Nick Hine laments ‘rose-tinted view of tradition’ and ‘spurious belief’ risk can be avoided
Last modified on Wed 12 Jan 2022 13.05 EST
The Royal Navy will fail without reform, the outgoing deputy of the service has said in a farewell message to personnel and civil servants in which he bemoaned what he said was as an inadequate status quo.
V-Adm Nick Hine posted a candidly worded letter on Twitter in which he said change had to happen, and that he had sometimes despaired at the type of thinking around him.
His time in the role corresponded with a period in which – as the Commons defence committee said in a report last month – spending on the navy and the wider military had been capped despite it facing changing threats and taking on additional responsibilities.
“Please understand that the need for and, the value of change, is not a fantasy – if we don’t transform we will fail and we will lose. It is that simple,” he wrote, adding that he was also addressing “pedants and naysayers”.
Those who had known him for a long time would know that his “big bugbear” was that “our great navy has lost its ambition”, he wrote.
“I have despaired at times that collectively we had become self-censoring, risk-averse and lacking in curiosity, confidence and critical thinking skills.
“We have these qualities but have allowed a rose-tinted view of tradition and a spurious belief that you can avoid risk by sticking to a failing status quo to avoid driving transformation.”
The defence committee report identified a series a challenges the navy faces, including delays to crucial procurement programmes as a result of budget cuts, an increasing reliance on allies and successive governments prioritising of ships’ defensive rather than offensive capabilities.
“When ships do get to sea they act like porcupines – well defended herbivores with limited offensive capabilities. This is a result of decisions by successive governments to limit budgets and prioritise defensive capabilities,” it said.
“These significant challenges have not prevented the Navy delivering significant successes, most notably the commissioning of the two aircraft carriers and the 2021 carrier strike group deployment to the Indo-Pacific. However, they do raise concerns about the Navy’s ability to deliver the crucial transformations it has planned.”
Boris Johnson selected the head of the navy as the next chief of Britain’s armed forces for the first time in 20 years in October, a choice intended to reinforce the UK’s post-Brexit switch in focus to the Indo-Pacific region.
Downing Street also published an integrated review of defence and foreign policy earlier last year, a key feature of which was to call for a significant British re-engagement in the Indo-Pacific, which had been abandoned in the late 1960s.
Sea power is seen to be at the heart of competing with China, which has the world’s largest navy. The UK signed a three-country pact with the US last month to supply long-range nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.
A navy spokesperson, said: “Threats to the UK and our allies multiply every day and so it is critical the Royal Navy continues to transform to ensure that personnel and valuable resources are placed where they are needed most.
“The government has made the biggest investment in the armed forces since the cold war. We will continue to modernise, ensuring we are ready to meet the future challenges.