Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope—Royal Navy
My expectation, as the United Kingdom grapples with its significant public funding gap, is that defense spending will increasingly be prioritized toward the investment required to support the continuing UK contribution to the NATO campaign in Afghanistan, a trend already seen in recent, pre-budget announcements. Notwithstanding the significant and enduring Royal Navy contribution (which includes our Royal Marines) to the land operations there, the challenge for me is to make the case for continued investment in the key maritime capabilities that we must preserve as a hedge against an uncertain future.
In that respect, I am assisted greatly by being able to point to the enormous variety of tasks being undertaken by the Royal Navy every day, very often working alongside allies and international partners, all over the world. We are certainly busy, certainly stretched, but we have been able, through the careful husbanding of finite resources and a willingness to manage risk in an informed way, to meet an increased level of commitments in the last few years. I don't underestimate for one moment the demands that this places on my sailors and marines, but at the same time, we are undertaking a huge range of operations, transforming the way we do business and leveraging technology to ensure that we stay in the forefront of the world's navies.
In the longer term, my focus is on the force structures needed to deliver and support the capabilities we will need if we are to protect and promote the UK's world-wide interests. Notwithstanding the recession, we are in the midst of an exciting building program, which reflects a governmental commitment to ensuring the UK retains the expeditionary maritime capability fundamental to delivering against our tasks.
The general election in spring this year, and the Defence Review that will follow it, provide an opportunity for defense in the UK to look afresh at its structures and how it delivers security into the future. That will bring challenges for the Royal Navy, because no ship, no matter how capable, can be in two places at once, and we have already seen some reductions and delays in areas of our equipment program. All this notwithstanding, my assessment is that we remain in good shape, and we are seeing versatile new ships and submarines come on line to replace aging stock. At the same time, I am not complacent. Issues of quantity are common to many navies, and I know I am not alone in welcoming the prospects of greater multinational cooperation between navies and other maritime forces in working together to deliver security at sea.
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