Former First Sea Lord George Zambellas: My Challenge to Defence Leadership

Former First Sea Lord George Zambellas: My Challenge to Defence Leadership

Admiral Sir George Zambellas — August 30, 2017

What is the reality of maintaining the status quo in military technology? Usually, it’s the safe approach and the one supported by limited budgets, long procurement cycles and unimaginative political and military leadership.

Without the courage to think and act differently, to incorporate innovative commercial technologies into military capability, we run the risk of losing additional agility and superiority. Meanwhile, a Digital Information Revolution is coming to our seas. By enabling this change – through technology – we’ll arm our sailors with the knowledge and skills needed to win.

This is my challenge to defence leadership: Question the status quo. Respect the march of technology and recognize the importance of unmanned maritime systems for future naval operations. And summon the political courage and imagination needed to access the opportunities ahead.

Knowing that these opportunities are not really a matter of choice. If our enemies are intellectually braver, quicker, and more strategically focused than we are, more willing to take the risk, they’ll get there first.

And so an effort I started with the advent of Unmanned Warrior, I continue now as a civilian: to expose the risk of inaction that awaits military leadership. If you remain stoically platform-centered in support of the number-centered prejudices of your political masters, you will be surpassed. The future performance in war will be dominated by the relentless and competitive exploitation of data: undersea, on the sea, in the air and in space. All together.

Expecting this data-centered journey to evolve spontaneously, is unrealistic. Some connections will form ‘naturally’, some by partnership agreement. But across a multi-faceted domain that mixes subsea mineral exploration, environmental research, migration, fishery, oil and gas—and all forms of security—the chances of spontaneous cooperation are zero. Compare that with the air domain, where international safety and regulation has driven compliance.

So, urgent change is required, in understanding, leadership and procurement, to side-step the current journey of disconnected interests, and stale military delivery. This means putting aside existing methods, and moving to a rapid collaboration—if necessary, forced—amongst all components of the domain. We must exploit commercial, non-state, and military investment, as they all start to use data exploitation and AI in their journey.

The maritime domain is a great place to start.

Admiral Sir George Zambellas is a senior advisor to Liquid Robotics. He will be at DSEI 2017 in September, presenting on “Changing Perceptions in Underwater Defence and Security: Respecting the March of Technology.” Join us for his seminar at 14:30 on 12 September in the Naval Theatre.