The Exoskeleton Force: The Royal Navy in the Indo-Pacific Tilt

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Eddie Damulira / Ministry of Defence

An important feature of the UK’s 2021 Integrated Review was the tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. The announcement that the UK would seek to maintain a forward and persistently engaged presence in the region was of particular significance to the Royal Navy, given the region’s maritime character. The key question for the service to contemplate as it seeks to meet the objectives set by the Integrated Review is how to deliver strategic effect without mass.

The Indo-Pacific tilt announced as part of the UK’s 2021 Integrated Review will present the Royal Navy with both challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, reinforcing stability in a region that will likely be central to the global economy is an understandable and desirable aim. On the other, the Integrated Review and the Defence Command Paper also commit the bulk of the Navy’s warfighting assets to Europe. Combined with the challenges of permanent sustainment at reach, this is likely to ensure that the Royal Navy’s presence in the Indo-Pacific remains a light footprint in terms of naval platforms. The question that naval planners will need to answer, then, is how power can be generated in the absence of mass.

This paper, the product of a work stream conducted by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the Royal Navy Strategic Studies Centre (RNSSC), provides one prospective framework through which the Navy’s activities in the Indo-Pacific can be structured: assured sovereignty. The output reflects the proposal that RUSI generated from this process as one strategic option for debate. The paper has been informed by reviews of strategic documents such as the Integrated Review, the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy (DSIS) and the Defence Command Paper, secondary literature, interviews with subject matter experts, and a workshop run by RUSI and the RNSSC on the Indo-Pacific tilt.

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