“One thing we should all take away is the importance of the will to fight,” Admiral Michael Gilday, the US Navy’s (USN’s) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), told a press briefing with the three chiefs following the conference, which took place at IFRI (the French institute for international relations) in Paris on 18 January. Adm Gilday underscored the depth of the Ukrainians’ desire to “fight for their freedom … down to every single person in their society.”
Admiral Pierre Vandier, the French Navy’s Chief of Staff, noted that while the war in Ukraine seems based around a land campaign, it has a significant maritime dimension. Amongst a range of strategic-level maritime challenges in the Black Sea region, Adm Vandier pointed to the importance of keeping open the port of Odesa in southwestern Ukraine. “It was very important to have this [as a] free port,” he said.
UK Royal Navy First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sir Ben Key reiterated this point, including its wider international dimension:
“The loss of Odesa would have strangled the Ukrainian economy because of the inability to export grain. That would then have created huge food shortages in countries many thousands of miles away from Ukraine […] Even in something that is being contained to a small region, the maritime implications of not having secure sea lines of communication are considerable and will impact the international community.”
Admiral Sir Ben Key, First Sea Lord, UK Royal Navy
“Whilst this appears to be a war for the occupation of land, the determination of outcome has a very strong maritime dimension,” Adm Key added.
At the operational level, Admiral Vandier listed the range of naval activities underway. These have included:
- maritime patrol,
- amphibious forces operations,
- mining and counter-mining,
- blockades (at sea and in port),
- the use of unmanned vessels (both air and surface) to attack ships…
The war in Ukraine saw the use of USVs in an offensive role:
In addition, technologies like cruise missiles have been used in strikes both from sea to shore and shore to sea. Several warships have also been lost.
“[This is] nothing new, but the range of what has been done shows the dimension of the maritime aspect of this war,”
Admiral Pierre Vandier, Chief of staff of the French Navy
During the conference, Adm Gilday discussed how the Ukrainians are learning lessons themselves, and how their fighting spirit is even filtering down to the tactical level. “The Ukrainians are learning war while they’re fighting the war, and they’re doing so in a way that is so agile, and so flexible, and so nimble,” said CNO. “They’re leveraging technology down at the tactical level. This goes down to the soldier on the battlefield.” “For all our navies and our sailors, that’s the kind of spirit we want,” Adm Gilday continued. “That brings an asymmetric advantage to our navies that perhaps puts you in a position of advantage in a fight.”