Royal Navy has ‘lost its ambition’, says outgoing Sea Lord in parting shot

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The Royal Navy has “lost its ambition”, the outgoing Second Sea Lord has said, as he criticised “traditionalists” reluctant to embrace new technology and AI.

In his valedictory letter, Vice-Admiral Nick Hine, the Second Sea Lord, turned his guns on “pedants and naysayers” holding the Navy back.

The note, addressed to all Navy personnel, Royal Marines and civil servants, did not single out individuals but instead praised those who “strive so hard for the success of the organisation today, tomorrow and always”.

Vice-Adml Hine said: “Those of you who have known me for a long time will have heard many times my bugbear that our great Navy has lost its ambition. 

“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.”

‘Be bolder in the face of the future’

Vice-Adml Hine, who retires after 37 years of service, has spoken in the past of the Navy’s need to sacrifice “organisational sacred cows” blocking progress, as well as how a tradition of caution is part of Royal Navy culture.

He is known to admire Adml Jackie Fisher, a Royal Navy legend seen as an outstanding innovator whose reforms helped transform the fleet into a modern fighting force at the start of the 20th century.

Speaking exclusively to The Telegraph, Vice-Adml Hine said the ingrained bureaucracy of the military sometimes gets in the way of progress.

“The one thing you can’t buy is time,” he said.

Vice-Adml Hine said transforming the Navy would rely on changing its culture. “I don’t need people to pull ropes,” he said. “I need people to pull data.”

His critical comments are directed at those who have failed to embrace new technologies such as drones, robotic mine hunters and artificial intelligence. 

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