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LONDON — Britain’s First Sea Lord touted the importance of the Royal Navy’s modernization programs Monday and, in the midst of the UK’s Security Defence and Strategic Review (SDSR), noted the key roles the service plays in the country’s defense schemes.

“A very large part of our defense is moving toward the maritime regime,” Adm. George Zambellas said, “but there is a special responsibility placed on the Royal Navy.”

The Navy is on a path “to build the most modern Navy in the world,” Zambellas said, and is in the midst of a major recapitalization program that includes carrier construction and fielding of the joint strike fighter (JSF), along with new submarine and frigate construction.

Zambellas spoke to a mostly professional audience at a naval conference sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute, in a prelude to the Defence and Security Equipment International (DESI) exhibition that opens Tuesday.

He noted a number of recent international commitments and operations by the Royal Navy, singling out operations with the US and French navies — both of whom are key to the success of Britain’s new aircraft carriers.

“We will draw on the continuous support of the US Navy and the French Navy to field our maritime task force,” Zambellas said, and mentioned that “the US Marine Corps will show us the way” in operating the F-35B JSF, which reached initial operating capability with the Marines this summer.

Later in the day, an interesting juxtaposition took place during a panel presentation on naval power in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Vice Adm. Umio Otsuka, president of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force’s command and staff college, sat near Chinese Vice Adm. Yuan Yubai, commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s northern fleet. An American admiral sat between them, and the two did not appear on stage to make eye contact.

Otsuka said the rule of law was at risk in the western Pacific, threatened by the actions of a “certain state actor,” an example being territorial claims over the Spratly Islands, where China, the Philippines, Vietnam and others quarrel over ownership rights. He also pointed to constant disputes in the South China Sea.

The importance of deterrence was growing, Otsuka said. “Given the actions by a state actor, the credible deterrence has become even more important,” he noted, and, while acknowledging the US role in the region, declared that “we will provide a credible deterrent.”

Yuan, speaking through an interpreter, offered a fairly standard view of China’s efforts to facilitate a new Maritime Silk Road, a peaceful and secure path for commerce through the region. He touted a number of “good works” carried out by China in recent years, including disaster relief and assistance in searching for missing aircraft.

But the presentation changed tone when Yuan remarked “on the business the Japanese admiral mentioned.”

The South China Sea, Yuan said, “is a sea for all the nations around, and a sea of peace.

“The South China Sea, as the name indicates, is a sea area that belongs to China. And the sea from the Han dynasty a long time ago where the Chinese people have been working and producing from the sea.”

Concluding, Yuan noted that “the real situation in the South China Sea at present is safety and freedom of navigation.”

Email ccavas@defensenews.com

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