned from past failures, the Royal Navy is today in a reasonably strong position but sadly, the same cannot be said of the Army. The hope will be that he will finally get to grips with reshaping the Army, making it fit for purpose and indeed, finding a necessary solution as to what the Army needs to be in modern Britain.
Never in my lifetime was honesty and Integrity more needed in UK defence than it is today. We need to rid ourselves of those who talk in riddles and pretend that UK defence has all that it needs in an ever and fast changing world. Public Relations – PR – is of course very important but it must be honest and real without pretence. We need strong and honest communication from those charged with responsibility for the military and we need to have questions properly answered as opposed to answers that are manipulated.
And while sorting the Army and moving it into an era of not only less means more but also significant structural change we must also remember that the next war in which we engage may be no so very different from the last. Thus, in my humble opinion, we need to ensure that not only do we have a workable and affordable strategy of intent to move through technological change be this in space, cyber protection, AI and many other facets but importantly, that we maintain sufficient levels of traditional forms of military capabilities required to properly defend.
Separately I must question why it was that the choice of next CDS was leaked. All credit to the Daily Telegraph who now appear to be back in favour from HMS Leaks as the newspaper of choice. Twitter was in full flow and we were informed that Vice Admiral Ben Key would be promoted to Admiral to be the next First Sea Lord and that the other two Service Chiefs, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Wigston and of the Air Staff and Chief of the General Staff General Sir Mark Carleton Smith would, as I had myself predicted several weeks ago, have their respective positions extended until June next year. As I write this, I have yet to see any confirmation but then again, I have as yet never seen a leak from HMS Leaks being wrong. My plea is that we cease the ridiculous practise of leaking things out before formal announcements are made.
Admiral Radakin is, compared to the current CDS, a very good communicator who comes across in a confident and appealing manner. Although one feels sorry for his only main competitor for the job, General Saunders, my view is that the Prime Minister has made the right choice.
But smiles are not enough and as CDS Admiral Radakin has a huge job to do. Many serving members of the military are demotivated and under the present regime feel that their voices are never heard or listened too and that they have been left out. Admiral Radakin has many natural qualities as well as an almost perfect military background. He will be welcomed by all members of the military and his first task must surely be to motivate his people, to listen, observe and act. Smiling at them and pretending that all is well is no longer fit for purpose. Honesty and integrity is what brings people on side.
My final hopes are that that Admiral Radakin will not only stand up for his people and challenge government when required in respect of manpower and equipment capability but also will never allow words to be put in his mouth by government. Defence needs the public to always be on side and never has public opinion in relation to defence been as low as it is today. It is now down to Admiral Radakin to begin the fight back to bring the public back on side, that they can better understand what the military does, why strong defence is more crucial than ever and why NATO and the role that we play in it is so vital for western defence.
CHW (London – 7th October 2021)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785