It’s a pleasure to be here in Farnborough this morning for the Navy Leaders Combined Naval Event.
It’s great to see so many participants representing not only our friends in NATO, but also friends from the Indo-Pacific and other parts of the world.
Much has changed in the global defense environment since the last of these conferences in March 2020, as the world headed into two long years of lockdowns and restrictions.
Indeed, since then we have seen international supply chains hampered by covid and rising costs; we have seen growing concerns about instability in the Indo-Pacific; and now of course, barbaric warfare in Europe on a scale we thought was relegated to the last century.
All the while, we have entered the next stage in the battle against climate change, and the Far North has become a region of competition between states, as melting ice exposes natural resources and makes it increasingly likely the prospect of a sea passage to the northwest.
But one thing that hasn’t changed in the last two years, or even in the last 2,000 years, is our dependence on the seas.
Even in the digital age, around 95% of UK trade by volume and 90% by value is transported by sea.
While 97% of the world’s data and trade worth 10 trillion dollars a day travels through cables under the ocean.
The Russian blockade in the Black Sea, which has stifled Ukraine’s maritime trade, only underlines the strategic importance of maritime control.
So, as we contemplate the future of the Navy during this conference, there are in my view two inescapable truths about our current situation.
The first is that all of our nations, wherever they are in the world, face a new set of deeply complex and evolving challenges, challenges not seen since the end of the Cold War.
And the second is that our navies must be part of this solution.
One need only look at our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to see how frigates and destroyers are helping to bolster security in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Our Integrated Study and Defense Command paper may have been published in a more peaceful Europe last spring, but it nonetheless recognized the importance of the Royal Navy in the 21st century.
That’s why they laid out plans to modernize the force with a set of cutting-edge new capabilities, backed by a top-notch industrial base.
We want to make our navy more agile and responsive, more persistently deployed in key regions, and more interoperable with our allies. In other words, even more efficient.
The good news is that we have £38 billion over the next ten years to truly deliver on our vision for the Navy, thanks to a £7.5 billion increase in the latest Equipment Plan.
The even better news is that we have already made great progress on some major projects.
I was in Barrow just two weeks ago to kick off the critical third phase of the Dreadnought delivery program, which will see the first of the boats begin sea trials.
Now is a time when we truly recognize the value of an independent sovereign deterrent that does its job 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And it’s deeply reassuring to know that progress towards Vanguard-class success continues apace.
150m long and capable of operating in the most hostile environments, these four submarines will be both the largest and most complex ever built for the Royal Navy.
Joining them will be our seven new nifty-class attack submarines, automated minehunters designed to detect and destroy deadly sea mines in shipping lanes, as well as an increased number of frigates and destroyers, and a new Fleet Solid Support.
I am also delighted to announce that today we will join a tri-national agreement with France and Italy which will allow us to improve the anti-missile defenses of our Type-45 destroyers.
The upgrade, worth over £300m, will see the UK become the first European country to operate a maritime ballistic missile defense capability, helping our Royal Navy counter the ballistic missile threat anti-ship at sea.
But to continue producing the kind of capabilities that are turning heads around the world, we know we need a vibrant shipbuilding industry.
This, of course, requires a whole-of-government approach that goes beyond the navy and extends to commercial and other vessels as well.
This is why the Prime Minister appointed the Secretary of Defense as Shipbuilding Czar in 2019; that’s why, last September, we launched the National Shipbuilding Board, which is now driving transformative change; and it’s also why, in March of this year, I showed up at the House of Commons Dispatch Box and announced an updated National Shipbuilding Strategy.
Drawing on the versatile skills of industry and academia and backed by over £4 billion of investment over the next three years, the strategy is the framework for our future maritime success.
At its heart is a 30-year-old shipbuilding pipeline of over 150 vessels – providing a clear demand signal about our future needs.
We know that a steady pace of design and manufacturing work is vital, not only to maintaining our critical national security capabilities, but also to generating efficiencies that reduce long-term costs.
But we’re not just giving suppliers confidence in industry backlogs, we’ll also be giving them more clarity on our requirements by setting policy and technology priorities, so they can invest and upgrade their skills. .
Which brings me to my next point. Everyone in this room knows that building a ship isn’t really about putting two pieces of metal together anymore.
And although I am not an engineer, I learned by meeting apprentices in Barrow, Rosyth and Clyde the degree of technological sophistication required in modern shipbuilding.
This is why it is crucial that we have the skills base on land, as well as the international partnerships, which allow us to maintain and develop the next generation of these platforms.
While at Barrow I saw first hand the excellent work being done at BAE Systems’ Submarine Academy for Skills and Knowledge – which trains over 1,000 apprentices and graduates and 400 more should join this year.
I know that Babcock and other companies also support thousands of apprentices across the country, often combining on-the-job training with formal education, but I still believe this is an area where the industry can do even more.
And this Government’s desire to develop advanced skills and push the boundaries of innovation is supported by £6.6 billion of funding earmarked for research and development across Defence.
The Navy is also the first service to appoint a Chief Technology Officer, to work with industry in getting this revolutionary kit to the front line faster.
And then there’s NavyX, the Royal Navy’s autonomy and lethality accelerator, which develops, tests and experiments with state-of-the-art equipment.
But in an age of complex maritime threats, with increasing demands on budgets, the fact is no navy can go it alone.
It is therefore essential that we work with trusted friends to improve interoperability, make the most of precious resources and strengthen our combined resilience.
That is why our two mighty aircraft carriers – which may have been built in six historic British yards – still have international cooperation at their heart.
Indeed, the Queen Elizabeth was flanked by jets and ships from the United States and European Indo-Pacific allies on its first mission last year.
And I welcomed NATO ambassadors on board as it crossed the Mediterranean on its way back, where we discussed the many benefits of continued cooperation.
HMS Prince of Wales has become NATO’s official floating command platform, already leading a 28-nation task force as part of Exercise Cold Response to test NATO’s responsiveness in the High North.
We are also strengthening our industrial collaboration. Our AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine partnership with the US and Australia is of course the most high-profile example, but it is not the only area where the UK is proving to be a willing and productive international partner. .
We are also working closely with Canada and Australia on the next generation global combat ship.
The workhorse of the fleet, the Type-26 frigate will conduct advanced combat, maritime security and international engagements around the world.
And I am also delighted with the progress made by our new Type-31 frigates, particularly in Poland and Indonesia. The Type-31s are the most flexible and versatile ships in our future fleet, I’m sure other nations will want to join the club.
So that’s what we’re doing to sustain our sea power through an improved shipbuilding industry.
But I also count on all industry players to focus even more on innovation, resilience and skills development as we come together on these ambitious plans.
And if we can do that, ten years from now we will have an even more efficient navy with some of the most technologically advanced ships on the planet.
We will have dreadnought submarines constantly deployed beneath the waves, protecting us from the most extreme threats to our way of life.
And we will also have a thriving industrial sector, from Appledore to Rosyth, along with an invigorated skills base, a more productive supply chain and stronger partnerships with our great allies and friends around the world.
I want to end by mentioning that we come together on the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War, when our navy sailed 8,000 miles to protect the sovereignty and freedom of the islanders.
In that moment, we have seen how effective our maritime forces can be, and while the challenges have evolved, I am confident that with everyone in this room on board, we will have the power and presence needed. to meet the maritime threats of the 21st century and succeed once again.