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.
Handing over as deputy head of the Royal Navy to Vice-Adml Martin Connell, Vice-Adml Hine said he had made it his mission during his two and a half years in post to challenge all naval personnel “to grasp the nettle, to be bolder in the face of the future and to truly be the people that you can be”.
“I have been heartened that there are so many people prepared to give their all to move the service in the right direction and at the pace needed,” he said.
“As I go, I say to those who would prefer to have the brakes on, the pedants and naysayers, remain critical (always) but 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.”
The Telegraph understands the First Sea Lord – the head of the Royal Navy – saw the letter before publication and is happy with its contents, as it emphasises the need to be more efficient and use money more wisely.
A naval source said: “The transformation programme has delivered some successes, but there are some in the older generation who are resistant to change. They know what they bloody well like and like what they bloody well know.”
“If they don’t get on the bus, they’ll get run over by it.”
Vice-Adml Hine said he was “saddened” he had “not been able to realise the level of ambition that I know is possible and needed”.
He called on all personnel “to be braver and more audacious to help lead this great service to the position that it and all of you deserve…to be ready in all respects to win whenever and wherever”.
He added: “Strive to leave the service in a better place than you found it.
“Be better than yesterday. I hope that remains any legacy I have.”