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‘Pinnacle’ career move as Royal Marine takes charge of Royal Navy operations for the first time

31 January 2024
A Royal Marine will be responsible for commanding and orchestrating the Royal Navy’s global operations for the first time in history.

Vastly-experienced officer Brigadier Rich Cantrill will be named Commander Operations (COMOPS), the senior naval officer responsible for overseeing protection of home waters and Royal Navy and Royal Marine actions and activities worldwide.

Current incumbent, Rear Admiral Edward Ahlgren, will handover command to Brig Cantrill later this year, meaning for the first time a Royal Marine will take up the role based at the Maritime Operations Centre at the Northwood Headquarters in north-west London. 

This senior Royal Marine has held prominent posts across defence and government, notably as deputy of the MOD’s counter terrorism operations, a role in the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 taskforce and serving as Chief of Staff of the UK’s Amphibious Forces as they countered pirates off the Horn of Africa in 2016.

The 49-year-old has been in the Royal Marines for 28 years, notably commanding 3 Commando Brigade after roles in Plymouth-based 42 Commando – first leading Lima Company on operations in Afghanistan before taking over the unit as Commanding Officer in 2014.

He is currently employed as the Assistant Chief of Staff overseeing operations at the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, which oversees activity across all three of the UK’s armed forces. 

Brig Cantrill said: “For officers in the Royal Navy passionate about command of operations COMOPS is the pinnacle, and I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to deliver that role on behalf of the Fleet Commander and First Sea Lord. 

“For me it means a chance to return to my own service after a fascinating time in the joint domain, where I have learned a great deal about modern multi-domain operations, whilst working daily with the current COMOPS and his team.

“The delivery of Royal Navy operations, and the maritime contribution to joint operations, are fundamental to protecting the nation and helping it to prosper; it is my privilege to have the chance to contribute to these aims, as a servant to the people of all the Navy’s fighting arms that deliver so much for our Nation, 24/365.”

Brig Cantrill will assume the role as a Major General. 

Commandant General Royal Marines, General Gwyn Jenkins, said: “The Royal Marines are an integral and proud part of the Royal Navy. As the first Royal Marine to assume the prestigious role of Commander Maritime Operations, Maj Gen Cantrill's assignment represents a truly historic moment for the Royal Marines and Royal Navy and further highlights our close integration.”

Traditionally the role has been held by a submarine warfare officer, but Brig Cantrill’s appointment reflects the evolving nature of the Royal Navy’s operations, with emphasis placed on breadth as well as depth of experience.

Ultimately, this demonstrates that the best people are being appointed into the right roles, and always on the basis of a rigorous selection process.

COMOPS and his staff are responsible for the command and control of all deployed ships and submarines, Commando Forces and Fleet Air Arm aircraft. 

He oversees intensive anti-submarine warfare operations in the North Atlantic on behalf of the Fleet Commander and support the Chief of Joint Operations in the execution of all other global operations. 

A highly experienced team of maritime operations specialists, experts in the full range of capabilities across the Royal Navy support COMOPS at the Maritime Operations Centre.

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