The UK military must invest in artificial intelligence (AI), drones and technology in order to combat the threats it will face in the future, the head of the Royal Navy has said.
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key made the comments during his annual Seapower Conference keynote speech at Lancaster House in London.
At the two-day gathering, Admiral Sir Ben said the UK had to rise to the challenges it faces, especially those posed by Russian submarines, as “coming second” was not “a desirable option”.
“As we watch the increasing deployment by Russia of their most modern submarines, some of the very quietest in the world, you would expect me to be investing in the cutting-edge technology anti-submarine capabilities that allow us to detect, find and, if necessary, defeat them,” he said.
In the last year, the UK has invested heavily in underwater capabilities, including the new submarine hunter HMS Anson and RFA Proteus and RFA Stirling Castle to protect both undersea cables and infrastructure and deal with any future mine threats.
However, with the battlefield extending “from seabed to space” and “breath-taking” advances in data and artificial intelligence, the Royal Navy has to be “deliberately ambitious” with its goals for exploiting AI.
“It is causing us to reimagine warfare, creating dynamic new benchmarks for accuracy, efficiency and lethality,” Admiral Sir Ben said.
“The goal is enhanced lethality and survivability through the deployment of AI-enabled capabilities.”
The Royal Navy is also pressing ahead with pilotless helicopters and quadcopters, as well as the increased use of Banshee drones – considered more conventional crewless tech.
But the First Sea Lord wants to go further, with longer-range tech capable of gathering intelligence and striking targets.
Another element is increasing the striking power of the Royal Navy, with the new Mark 41 missile silo helping to achieve this.
A launcher is being fitted to all eight Type 26 frigates, allowing the ships to use a variety of current and future anti-air, anti-surface, ballistic missile defence and strike missiles – including the Royal Navy’s Future Offensive Surface Weapon.
The launchers will also now be fitted to five Type 31 frigates – under construction on the Forth.
Admiral Sir Ben also discussed the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
“As a result of investment over the last two decades we now operate two fifth-generation aircraft carriers, nuclear powered ballistic and attack submarines a range of aircraft, escorts and support ships to allow us to deploy globally, as well as fielding an elite amphibious fighting force,” he said.
“There are very few navies in the world which can do this and so I am delighted that we remain in that first tier.”
The Navy chief also underlined the vital role the sea, the trade which flows on it and data and pipelines which flow beneath it, plays in the security and prosperity of the UK.
“We must make our voice heard and increase the recognition once again about the vital importance of the sea for our island nation and the global community,” Admiral Sir Ben concluded.
“This is what a seapower state does, what I believe the United Kingdom is and should be and must be into the future and I look forward to the part that we will play in continuing to drive it forward.”
The conference also marked the 50th anniversary of the ongoing agreement between the Royal and Royal Dutch Navies and Royal Marines-Netherlands Marines Corps to train, exercise and deploy together.
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