Home / Geopolitics / Amid Rising naval threats from Russia and China enhanced collaboration of Royal Navy and US Navy

Amid Rising naval threats from Russia and China enhanced collaboration of Royal Navy and US Navy

Russia and china are asserting  their growing military might and reach through seas a threat to NATO nations. Russian naval activity is now at its highest levels since the Cold War. Head of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Korolev stated that in 2016 their submarine fleet had spent more than 3,000 days at sea and this figure will keep rising for the foreseeable future. Of particular concern to the RN, are submarine penetrations, either close by or within UK territorial waters and attempts to track and record the acoustic signature of Trident submarines.“The Russians are operating all over the Atlantic, they are also operating closer to our shores.” says NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “Russian submarine incursions are stress-testing our military, political and media response… it is a challenge we must take seriously, our values & way of life is being challenged… access to the sea is crucial to our prosperity” (Colonel John Andreas Olsen, NATO representative giving evidence to the Commons Defence Committee, 24th Jan 2018).


China represents a strategic threat to Britain as its navy could reach the North Atlantic via the Arctic by a route opened up by global heating, the head of the Royal Navy has said in Oct 2020. Adm Tony Radakin, the first sea lord, said an “increasingly assertive” China had the capability to reach waters north of the UK by using the emerging Northern Sea Route. “Climate change is a concern for all of us, but it is opening up new maritime trade routes across the top of the world, halving the transit time between Europe and Asia. And we sit at the gateway to those routes,” the navy chief said in a speech given from the new £3.1bn Prince of Wales aircraft carrier in Portsmouth on Thursday. “But when China sails its growing navy into the Atlantic, which way will it come – the long route or the short?” Chris Parry, a former rear admiral, said: “The Northern Sea Route is a major component of China’s Belt and Road initiative in its quest to dominate trade in and around Eurasia. The risk is that China, in cooperation with Russia, will seek to exclude others from the route by restrictive practices.”


Britain’s navy is increasingly being drawn into maritime conflict with China. In 2018 the then defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, sent the HMS Albion to sail close to manmade islands in the South China Sea that are claimed by Beijing, although they are more than 200 miles away from its mainland. China said the UK had undertaken “provocative actions” and aggressively asked the ship to move on. China now boasts the world’s most powerful navy, with 350 ships and submarines, according to an annual review conducted by the Pentagon. The Royal Navy ranks 28th by number of ships, although it is one of only three navies to have a pair of aircraft carriers or more, along with China and the US. Britain intends to sail the first of the carriers, the Queen Elizabeth, to the Indo-Pacific next spring but will not clarify the exact route. There is speculation that it may be sent to the South China Sea in conjunction with US and Australian warships to assert the right of freedom of navigation.


As outward looking, trading nations (US & UK) , with the largest and fifth largest economies respectively, our prosperity and security are globally determined. And yet the international system at sea, so vital to our interests, is fragile and, sadly, the world is less safe, said First Sea Lord Sir George Zambellas,. There  is growing competition and regional instability, tensions over sovereignty, and disputes over natural resources. …But also failing states and transnational crime, with its sorry overspill of human suffering. We’ve seen this all too clearly from a decade of piracy off Somalia.  And our freedom of access at sea will be challenged by new constraints, like the proliferation of cheap ballistic missiles, mines, precision weapons and conventional submarines and the continuing and penetrating rise of cyber, not just militarily but in the military industrial sector too, said First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas in a speech in 2015.


Both the UK and US recognise the need for combined, credible, and forward deployed sea power to protect our interests in this uncertain world. But, at the same time, advanced navies like ours will need to balance the affordability of new technology against continued public spending restraint. The U.S. and U.K. navies share a common naval heritage and legacy of collaboration since the first half of the 19th century. More recently, a combined RN-USN destroyer squadron staff completed a nine-month deployment to the U.S. 6th and 5th Fleet areas of responsibility in April. Royal Navy personnel were part of a staff that served aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and supported the sea combat commander for the strike group. RN sailors also train aboard USN aircraft carriers as the Royal Navy constructs aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, the lead ship of her class. The United Kingdom currently has 15 pilots training in U.S. Navy units. The two navies also work closely on countering piracy, supporting disaster relief efforts, and fighting terrorism globally.


In 2014, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and his counterpart in the United Kingdom, First Sea Lord Sir George Zambellas, signed a combined strategic narrative that articulates a shared vision for deeper cooperation between the U.S. Navy (USN) and the Royal Navy (RN). They signed a Combined Strategic Narrative to articulate their vision of closer cooperation and to agree 5 areas of work to deliver results over the next 15 years.

“This combined narrative represents a new and exciting opportunity for our two nations to build on shared national interests through the value of credible seapower,” said Zambellas. “It is a powerful statement of our shared maritime ambition, it cements our maritime leadership, and it delivers an even deeper partnership between our navies, to the mutual strategic and operational advantage of both the U.K. and U.S.”


“Firstly, we will use the regeneration of the UK’s carrier strike capability to coordinate our future carrier operations closely. The US Marine Corps will also operate the F35-B Joint Strike Fighter, in common with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. We are working with the US Navy and Marine Corps to best exploit this extraordinary machine, in both technology and tactics. We have started, and are planning more exchange personnel in the test and operational squadrons, in strike group staffs, and on each other’s flight decks. This will allow us to take our integration, our efficiency, our utility and value-for-money to new levels, with the practical and strategic option of operating UK and US Joint Strike Fighter aircraft from ships of both navies.”


“And this makes greater collaborative force management possible, which is the second feature of our future partnership. This means coordinating our global presence by sharing engagement plans and by prioritising together, in order to maximise finite resources and make best use of our comparative advantages. ”


Royal Navy and US Navy also provided thrust to interoperability through initiatives like: Joint development of a Common Missile Compartment for Strategic Missile Submarines, a common airframe for the Joint Strike Fighter, common weapon systems and stocks, common data protocols, we are establishing interoperability from the outset. And, through the obvious opportunities in interoperability, the Royal Navy is already exploring what lessons from US Marine Corps trials of the F35-B can carry over to our own trials to make them quicker and simpler. Looking ahead, these aircraft represent a massive data gathering tool, offering unprecedented situational awareness. Together, we must understand how to manipulate the data, how to corral it, how to discipline it, in order to maximise this opportunity.


“Which leads me to the fifth area of cooperation, which is force and capability planning, to ensure that, together, we maintain a balanced mix of capabilities and that our activities complement our mutual priorities. Where appropriate, this will include making use of each other’s research and development and the pursuit of compatible weapon systems and sensors to improve interoperability. I know there are a range of areas, from high voltage power generation to data processing, where we can explore natural synergies.”


One of the important area identified was Maritime Autonomous Systems. “The operational benefits are well recorded: persistence, stealth, range; real time information; greater interoperability; reduced risk. But the economic benefits are equally powerful, including incremental, off-the-shelf or even disposable acquisition solutions. Already the Royal Navy’s Scan Eagle remotely operated surveillance aircraft have proven their worth in the Gulf, but we’re only scratching the surface of what automation offers. So my view is that if it swims, dives, flies, walks or crawls, or any combination thereof, then the Royal Navy is interested, because it’s going to be a big part of our shared maritime future.”


He concluded by saying “You know we have, in the Royal Navy and the US Navy, a long history of cooperation, ready and willing to fight alongside each other, shoulder to shoulder. And, in this cooperation, our forces have been interoperable, but separate. But, on the back of the UK government’s ambition, this is changing. For the next 15 years, and more, we are designing and deploying naval forces to be more than interoperable. From the outset we aim to be integrated, working in unison, not in tandem.”


Recent Initiatives

The U.S. Navy and British Royal Navy are preparing to more closely align their futures in a whole host of warfare areas, the U.S. chief of naval operations announced in Oct 2020. The U.S. Navy’s chief of naval operations and First Sea Lord Adm. Tony Radakin intend to “sign a future integrated warfighting statement of intent that sets a cooperative vision for interchangeablty,” CNO Adm. Mike Gilday announced at the virtual Atlantic Future Forum, being held on board the RN’s new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth.


A  London Tech Bridge was established in Dec 2020—with both nations as full partners—will serve as a command post for innovation for the two Navies as they work toward interchangeability in everything from technology development to deployment and operations. Royal Navy Second Sea Lord Vice Adm. Nick Hine, and the Hon. James “Hondo” Geurts, U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, announced the official partnership today at a live virtual event on social media.


“The London Tech Bridge will form a significant upgrade to the U.S./U.K. maritime partnership and will enhance the Royal Navy’s already significant investments in technology and innovation,” said Hine. “Collaborative problem-solving will allow us to advance from operating alongside our partners in an interoperable manner, to truly working with them in an interchangeable manner.”


“The Tech Bridge name denotes technology, but there’s a huge human element to this,” said Geurts. “One of the competitive advantages of a democratic society is its ability to bring people together in a collaborative, not coercive fashion. In fact, the more diverse ideas, the better. “We do not need you to be an expert in the U.S. or Royal Navy,” he added. “The kind of folks I’m hoping to excite, attract and leverage are those with the curiosity to explore, the humility to learn, and the boldness to act. There are certainly technology priority areas we have, but don’t make that a limiter in bringing ideas to us.”


Tech Bridge will be a full partnership between two nations—a first for the Tech Bridge concept. It is one of the first key examples of the two navies moving out on the recently signed Future Integrated Warfighting Statement of Intent. Initial focus areas will be Unmanned and Autonomy, Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, Space, and Directed Energy and Lasers.


Cmdr. Albert Arnold, of ONR Global, who will serve as the U.S. director, noted the impact of the London Tech Bridge will go beyond new technology, and will facilitate crucial conversations that surround the tech itself, focused on strategy, ethics, and trust. “By innovating together across key strategic areas—from problem curation to solution development and fielding—we can truly reach the goal of being interchangeable throughout all we do,” he said. “Using ONR Global’s deep networks as the perfect foundation, we’re very excited to expand the breadth and reach with our Royal Navy partners to deliver capability for defense and beyond.”


Collaboration between Royal Navy and US Navy digital delivery teams

The Royal Navy and US Navy have a long history of working together, and this alliance is as important as ever in a rapidly changing digital world. However, effective collaboration with foreign partners can sometimes be challenging due to bureaucratic process, time zones, tooling and information handling controls. COVID-19 hasn’t helped either, denying us opportunities for high quality face-to-face interactions. Despite this, two programs, one Royal Navy and one US Navy, are working closely together to overcome these challenges. This is just one part of a wider initiative to establish better interoperability and interchangeability of technology between the US and UK


During a meeting in March 2020, senior Digital and AI leaders in the Royal Navy and US Navy provided us with a mandate to aggressively explore, develop, and demonstrate how we make our applications work together (interoperability) and how we can seamlessly use each other’s technology (interchangeability). Royal Navy Digital Services and our US counterparts developed a collaboration plan to look at specific pieces of technology and the methods we use to research, design and build software.


Our first major activity was a virtual two-day workshop to help two digital delivery teams understand the products they’re each working on and to establish great working relationships. One team is delivering an application to support maritime sustainment planning for the Royal Navy while the other is delivering an application to enable digital maritime maneuver planning for the US Navy.


The workshop generated 12 areas for follow-on collaboration, which we’re finalising with our US counterparts. They include:

demonstrating US and UK application interoperability using modern application programming interfaces (API)
exploring and understanding software development and deployment processes to allow us to exchange applications
testing the Royal Navy User Interface Design System with US Navy applications
sharing practices in user-centred design


Meanwhile, our shared longer-term aspiration is to develop the concept of joint UK-US Development Squadrons (DEVRON). The Royal Navy and US Navy Digital & AI DEVRON will build on strong digital capabilities to develop AI/ML which supports fleet operations centers to tactical-level units, and interoperability with joint service partners.


Royal Navy and US Navy evolve joint AI and ML work

Recently, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy have decided to work on various methods to establish links between their digital delivery teams. They will also discuss some of the test methods for international collaboration and develop deeper technical collaboration around artificial intelligence and machine learning.


In August 2020, the work started as a part of a wider initiative that aims to establish better technology co-operations between the two countries. In digital and AI at both organizations, senior leaders have the objective to develop, explore, and demonstrate how these applications work together in an interoperable way. They also want to explore how they can interchangeably use each other’s technology.


The U.S-U.K. development squadrons will be created under a shared long-term vision from support fleet operations centers, interoperability, and tactical-level units with joint service partners. The collaboration plan was devised by Royal Navy Digital Services and the US Navy under that mandate to look at specific pieces of technology and the methods, the organizations use to research, design, and build software.


In a blog post, Layna Nelson, systems engineer, and U.S. Navy secondee said “effective foreign collaboration is considered important in improving a country’s capabilities. and those of allies while bringing different perspectives into digital teams. However, that can be challenging due to factors such as bureaucracy and different time zones. The pandemic adds to those hurdles with the impossibility of quality face-to-face interactions.”


To tackle those obstacles, the Navies used a two-day virtual workshop to share best practices in collaboration and digital delivery on development and research. In the event, there were two teams involved: one working for the Royal Navy’s application to support maritime sustainment planning, and the second was working on delivering an application for the US Navy, to enable digital maritime maneuver planning. In the months to come, according to Nelson, international agreements and collaborative software development will take place.
He says “Throughout this path-finding process, we’ll be learning and evolving with the goal of developing better digital and intelligent capabilities and teams to make our Navies stronger.”


“We will synchronize pioneering capabilities, strengthen operating concepts and focus our collective efforts to deliver combined sea power together. By organizing our cooperation on carrier strike, underwater superiority, navy and marine integration and doubling down on future war fighting like unmanned and artificial intelligence, we will remain on the leading edge of great power competition.” Radkin said the services would focus on four areas to grow this “interchangeability”: undersea warfare; carrier operations; aligning the efforts of the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy to become a cohesive fighting unit; and on advanced warfighting programs such as artificial intelligence and cyber.


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