2011 Vernon Parker Oration – James Goldrick



Let me start with two caveats. The first is that some of the arguments and ideas which I will propose are ‘works in progress’. The second is that I will speak here specifically about the Navy – after all, if I cannot do so here, where can I? – but many of my comments do have applicability to the other Services and to the ADF as a whole.

The story of the Australian Navy is one that reflects the continuing strategic challenges faced by our nation as it has evolved towards full independence and a greater understanding of its place in the world. And as I consider, from the basis of studies that I have done over the years on our carrier acquisition program, our DDG acquisition and, most recently, the history of our various submarine programs[1], I perceive a recurrent theme. It is one of critical mass and a struggle to sustain a level of effort which will be truly effective in relation to the resources that we devote to it.

There are two aspects to this problem. The first is that of force structure – what I term the ‘fleet unit’ question, whereby Australia has repeatedly sought to create a force capable of meeting our strategic demands, but has often found it more expensive and difficult to sustain than the nation was willing to accept. I should explain that when I talk of a ‘fleet unit’, I am not describing a task group or task force as such, but a range of capabilities which together provide a coherent construct that meets our maritime strategic requirements. And, while I will talk here only about the navy, the truth is that a ‘fleet unit’ also encompasses air and land capabilities when they have maritime application.

It is clear that part of the issue over force structure has been partly due to a difficulty in achieving national acceptance of the full span of our maritime strategic requirements, which have always included both surety of the local and regional environment and protection of the maritime networks upon which Australia’s economy depends. Perhaps there should be little conflict between these two, but there has been a tendency, despite our dependence upon seaborne trade, to ignore its absolutely fundamental importance – and the navy has not always been good at either fully understanding how that seaborne trade operates or explaining just why as well as how it should be protected. In doctrinal terms, I could describe much of the debate in Australia as oscillating historically between a focus on denial – the cliché of ‘fortress Australia’ – and on projection – the cliché of ‘deployed forces in distant lands’ – while missing much of the necessary link between these two of control, which remains an abiding requirement for a sea dependent nation like ours. Just what constitutes an effective ‘fleet unit’ may be change as a result of changes in the relative priorities for denial, control and projection, but in the Australian situation there will always need to be some mix of all three.

The second aspect relates to the national commitment, human and material, required to maintain the desired force structure. It is an empirical observation, but I believe that we sit in Australia at a point at which the relationship between the investment required to sustain our desired force structure and the actual combat capability realised is at its most unfavourable. I emphasise here that I am not talking just about the resources required to maintain ships and systems in service but those needed to experiment, to innovate, to develop doctrine and to push both technological and operational boundaries. These are the really difficult things, these are the things which involve risk and, quite frequently, failure. Indeed, the problem of critical mass relates not just to sustained funding – although that remains critical – but to the difficulty, given the complexity of our defence requirements, of generating sufficient intellectual capital to have a navy which is completely self reliant. In other words, while we need multiple capabilities in our order of battle, it is very hard to manage the conundrum of generating them effectively from a national base that is too small to be ideal.

In 2011 this remains a fundamental challenge and, as I go on to discuss the last century, I’d ask you to bear this in mind, because I believe many of the difficulties in our history have derived at least partly from a simplistic understanding of just what is required not only to maintain a navy but to developit and that this naiveté has stemmed at least in part from our early experiences. If I have a bumper sticker for the RAN – perhaps for the ADF as whole – it would be ‘self awareness, not self reliance’ and I do not think that our journey to full self awareness is yet complete.

The First Fleet Unit

The first years of Federation were marked by debate over the form of a national defence effort. In part this remained theoretical because the new Government had no money and would not until greater control of tax revenues passed to the Commonwealth after ten years. Nevertheless, many issues were identified in what was a complex problem. The record of small navies was not good, while many in Britain viewed with dismay the prospect of local services which they felt would contribute little to the British Empire’s global security. Others, however, were coming to understand that the only way to get the new dominions to contribute significantly was to allow them ownership of their own forces. On the locals’ part, the more that a navy was thought about, the more formidable the commitment seemed to be. Australians wanted to control their own naval destiny, but they were becoming increasingly aware that they would have a hard time achieving that destiny without help. Conversely, with the naval arms race with Germany in full swing, there was also a desire by many Australians to support Great Britain. It was in this spirit that, during the naval crisis of 1908, Australia offered to cover the cost of a new capital ship for the Royal Navy.

But a ‘one off’, however generous, was not the same thing as an Australian navy and others prevailed who had a more sophisticated understanding of the threats to its shared sea dependent interests that the British empire faced. The Fleet Unit concept which was announced by the famous ‘Jacky’ Fisher, at the Imperial Defence Conference of 1909 provided a remarkable solution because it satisfied both nationalist sentiment and – at least partly – the concerns of Whitehall. The heavily armed, fast and long ranged battle cruiser (and its long range was a key factor) and the supporting force of light cruisers, destroyers and submarines was capable of both offensive and defensive action for denial, control and projection in the ways that our situation demanded. It is no exaggeration to say that the battle cruiser Australiawas the most effective single strategic investment ever made by this country – paying its dividend within eleven months of entering Sydney Harbour.

Though its execution proved very different for countries such as Canada, the Fleet Unit concept provided the model for a successful creation of naval services that has continued almost to this day. I have elsewhere termed the process of creation as being one of cloning. However, refining the analogy, I now think it more accurate to describe it as ‘genetic modification’, because even from the outset none of the new Services was anything like identical to the Royal Navy and each steadily developed in its own way.

The GM process had significant consequences. I have termed one the ‘fleet, not a navy’ syndrome in that the provision of external support by Britain, even if when was paid for, meant that the smaller nations did not have to invest to the degree which would have been otherwise required for the level of combat capability that they sought.[2]  More to the point, they did not need to think about or set up to deal with these matters as much as they ought. In other words, the Dominions acquired fleets, but they did not for many years operate complete navies. Undoubtedly, in 1913 and for many years afterwards, it was an excellent bargain because a formidable capability was acquired without the need to invest in the full range of overheads. It would also remain a much more efficient force than otherwise possible because of the continuing ability to benefit from all the Royal Navy could provide in the way of expertise and the latest technology.

However, although substantial efforts were made to create an indigenous naval shipbuilding and repair industry, the way in which the new Service was grown also meant that many of the inherent risks were not fully understood by the government, by the electorate or by industry. In particular, Australia had little or no exposure to just how difficult it is to identify the right technologies and get them into service. The British did the job and carried the risks and all Australia had to do was acquire and adapt in very limited ways to meet our needs.

There was also the question of resources. A sustained in-country shipbuilding effort was just possible, but only if money was consistently committed. Unfortunately, although matters got off to a reasonable, albeit expensive start in 1911, post-war economies would soon slow and then halt new warship construction, initiating a series of stops and starts that punctuated the remainder of the century. It would always be a dilemma for governments to make the choice between expensive and protracted local construction, with the significant set-up costs involved but with real benefits for national development or purchasing off others’ building lines and enjoying the economies of scale and reduced risks. However, notwithstanding the high cost of Australian workers (who did generally produce very high quality work), many governments funded naval shipbuilding at levels so low that they caused building schedules to become unduly protracted and their products even more expensive than they should have been. This was true for the cruiser HMAS Adelaide, known as HMAS ‘Long Delayed’ in the early 1920s and true for the destroyer and frigate programs in the 1950s. Here we can see a direct relationship between the size of the fleet unit that the nation was willing to support and the ability for that unit to be generated efficiently and at reasonable cost within Australia.

There were other, more subtle problems. The new Service was sometimes viewed by outsiders as uncritically reflecting British views when in fact its people were demonstrating a naval outlook, particularly an outlook that appreciated that national security was more than the simple defence of national territory. This should not have been surprising, particularly as some in the RAN failed to make the distinction between the United Kingdom and the navy themselves and were occasionally ‘captured’ by the ethos of Britain to a degree that made it difficult for them to operate comfortably in the Australian national environment[3], but it also tended to make it very hard for them to argue a naval case amongst national defence policy makers. The focus on professional training rather than education inherent in the Royal Navy’s culture also did not help, in that the understanding of the roles of the Navy was essentially emotional rather than rational. ‘There is nothing the Navy cannot do’ was deeply ingrained but why it should do it was rarely analysed[4]. I believe that this was one of the key factors in a too-slow growth of critical consciousness on naval matters within the RAN itself and indirectly within the nation as whole.

Other navies, however, particularly the RN, never saw Australian personnel or ships as anything other than proud and distinctive representatives of their nation. ‘Three cheers for Wallaby Land’ was the cry from a member of the crew of the Australiaat her commissioning in Portsmouth in 1913 and when the Australian destroyers passed through the Dardanelles in 1918 after the Armistice with Turkey, the Australian national flag was prominent at their mastheads.

As an aside, I am convinced that for many years the RAN’s professional standards were maintained at the levels they were substantially because of the expertise gained through being able to operate in much more complex and sophisticated environments than was ever possible around Australia. All this opened the professional and personal horizons of those concerned and also created a competitive attitude amongst the members of the new services, who were determined to prove that they were as good as – and better than the British.[5]The young officers who were the products of our national naval college were viewed with respect by the British from the very first[6]- a respect sustained by their performance in the years that followed in their professional courses and at sea.[7]

But the system of officer development caused other difficulties. Given the internecine disputes amongst senior officers that occurred in both the Australian Army and the RAAF in the 1930s and 1940s, the RAN’s avoidance of them at this time must have some connection with its ability to judge and promote to external standards.[8]However, the career profile of the RN became increasingly difficult to impose upon the RAN as officers became more senior. The fact was and is that smaller navies require diversification of the professional skill base into policy and administrative matters rather earlier than do much larger services.[9] The question would be the extent to which the RAN might have to accept – or at least risk – a reduction in individual seagoing and war fighting skills to achieve such earlier diversification and how to draw the right balance.

It would be also a question of how much was enough in terms of shore and staff infrastructure because a smaller navy faces much greater relative challenges in generating sufficient experts than a larger one. The USN, for example, may be 25 times the size of the RAN, but it does not have 25 times the number of different problems. Australian slowness in the creation of national staff capability also did not help – in 1932, admittedly at a low point, the Australian CNS had a grand total of 10 naval personnel working for him on the naval staff itself – to cover plans, operations, engineering, communications and ordnance. Independent and creative thought is fairly difficult in such circumstances.

Nevertheless, the operations of what I term the ‘first Fleet Unit’ triumphantly proved the worth of the RAN. Von Spee did not bring his cruisers anywhere near Australia – achievement of denial. The German possessions in the South West Pacific were rapidly brought under control in Australia’s first joint and multinational operations – achievement of projection. The troop convoys were safely escorted to the Middle East, with the destruction of the cruiser Emdenby the Sydneyin November 1914 confirming both the efficiency of the new Navy in the sea control function and the value of investing in ‘high end’ capability – the Emden’s guns were no match for Sydney’smuch heavier 6 inchers. Australia had cause to celebrate its navy.

Yet, November 1914 marked the end of the RAN’s primacy in the public eye. The submarine AE 2 successfully penetrated the Dardanelles, but its sortie was only a counterpoint to the landings at Gallipoli. Australian ships played a significant role in many theatres until 1918 but they did so as minor elements of a global naval effort that had little or no glamour attached to it and whose work went largely unremarked, except when it appeared to have failed.

The RAN enjoyed a brief renaissance in the immediate aftermath of the war, but there was trouble ahead. By the early 1920s, the first fleet unit had become unsustainable. Technological development had rendered obsolete its core asset – the Australia– and, in any case, there was insufficient money.The Australian government had other concerns and welcomed the treaties that placed limits on naval strength despite the fact that those treaties, counting Australia’s navy as an integral element of Britain’s for arms limitation purposes, did not properly recognise Australian independence. The agreements sealed the Australia’sfate and she was scuttled off Sydney Heads in 1924.

The Second Fleet Unit

A very different second fleet unit concept was embarked upon in 1923, with a combination of heavy cruisers and a submarine flotilla. This scheme came as part of the Admiralty planning for the expansion of the naval forces in the Far East against the threat of Japan, an expansion in which it was expected that the Australian navy would have a significant role. However, events combined to end the submarine project within a few years. One would be a lack of money, but there was another factor at play – the RAN’s first experience of prototypes. The new submarines Oxley and Otwaywere two of the first three of the new patrol submarines which were effectively the first British post-war design. They were not ready for operational service and their delivery voyage a debacle. The resultant controversy soured the image of the capability. It is difficult to avoid the impression that the British had been so eager to take advantage of the Australian commitment to a renewed naval effort that they (and the RAN) had not stopped to think through the problems of operating brand new, highly complex systems half a world away from their builder. It was not until more than two years later that the RN itself deployed the class to the Far East and then it was done in company with a brand new, built for the purpose depot ship.

The RAN was hard hit by the Great Depression, its very existence threatened and much of its offensive capability, notably its submarine force, abandoned. By 1932, only a handful of surface ships survived in commission. The absence of the submarines – and no less than six had been intended to supplement a British force in East Asia that later peaked at sixteen operational boats – left the RAN with no serious capability to contribute to the defensive campaign against a Japanese offensive which the British planned to buy the necessary time to get their main fleet out from European waters. The absence of the submarines meant that the Navy was shorn of the offensive capability which would give it strategic weight. We paid a heavy price for this in the Second World War because, even having focused on surface forces, the RAN never possessed the necessary range of units to operate independently in the Second World War for offensive operations –  in the South West Pacific our cruisers and destroyers had always to be supplemented by at least equal numbers of US ships to create a sufficiently capable task force and, lacking large scale organic air, even that force could only operate in essentially supporting roles. In short, we did not have at this time a coherent ‘fleet unit’.

Nevertheless, rearmament and expansion, albeit too late and too limited, did result in a relatively modern force in 1939, as well as the renewal of a substantial local shipbuilding program and the RAN was by far the most combat ready of the Services at that time. It went to war on the first day of conflict and stayed there until the last. The grievous losses it suffered are too often listed only in ships – but it was the people who counted and those losses were not only terrible in their own right, but created continuing gaps in the RAN’s trained strength and talent for many years ahead.

The Navy played its part globally, protecting both local waters and trade and helping hold the line against Germany and Italy until late 1941 when its units were recalled to deal with the crisis in South East Asia. The successes of the early months of the war, notably the triumph of the Sydneyover the Italian Bartolomeo Colleoniwere followed by a series of heavy blows. Sydney’sdisappearance was succeeded by the Japanese onslaught which saw in rapid succession the destruction of the Perth, Yarraand Vampireand in later operations that of Voyagerin East Timor and the cruiser Canberra in the Solomons.

But some points may be made. In an era in which Joint operations are so key to our effectiveness as a Defence Force, it should be noted that not only the majority of the losses listed above had some direct connection with land operations, but so did those of the RAN in the Mediterranean – the Perth, Napier and Nizamwere all damaged evacuating troops from Crete, while the Waterhenand the Parramattawere both sunk supporting the besieged Australian and Allied troops in Tobruk. Many more of our operations and our successes – and Australian units were responsible for the destruction of at least seven enemy submarines, as well as other many units, and the capture or destruction of over 150,000 tons of shipping – were directly related to the protection of the global trade system and cutting the enemy’s access to it. Control and denial again.

The last months of the war provided a significant fillip to a Navy which had felt for some time unknown to the public. The heroism of the cruiser Australia’s crew under the kamikaze onslaught gained much coverage at a time when Australia’s land forces were largely unemployed. Furthermore, the combination of the arrival of the British Pacific Fleet and the breathtaking effectiveness of the American naval advance across the Pacific also provided demonstration of the benefits of the combination of sea with air power. The war also saw the development of a much more effective local shipbuilding, repair and naval weapons industry. Forced into such national effort by the inability of Britain to provide the support which the RAN had hitherto enjoyed, Australia began to come of age. Most notable were two initiatives. The first was that, when the Admiralty were slow to give priority to Australian intentions to build destroyers in country, the RAN went directly to the British shipbuilders to get the plans and specifications. The second was the highly successful class of 60 Australian minesweepers – the famous Bathurstclass corvettes – which were a local effort that very clearly demonstrated that good enough can sometimes be the successful enemy of the best. Had we been more ambitious in the capabilities of these ships, we would never have got them out in time or in sufficient numbers.

The Third Fleet Unit

The post-war plan for the RAN which the Labor Government endorsed in 1947 was effectively the third Fleet Unit. Centred around two light fleet carriers and their embarked squadrons, the future navy was intended to have both a capacity for sustained independent operations and to be able to make a significant contribution to the global effort to protect sea communications. Once again, the concept was straitened by limits on resources and the pressures of continuing technological change. Australia only briefly operated two operational carriers at once – the Sydneyand the loan carrier Vengeance– and the costs of adapting the Melbournefor jet aircraft were such that a planned refit for the Sydney never happened. These and a whole range of other problems served to limit other areas of the RAN’s expansion.

Yet the Navy staged a remarkable recovery. Despite the heavy losses of personnel and the almost complete lack of recruiting for the permanent service during the conflict, the practically moribund fleet of 1947 was soon the effective force of the early 1950s that saw the RAN not only operationally deploy the Sydney to Korea in late 1951, but allowed the continual rotation of destroyers and frigates there and an increasing commitment to South East Asia. Perhaps much of this success was enabled by a continuing flow of officers and men from the Royal Navy as well as its more formal support but, in an era in which immigration was a central plank for national development, this was not inappropriate. The Navy also began to develop its own scientific research capability, which initially focused – and with great success – on the anti-submarine warfare problems which were at the heart of the challenge that the Soviet bloc was perceived to represent at sea.

There were pressures. The fixed wing naval arm always suffered from the problem of inadequate resources, not only for itself, but because it drew away funding from other elements of the fleet. Furthermore, the increasing capabilities of precision guided weapons provided challenges the RAN had yet to meet.  Matters came to a crisis with the Government’s decision to abandon the fixed wing capability in 1959, but this step – traumatic as it was – provided a much clearer way ahead for the Navy because, in compensation, the Government was willing to invest in a whole range of areas. The Navy was able to commission its replenishment ship. A submarine force was set up, the core of a new offensive capability and the beginning of what I term the ‘fourth fleet unit’. A modern mine countermeasure squadron was acquired and brand new missile destroyers ordered from the United States.

The Fourth Fleet Unit

The Australian Navy’s first major purchases from the US, the Charles F Adamsclass were also the forerunners of a turn towards America that reflected not only changing strategic realities but also where the leading edge of naval technological development now lay. Naval aviation won a reprieve, helped by a deteriorating strategic situation in which not only Indo-China but Indonesia seemed at risk. After ASW helicopters were provided for the Melbourne, she was modernised to take new jet fighters and anti-submarine aircraft. This expansion and modernisation were well timed as the mid-1960s saw the RAN operationally engaged in both the defence of Malaysia and in support of the American –led conflict in Vietnam. The Adamsclass particularly proved their worth in operations as part of the American Seventh Fleet.

I am particularly interested in this period because it was one in which we did not at first try to be a parent navy for complete systems or ships, but rather – and with some success-adapted particular systems to particular platforms. The British designed Riverclass frigates, for example, were modified to take Dutch radars and fire control systems. The Ikaraanti-submarine missile was successfully developed in an Australian led venture and then installed in both the Riverclass and the DDGs where it proved itself to be the most effective shipborne ASW weapon system in the world. This selective approach seems to me, whether it was conscious or not, to have been much more realistic than a wholesale effort at being a parent navy.

The 1970s provided a whole new range of challenges for the RAN, as they did for Australia’s strategic outlook. The Cold War remained and, although Indonesia was no longer the immediate concern, a weary United States was much more likely to require its partners to look after themselves. There was also little enthusiasm for defence spending on anything like the scale of the 1960s and therefore increasing pressure to reduce overheads. For the next decade and a half, debate raged as to the appropriate form and functions of an Australian defence force. As I consider that debate, my belief is that the aversion to further overseas commitments on land which underlay much of the discussion also hindered proper examination of the continuing need for commitment to protection of the global maritime system.

For the Navy, the eventual victim was the aircraft carrier. In a time of continuing budgetary restraint, the large sums involved in finding a replacement for Melbournewere always going to be difficult to secure. A window opened by the sudden availability of the British light carrier Invincible was soon closed in the wake of the Falklands War of 1982, ironically a conflict that demonstrated both the flexibility and reach of seaborne forces. The new Labor Government of 1983 mandated the end of fixed wing aviation, a decision from which this time there would be no return. But the RAN did not become moribund. The submarine force was advancing rapidly with new sensors, new torpedoes and, particularly significant, anti-ship missiles in an Australian led modernisation program that stands as one of the most significant technological and industrial successes in our naval history and perhaps the ultimate expression of the selective approach that I have already described.

Maritime forces received further support in the review by Paul Dibb in 1986 and the White Paper of 1987 which followed. Both Dibb and the White Paper appreciated that Australia was a maritime nation and, if there was too much on the ‘sea air gap’ and too little on Australia’s dependence on the global and regional maritime system, there was nevertheless recognition that an island nation requires defence at sea.  Spurred by an enthusiastic Defence Minister in Kim Beazley, the 1987 White Paper helped set in train the submarine and frigate projects which have come to define much of the Navy’s force structure in the new century and which have provided an updated version of the ‘fourth fleet unit’. Of the two major projects, that for the eight Australian and two New Zealand Anzacclass frigates was the more obviously successful. One hard fought battle, to fit the ships with a 5 inch gun, was triumphantly vindicated during the 2003 Gulf War when the Anzacherself provided critical gunfire support to the amphibious assault on the Al Faw peninsula.

The submarine project was more complex. It is not appropriate for me to discuss here the current state of the class, but I do want to make some observations about the project in retrospect, because they bear upon the sophistication of our national understanding of the task of operating a navy. Two key mistakes were made in what was a much more successful project than many recognise. The first was that the contingency funding was inadequate, which meant that many of the problems inevitable in any complex prototype were not fixed as they arose, but left to fester. The second, and it is associated with the first, is that the issues of risk and complexity in a brand new design were never really explained properly to the electorate, so that when problems arose the nation was ill-prepared to understand or accept them.

There were other problems as the RAN took on many other responsibilities in terms of sustainment, training and doctrine that had been left largely to the RN or the USN. Looking back, I think that there was insufficient attention paid to the costs and, in particular, the demands on our expertise in trying to be independent to the extent that we did, largely because so many of them had hitherto been largely invisible to us – and perhaps because they were so difficult. The challenges of being a ‘parent navy’ inherent in the acquisition of unique ships and systems have received the most attention in both internal and public examinations of the pitfalls and problems that we experienced in this period, but there were other issues which have received less notice. For example, in patriating so much training and reducing our exchange programs to the extent that we did, I am unsure that we provided adequate substitutes for the continuous injection of intense professional experience that had hitherto been maintained by these means. Similarly, there were hidden costs, not all well understood, in the necessary redistribution of our ships to bases in Western Australia and in Queensland and the Northern Territory in transport, training and people, as well as the sheer difficulty of assembling sufficient numbers of units in one spot to create a realistic maritime training environment.

There was an additional theme in the ‘fourth fleet unit’ and this was the need to protect the maritime domain. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea saw the extension of territorial seas and the creation of exclusive economic zones and other additions to national authority over maritime areas. This legal regime only reflected the greater exploitation of fisheries and of offshore resources that marked the later decades of the last century and its demands brought about a steady increase in the RAN’s patrol and response capacity – and its commitment to the task. This has involved difficult, unremitting and sometimes unpleasant work but it has also kept the Navy, even in an increasingly inter-agency environment, very firmly in the public eye in a way that I believe has benefited the Service.

The Fifth Fleet Unit

Other operational deployments mounted. While the 1980s had seen the Navy focused on regional engagement, the first Gulf war of 1991 was the beginning of a commitment to the Middle East that would surge in the wake of 911 and into the second Gulf War and which would continue to this day, albeit with much of our effort now transferred to anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean. There have been other commitments, such as the interventions in East Timor and the Solomons which have emphasised effective Joint operations.

Given all these demands, it is not surprising that the ‘Force 2030’ construct should have been devised, or that it includes such a wide range of capabilities. Recognition of the continuing need for an ability to project power around the region has come in the acquisition of the big new amphibious ships Canberraand Adelaideand the newly purchased Choules. And recognition of the need for an effective control capability has come in the project for the new Air Warfare Destroyers. The White Paper of 2009 has provided a final element – for the moment – of the newest ‘fifth fleet unit’ concept for the RAN with plans for a much expanded submarine force which will provide the core of the denial element and contribute in other ways.


 In 2011 the Australian Navy can look back with some pride on 110 years of life as a national organisation and a century of existence as a modern fighting force. It has had its share of failures, but they have been outweighed by its successes. If there has been a recurring element to many of the problems it has experienced, it has to be said that many of the challenges that it faces are endemic to a Service which has such wide responsibilities – perhaps the greatest relative to anynavy – in a vast, maritime-dependent nation with a small population and relatively limited resources. And, as it has moved from being a unique but closely bound element of the global organisation led by the Royal Navy into a fully national service which still contributes to the security of the global maritime system, it is fair to say that the journey has not been from dependency to self reliance, but from unconscious operation to self awareness.

The challenge for the Navy in the years ahead will come in meeting all the needs of the new capabilities in terms of people and infrastructure and I think that the nature of those challenges will be very familiar to any student of the RAN’s history.  We are certainly aware of them as never before. Nevertheless, I believe that the key problem of the mismatch between the expertise that we can generate and sustain ourselves and the wide range of capabilities that we need to operate means, as part of that self awareness, we need to consider how we can go about squaring the circle. I will therefore close by suggesting that at least part of the solution may be a revival of some of the shared approaches by which the original fleet unit concept prospered. For there are many like minded navies, culturally and organizationally similar to ours, who are faced with similar problems – the Canadians and Dutch and, to an increasing degree, the fast reducing British – and this is just a start. Given that it is the intellectual aspect of capability management which presents us all with such challenges, could it not be possible to go even further than our current cooperative efforts and formally divide up responsibilities for experimentation, doctrine development and training between the various services, with a lead navy as a centre of excellence for a particular area of warfare?


1]See the author’s ‘Carriers for the Commonwealth’ in T.R. Frame, J.V.P. Goldrick & P.D. Jones (Eds) Reflections on the Royal Australian NavyKangaroo Press, Kenthurst, 1991; J.V.P. Goldrick & P.D. Jones Struggling for a Solution: The RAN and the Acquisition of a Surface to Air Missile Capability RAN Sea Power Centre Working Paper No. 2, January 2000; James Goldrick  ‘From Submersibles to SWUP: The First Seventy Five Years of Submarines in Australian Defence and Naval Policy’ 2011 Creswell Oration.

[2]James Goldrick ‘A fleet not a navy: some thoughts on the themes’ David Stevens & John Reeve (Eds) Southern Trident: Strategy, history and the rise of Australian naval powerAllen & Unwin, Sydney, 2001, p. 292.

[3]See a Canadian analysis of this question by Robert Glover ‘The RCN: Royal Colonial or Royal Canadian Navy’ Michael L. Hadley, Rob Huebert & Fred W. Crickard (Eds) A Nation’s Navy: In Quest of Canadian Naval IdentityMcGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal and Kingston, 1996, pp. 71-90.

[4]See Glover’s argument in Ibid.pp. 71-90.

[5]Captain W.S. Chalmers ‘Australia and her Navy Today’ The Naval ReviewVol. XX, No.1, February 1932, pp. 35-46, see p.44.

[6]See the Second Sea Lord’s 1922 comment that ‘The Australian young officers compare very favourably with ours in the Sub-Lieutenants examinations and are generally more self reliant and wide awake.’ 2SL Minute of 21 April 1922. Nicholas Tracy (Ed) The Collective Naval Defence of the Empire 1900-1940,Ashgate for the Navy Records Society, London, 1997. p. 312.

[7]See James Goldrick ‘The naval professional: Admiral Sir Francis Hyde KCB, CVO, CBE, RAN’ The Navy and the Nation Op. Cit.  p. 336.

[8]See Richard O. Mayne Betrayed: Scandal, Politics and Canadian Naval Leadership University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, 2006.

[9]Michael L. Hadley & Roger Sarty Tin-Pots and Pirate Ships, Op. Cit., pp. 296-297.


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