The Defence Select Committee recently heard evidence on the operational readiness and challenges of the British Armed Forces.
The session featured discussions with Admiral Sir Ben Key, First Sea Lord, and Rear Admiral Steve Moorhouse, Director Force Generation of the Royal Navy, highlighting the strengths and areas for concern within the Royal Navy.
A significant issue addressed was the decline in readiness levels across the Armed Forces. Committee member Gavin Robinson MP expressed dissatisfaction with the provided data on readiness, stating, “the aggregate data doesn’t give you any sense when it gets down to individual ships, or effective readiness.”
Admiral Sir Ben Key elaborated on the concept of ‘sustainment’ in the context of naval operations. He defined it as “an ability to remain deployed and effective,” which involves considerations like “the onboard holdings that you have; the holdings that you have available in the locality or task group; what your supply chain looks like and whether it can ensure that you remain deployed and readily capable.”
Speaking about the Royal Navy’s current sustainment capabilities, Admiral Key pointed out the advancements with newer ships: “With the new ships—the Type 45s coming through PIP and all the rest of it—we are moving into an increasingly better position.”
He acknowledged the difficulties in maintaining older vessels, praising the naval engineers for their resilience and skill, but also noting that “The old 23s are very demanding ships to maintain, and their supply chains are under a huge amount of pressure.”
Rear Admiral Moorhouse highlighted the Navy’s unique global deployment capabilities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, stating, “We are also one of the very few nations in the world that could deploy a carrier task group to the other side of the world in the middle of covid with very little host nation support anywhere, and sustain that for seven months.”
The session also addressed the challenge of a national shortage of engineers, which impacts the Navy’s operational capabilities. Admiral Key remarked, “I think it is down to the fact that the nation is short of engineers.”