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Sea power remains 'vital' to Britain's Armed Forces

Sea power remains "vital" to Britain's defence, the head of the Royal Navy said today, as the armed forces prepare for a radical shake-up following the general election.

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, said that control of the seas was still a "pre-requisite for success" in many of Britain's military operations.

He is the latest of the three service chiefs to set out his case following the publication of the Government's green paper laying the ground for a strategic defence review once the election is over.

It is widely expected that the forces will face significant cutbacks, whichever party wins, as the next government grapples with Britain's £178 billion deficit.

Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, Admiral Stanhope said that the Navy enabled Britain to project power around the world while protecting vital national interests.

"Maritime forces benefit from unique attributes which allow them to be used, not only operationally to fight, on land, sea and in the air, all over the world, but also strategically to contain and prevent conflict from happening in the first place," he said.

"They can deliver a range of effects on behalf of a Government seeking choice in its means of response to a developing threat to UK interests, whether a warship acting alone or as part of a multinational joint task force.

"I believe that maritime forces have a vital role to play in delivering this country's defence and security into the future, in delivering choices for the Government, as much as in delivering firepower when required."

Admiral Stanhope stressed the essential role played by carrier-based aircraft and amphibious forces in British military campaigns of recent years from the intervention in Sierra Leone to the invasion of Iraq.

"Where you are operating in territory that has a coast, or is accessible from the sea, the sea control and sea denial that maritime forces deliver are a pre-requisite for operational success," he said.

"Since the end of the Cold War, these important maritime capabilities have never been more in demand, testament to the enduring utility that these forces bring, whatever role is demanded of them."

While operations in Afghanistan and Iraq had focused heavily on land forces and the Army, Admiral Stanhope said that those campaigns had also shown up "the limitations of destructive force".

"The issues involve more than simply making a choice between land forces or carrier-based air power. It's not about tanks versus jet fighters," he said.

"It is about deciding where the balance of investment should lie, judged against this country's vital national interests, and the ambition this nation sets, both for itself, and for defence."

While the green paper emphasised the need for greater co-operation with allies like France in the provision of military capabilities, Admiral Stanhope also stressed the importance of Britain being able to act alone.

"We should not assume that our interests will always be synchronous with the interests of others, even allies of long standing," he said.

"There may be occasions where we have no choice but to act alone, particularly where the threat is to exclusively UK interests."

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