The head of the Royal Navy has called for the service to “get bigger” as it struggles to attract new recruits for its vessels and nuclear-armed submarines. 

Speaking to parliamentary magazine The House, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key said the Navy he joined over thirty years ago was 75,000 people. This has now dropped to about 36,000. “We are effectively in a war for talent in this country – there is no great secret in that,” Kay said noting that workplace expectations across generations have changed in recent years.

The lack of communication while submariners are at sea was raised as one of the concerns, with the desire for “permanent connectivity” with friends and family not possible while on patrol.

Another reason, according to Kay, was the lack of engagement with the nuclear question. “I think it is fair [to say] that this country is not very good about talking about…nuclear power as opposed to nuclear weapons,” he said, referring to the perceived significance of being a nuclear-armed ‘power’.

The Navy hopes to improve recruitment with a new drive to better explain what life on a submarine is like. The service is also looking at expand beyond its traditional base audience of those who come from Navy families, and showcase the variety of roles the Navy can offer such as accountants and doctors. 

Kay’s comments comes as Britain’s nuclear-armed submarine crews are spending record amounts of time at sea, prompting concerns over the psychological pressure on crews spending up to five months at sea.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:

“Admiral Kay rightly points out the list of difficulties that life on a nuclear-armed submarine poses for potential recruits. Extended periods of time at sea out of contact with friends and family comes with serious psychological pressures, but so does the responsibility of carrying weapons that can kill millions of people. Scrapping the Navy’s nuclear-armed subs would go towards easing the the service’s recruitment problems and free up billions of pounds for other uses.”

Image Credit: Royal Navy