“Submarines in Australia’s Future Maritime Defence - Chief of Navy Perspective”
(Source: Australian Department of Defence; issued November 7, 2008)
Speech by Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Russ Crane:

I would like to start by thanking both the Submarine Institute of Australia for organising this conference focusing on Australia’s submarine capability and giving me this opportunity to pass on some of my thoughts. In particular I would like to acknowledge RADM (ret) Peter Briggs. We have all been witness to, and admired Peter’s passion for this critical element of Australia’s Defence Force. Peter I thank you not only for your service in the Navy but for increasing the level of public debate.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I know the program has me down to speak on ‘my perspective on submarines in Australia’s Maritime Defence 2025’ but I think that it would be remiss of me as Chief of Navy not to take this opportunity to hit a couple of other points I think are critical to both the Navy and the future submarine capability. So I will deal with them first.

Fundamental Realities – Maritime Australia

I would like to challenge you all here to take a little bit of your passion for what we do as a Navy and use it to ensure that, in the public debate on defence, there is an understanding of the dominance of the maritime environment in Australia’s geo-strategic outlook. This dictates that Australia’s enduring national military strategy will always be maritime in nature.

We, collectively, must reinforce that Australia is a vast island continent, in a maritime region of a globalised world that is totally dependent on the maritime environment for the movement of the goods that create its wealth and sustain it. In the future we will only become more reliant on the oceans, not only as the highways of the globalised world economy, but also for both food and natural resources. For Australia, this centrality of the oceans to the functioning of the international system will be doubly apparent. I am constantly amazed at how some overlook this fact – so it is up to us to make sure this does not continue.

Being able to effectively operate in the maritime environment is as critical to Australia’s military forces as the sea is to our national prosperity. The two are inexplicably linked. This has been demonstrated throughout our nation’s history, and will remain so in our future.

The importance of the submarine within this context has taken us a while to understand. From WW I where we operated AE1 & 2 through J boats and ‘O’ boats before fighting WWII without any offensive submarines. But we saw how the US used submarines to devastating effect; when they combined their unique capabilities with the attributes of a strong surface Navy to set the conditions required for victory on the land. Then happily since the late 60’s Australia has operated a credible submarine force. They are now and will continue to be in the future, one of the core elements of our balanced naval capability.

I know CDRE Steve Davies will be briefing you next on what we are up to with today’s submarine fleet so I won’t steal his thunder and discuss the COLLINS class. But I ask you to remember that we operate submarines because Australia’s geo-strategic circumstances demand that we operate a balanced and capable maritime force as a central element of our national military strategy.

New Generation Navy - Why

The second point I want to make before addressing my paid theme is to draw your attention to the fact that some 6 days ago I launched a program called New Generation Navy. I believe it is essential if we are to prepare ourselves for the future, including the development and introduction into service of a new submarine capability.

I feel Navy needs to change to better serve the needs of our officers and sailors so we can grow the Navy of the future. We need to change to ensure we transition into our Raise, Train and Sustain role under the new integrated operational structure at JOC. Finally we need to change to align Navy to the structural changes that have occurred in how defence is organised.

New Generation Navy – What it is

So what is New Generation Navy all about? It has three pillars that will focus Navy on operating as a team to ensure we deliver capability in the most efficient and effective manner possible with a focus on making sure we do not place any undue stress on our people. These pillars are:

--Leadership and Values
--Cultural Reform, and
--Structural Reform

I intend to implement a Leadership and Values program – among other things this will involve improved mentoring and coaching for our people with a clear focus on developing a deep level of respect and concern for one another’s welfare to ensure we embrace diversity and operate in an atmosphere that is not only tolerant but actively supportive of one another.

The second element is cultural reform – by this I mean transitioning Navy from an operationally focussed culture to one that understands Navy’s new role as a raise train and sustain organisation. We need to put that 1000 mile screw driver away when we assign ships to CJOPS and we need to understand that sometimes sustaining our manpower means ships will not go to sea as the short term training value gained is not worth the damage it will cause to the sustainability of our workforce. As some of you are no doubt aware I have had RADM Rowan Moffitt conduct a submarine manpower study. Preliminary findings indicate to me that in the submarine community we need to start to look at organising around crews and not hulls. We will investigate the utility of multi crewing in submarines – rotating crews through operational hulls - I believe this can work and will potentially allow us to deliver a greater ‘on station’ capability more efficiently. Culturally this will represent a significant change, but it is one we must consider as we create the New Generation Navy.

That leaves structural reform. I don’t think Navy’s internal organisational structure matches the outputs we are required to deliver to the other parts of defence. I will be very carefully reviewing the roles of our various Force Element Groups and Headquarters and believe that once we map these to our required outputs we will see the need to make some significant changes.

Balanced Force Structure

So let me move back closer to the topic I was given - my perspective on submarines in Australia’s Maritime Defence 2025.

Earlier I stated I was an advocate of a balanced force structure – but balanced is not stagnant as some people like to paint it – we do and are responding to changes in our environment. However, strategically we cannot afford to develop a force structure such that it is so heavily weighted in one direction that its utility could be severely undermined if the future turns out to be somewhat different to our predictions. Of course we all know this is invariable the case – so we need to ensure the magnitude of difference between the force you need for the specific situation you are confronted with, and the force you actually have, is not so severe that you are unable to provide useful military options to Government. With a broadly balanced force structure we can generate combinations that allow me to provide coherent, flexible and if necessary graduated options to the CDF and Government across the full range of possible contingencies.

So what has this all to do with submarines? Well it means that submarines will be as important in the future as they are today. They will be a critical element of both Navy and the Australian Defence Force.

Probably at some personal danger to myself as I look out over this audience, I would like to put it to you that we have seen an informed debate about what submarines can do for you – the ‘strategic sting’ message so aptly described by the Submarine Institute. What is missing is how we are going to do all the things required of us as a professional medium power Navy that submarines can’t do because of the nature in which they operate.

Military operations, particularly those for which submarines are so well suited are not, and will never be, a zero risk undertaking. This should not lessen our resolve, this is the nature of war and to win a war we must be prepared to put ourselves in harms way. That is why we wear our nation’s uniform. But submarines, by themselves are not a silver bullet that will let the Government employ military forces without risk. So I ask you to take forward the thought that noting the uncertainty of the future strategic environment and given the range of contingencies Australia may face, we must ensure that we start with a broadly balanced force.

This is not an anti-submarine message, far from it, and I will state emphatically that submarines will continue to be in the core of the future RAN force structure.

They offer too much to let this capability wither as it did in the middle half of the last century. Indeed as you might expect I strongly support an increase in submarine numbers and believe we will solve the manning issues some believe would prevent us from realising an increased capability – the New Generation Navy program will help with this.

But I am not in favour of increasing submarine numbers if it is at the expense of a balanced force. Our surface ship numbers have declined and I think that the historical low of 12 frigates and destroyers today and 11 in the future is the absolute minimum we should fall to.

This should not be a tribal argument between surface ships and submarines – I also would argue strongly against reducing submarine numbers to return the surface ship fleet to the level of capability I believe would be ideal given their versatility across full span of maritime operations. Just like your budget at home, we will never have the money to own everything we think we need.

Choices need to be made and they must be made in the broadest possible context with a full understanding of what that means for the types of options we would be able to provide to Government across the full range of contingencies.

As Chief of Navy surface ships and submarines are not all that concerns me in delivering a broadly balanced force to ensure we can meet future Government expectations of its military. I am also conscious of the need to ensure we come to terms with the quantum increase in amphibious capability and restore Naval aviation to where it should be.

As this audience would appreciate I believe that we need to introduce the submarines nemesis, a dipping sonar helicopter, as soon as possible. Achieving this is a high priority for me.

SEA 1000 Capabilities

But to get back on topic - what do I think will characterise the submarine delivered by Project SEA 1000? Well let me start by saying that Warships and submarines take combat systems, sensors and weapons and people to sea. That is why we build the ships. Space, weight, power requirements and growth margins required for the combat system are critical in any submarine or other Warship design.

We need to have a close look at what we have learned from COLLINS class, the replacement combat system and heavy weight torpedo projects. We know that through our close association with the USN we have a very powerful and capable combat and weapons system that will evolve to meet future threats and embrace new technologies as they come along. It seems to me that one of our options would be to spiral off this for the next generation of submarines. I would go so far as to suggest that the future version of the US SSN combat system, weapons and I add possibly sensors to this equation, might form the pre integrated MOTS option we put to Government for what we all know is the highest risk element of projects such as this.

Once we have a decision on the combat system then many platform requirements will be known – including the physical space we need to mount sophisticated sonar arrays. I don’t have to tell this audience size is important if we are to obtain a capability edge in passive sonar detection capability.

Combine this with the reality of our vast geography, and therefore need for a longer range and endurance capability, and you can see we need a large submarine. Of course other nations that operate diesel electric boats don’t have this same geographical hurdle. As a consequence I see a MOTS hull presenting us with some significant challenges. But if we have de-risked the combat system by spiralling off the COLLINS, then designing an indigenous hull around this known quantity may be a reasonable undertaking.

So in my perfect scenario I see the future submarine force being one that has a technological edge by leveraging off the larger US research and development efforts including remote sensors. It has the capability to operate for prolonged periods at extended ranges from any support base with a crew large enough to ensure they can maintain combat alertness 24/7 throughout the patrol. We have the in-country support and training systems and common configuration across the fleet to operate these vessels via a multi-crewing concept.

This separate management of crew and hull will maximise the on station hull availability without having to needlessly burn the loyalty of our dedicated submariner community.

I thank you for your time, hope that my words have provoked some thoughts and look forward to your questions after Steve has spoken about today’s submarine force.


prev next

Breaking News from AFP See all

Press releases See all

Official reports See all