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New First Sea Lord Appointed

Meet the next First Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Sir Ben Key.

The new Royal Navy chief has a decorated resumé of service spanning 37 years.

VADM Sir Ben Key’s career so far

He joined the Royal Navy in 1984 as a university cadet, graduating in physics from Royal Holloway University London.

He qualified as helicopter aircrew and principal warfare officer serving around the world on frigates and destroyers. At sea, he commanded four ships including minehunter HMS Sandown, frigates HMS Iron Duke and HMS Lancaster and aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious.

His onshore diplomatic roles include Principal Officer to the Chief of Defence Staff and advisor to the Iraqi Director Joint Staff in Baghdad.

Among others, Sir Ben’s positions in Strategic Command have seen him as Head of the Joint Air/Maritime Organisation at HQ Air Command and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Commander for three years after being promoted to Vice Admiral in February 2016.

He assumed the role of Chief of Joint Operations in April 2019.

He was awarded the US Bronze Star in 2006 for his service in Baghdad and was appointed a CBE in 2016.

VAdm Sir Ben Key’s in-tray as First Sea Lord

The incoming First Sea Lord’s experience, which incorporates high-profile strategy, naval service and command and diplomatic engagements, could serve him well in progressing the Government’s vision of how the Royal Navy operates in the future.

VAdm Key inherits a legacy of change from Admiral Sir Tony Radakin which includes rotating crews, the carrier task group model and debate over the new Type 31e and Type 26 frigates.

Sir Ben will be navigating the choppy waters of a depleted, ageing fleet stock and maintaining staffing levels.

As legacy capabilities are to be retired in the next two years, including the Type 23 anti-submarine warfare frigates, and traditional minehunters superseded by autonomous capabilities, the focus now is on investment.

What does the First Sea Lord do?

The First Sea Lord is the professional head of the entire Royal Navy, responsible for about 39,050 serving personnel (including 7,000 Royal Marines) and 66 vessels (some of those Royal Fleet Auxiliary).

The Royal Navy chief supports the management and direction of the Armed Forces in his role on the Defence Council and the Chiefs of Staff Committee, advising the Defence Secretary on maritime strategy and policy.

As Chairman of the Navy Board, he oversees the fighting effectiveness, efficiency and morale of the Naval Service.