By Claire Gordon •
Published: 05 Dec 2021 • 14:14
The Uk and France are among five countries that recently engaged in a unique two-week huge naval exercise to prepare for what a top French commander has called “emerging composite threats”, understood to be Russia and China.
Adm Pierre Vandier has said that future conflicts are most likely to be fought at sea or online and to ensure that allied forces are ready to take on this threat, six countries came together to run the exercise as preparation.
Political relations between France and the UK are on thin ice with rows over the migrant crisis and the Aukus issue, when Australia cancelled a contract to buy French submarines and went with the UK instead, bringing things to a new low. The defence link between the two countries, however, remains firm.
Lt Cdr Duncan Abbott was the only Royal Navy officer onboard the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier when the Guardian spoke to the officials involved in the huge naval exercise. “There exist inextricable ties between the French and the UK and there are many exchange officers like me working with the other’s military. All these relations are carried out day to day on a personal level and there’s been no change,” he said.
Vandier said: “For the last 20 years we have seen naval forces involved in conflicts that have taken place mainly on land, as in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Today the maritime environment is challenged or will be, by submarines, by cyber-attacks, by space attacks and by a naval war itself. Our mission is to understand these factors in an operational setting.”
Vandier said the “forced march” to expand of certain navies he would not name in the Mediterranean – clearly understood to be Russia – and China in the Pacific were the main threats. Today we are seeing the growth of navies to two or three times what they were. We have seen the tripling of the Chinese navy in 10 years so that it now exceeds the US navy,” he said.
Abbott added “The whole purpose of the exercise was to look at fighting in a high-intensity situation, to test the French and allied units’ capability to respond to unpredictable and different threats in an agile way.
“It was about fighting above, on and under the water. The Royal Navy and Marine Nationale are similar in many ways including size and the way we operate. It’s unlikely France would be involved in something and the British not.”
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