LONDON – Britain has a new First Sea Lord following the Oct. 15 announcement that Vice Adm. Sir Ben Key has been appointed to the role.

Key’s promotion to First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff will see him move into the gap left by Adm. Sir Tony Radakin who is stepping up to become the Chief of the Defence Staff at the end of November.

The new First Sea Lord, Britain’s top sailor, was widely tipped for the role, having at one point allegedly been a contender for the position as Chief of the Defence Staff before Prime Minister Boris Johnson opted for Radakin.

As the current chief of joint operations, Key was one of the key architects of Operation Pitting, the recent rescue mission which saw the evacuation of over 15,000 British nationals and Afghans from Kabul.

Nick Childs, the senior fellow for naval forces and maritime security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank in London, said Key’s appointment comes at a time of great challenges but also great opportunities.

“The main challenges will be pushing forward the transformation agenda put in place by Adm. Radakin and his team and moving towards delivery on some of the central ambitions,” he said. “These include further developing the carrier strike capability and maritime aviation more generally, taking the remodeling of the Royal Marines forward, especially given the recent controversies over this, and making sure that the Royal Navy continues to maintain its edge in underwater warfare.”

Improving warship availability while focusing on global and Euro-Atlantic commitments will amount to a demanding balancing act, the analyst said.

“Much will also depend on making sure the significant building program for future frigates, submarines and support ships, not least to fill some important capability gaps, is kept on track. So lots of challenges, but also important opportunities that some of the new First Sea lord’s recent predecessors would have liked to have had,” added Childs.

The Royal Navy was seen as a winner in the integrated review on defense and foreign policy published in March, with the government seeing a transformed service playing a significant role in establishing a more global footprint for Britain.

In a statement issued announcing the appointment Key said: “I have seen close up, as the chief of joint operations, the impact our increasingly globally deployed Navy has had. I am determined we continue to deliver on these opportunities, working with allies and partners around the world in support of the government objectives.”

Key, who was awarded the U.S. Bronze Star in 2006 for his work as an advisor to the Iraqi Director Joint Staff in Baghdad, is a 37-year veteran of the Royal Navy having originally qualified both as helicopter aircrew and a principal warfare officer.

His previous postings include Fleet Commander and commander of the now retired aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious.

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