Chairman of the Society
Admiral Sir Kenneth Eaton, GBE, KCB, BA, FREng
After 3 years reading Engineering and catching his gown in his bicycle chain at Cambridge Admiral Eaton served in the Royal Navy throughout the cold war. From witnessing an H Bomb test at Christmas Island in the Pacific in 1957 to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the upheaval in the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s he was in the forefront of naval technological and electronic developments. His engineering career in the Royal Navy reflects the enormous evolution that occurred over those years and also the effect such advances had not just in the defence field but also to our everyday lives.
The early 1960’s saw him involved with the first digital computers used in the navy for real-time calculations for tracking and directing fighter aircraft. Germanium transistors with 4K data and program stores were somewhat of a program writers challenge but technically extremely exciting. From the project development stage, he became responsible for the first installation and operation of the equipment in the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious and subsequently for the establishment of digital computer training in HMS Collingwood the mid 1960’s. Giving a one day course on digital computers to elderly Admirals was quite daunting for this young Lieutenant Commander.
In the late 1960’s and again in the late 1970’s he was part of the team working on the development of satellite communications both for long distance defence communications around the world and for warships at sea. Satellite communications having an international interoperability dimension he led the UK team at technical discussions in NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Throughout most of the 1970’s he was involved with the project teams developing the Sea Dart long range air defence missile system and was responsible for the first ever firing of the missile system at sea; much to the chagrin of the Range Director at Aberporth in Wales who objected to so many of his expensive targets being hit and destroyed. The system was to prove the main air defence protection for the ships in the Falklands war in 1982 and is still a mainstay of our ship defences today.
Taking his missile development experience into the underwater world Admiral Eaton spent the first half of the 1990’s as the Director responsible for the Royal Navy’s torpedo development programme. Again these were exciting times involving trials at the large US deep water test range in the Bahamas.
On promotion to Flag Rank Admiral Eaton became the Naval Base Commander at Portsmouth where he was responsible for all the naval establishments in the Portsmouth area and the repair and maintenance of all Portsmouth based ships. Moving to London in 1989 he became Controller of the Navy, the most senior engineer in the Royal Navy and a member of the Admiralty Board. As Controller of the Navy he was responsible for the Procurement of all new ships, submarines and ordnance for the Royal Navy and consequently accountable for a large slice of the Defence budget which encompassed everything from small survey ships to the Trident submarine programme and from computer spares to ballistic missiles and their warheads. Awarded the KCB in Her Majesty the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 1990 and the GBE in Her Majesty the Queen’s New Year Honours List in 1994 he became twice a knight. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1994.
Retiring from the Royal Navy in 1994 Sir Kenneth became Chairman of Guys and St Thomas’s Hospital NHS Trust and also Chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, a post he was to hold until 2002. At the UKAEA he continued to bring to bear his naval engineering knowledge, experience of large project procurement, and nuclear safety and regulation, in leading the task of returning the nation’s legacy of nuclear research reactors and facilities to a safe long-term condition.
Sir Kenneth became a Trustee of the Mary Rose Trust at Portsmouth in 1995 and Chairman from 2000-2008. During his time with the Mary Rose, the conservation of the hull and artefacts recovered in 1982 was nearing completion and he led the planning for the new building which opened last year.
A member of the SNR since the mid-1980s, Sir Kenneth joined the Council in 2010 and became Chairman the following year.