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Boris Johnson under pressure from the defense establishment not to appoint Sir Tony Radakin, the high profile of the Royal Navy, as Britain’s highest military official in the coming days.
Defense officials say the preference among the military top brass is for Sir Patrick Sanders, the general responsible for military cyber operations and special forces, to become the new chief of defense personnel (CDS).
“The ministry and military are more generally in favor of Sanders – or honestly everyone except Radakin,” said a senior defense official.
Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace says senior government officials play a neutral role and would like to work with any of the candidates for CDS.
Johnson is expected to select the new CDS to replace outgoing General Sir Nick Carter, possibly as early as next week. The prime minister’s allies say no decision has been made.
Radakin, a former lawyer, is considered innovative and a forerunner for the post, but he has critics in the defense. According to defense officials, Johnson’s national security adviser is Sir Stephen Lovegrove.
Lovegrove, a former Permanent Secretary of Defense, is said to have clashed with the Admiral in the past, which has a flair for securing publicity. Last month, Radakin made James Craig, the James Bond actor, an honorary commander in the Royal Navy.
Radakin was also involved in an important meeting of the Australian High Commission in March when the idea of a US / UK / Australia defense treaty was first raised, including plans to share nuclear submarine technology.
“The First Sea Lord is a brilliant man and excitingly disruptive, but he spends too much as a habit, and the department cannot afford it now,” a defense official said. ‘Lovegrove suffered a scar from Radakin’s series spending while he was a permanent secretary.
Radakin’s supporters say he has given priority to hiring Royal Navy ships – the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth is currently in the Indo-Pacific – while cutting staff at headquarters and reducing the number of admirals by a third.
“To achieve the naval transformation he wanted, Radakin visited the Permanent Secretary and CDS and spoke directly with the Secretary of State,” a First Sea Lord ally said.
“This has upset Lovegrove and Carter and other key figures in a department that is in the process.”
One senior department official who witnessed the relationship between Radakin and Lovegrove said the permanent secretary would have preferred a ‘yes-man’. “Tony wanted to insist on a larger deployment of ships while managing the fleet more efficiently,” the official said.
No Chief of the Royal Navy has been Chief of Defense Staff for nearly 20 years; the last was Lord Boyce, who held the post from 2001 to 2003. Johnson approved a major increase in naval spending last year and sees maritime power as ‘global Britain’.
Defense officials claim that Lovegrove and Carter prefer the post to go to Sanders, chief of strategic command and a veteran of special forces.
Sanders is seen as a charismatic leader with the necessary skills in new forms of warfare, such as cyber and intelligence operations to tackle Russia and China in the ‘gray area’ between peaceful relations and formal armed conflict. He and Carter both served in the same Army Regiment, the Royal Green Jackets, also known as the “Rifles”.
Defense officials said that although Lovegrove was on the interview panel, he has not played a formal role since.
The other three candidates interviewed by Johnson were Vice Admiral Ben Key, who led the British military evacuation of Kabul, Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, Chief of the Army, who was with Johnson at Eton College, and Air Marshal Sir Mike Wigston.