NAVY FOUNDATION DAY "CRESWELL ORATION"
104th. ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Address by Vice-Admiral Chris Ritchie AO RAN, Chief
of Navy, on 1st March 2005 - 104th. Anniversary
of the Australian Navy's Foundation Day (1st March 1901)
Vice Admiral Chris Ritchie AO RAN
you Elizabeth Sevoir for that kind introduction, and thank you
ladies and gentlemen for your interest in and dedication to matters
pertaining to the Royal Australian Navy.
It is an honour to be asked to give this address, noting that
we are celebrating 104 years of Australian naval history. I will
reflect on the past as requested but without apology I will use
much of my time to reflect on contemporary naval issues.
It is also quite an honour to be introduced by the grand-daughter
of Vice Admiral Sir William Creswell. I am the 27th officer to
command the Royal Australian Navy, and Vice Admiral Creswell was
the first. The officers who have served between us have had a
variety of titles, from Creswell's initial appointment as Director
of the Commonwealth Naval Forces from 1904 to 1911, and then the
First Naval Member of the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board
until 1919. Thereafter, command of the Royal Australian Navy entailed
being the First Naval Member of the Board and the Chief of Naval
Staff. After the abolition of the Board in the 1970s, the position
was known only as the Chief of Naval Staff, until the mid 1990s
when it changed again to be the Chief of Navy.
It seems to me that, sentiment aside, this is the most appropriate
title given the role of the position. I will come to that in a
short while. While the name of the position held by the person
with responsibility and authority for the command of the Royal
Australian Navy has changed over the past 100 or so years, a brief
look at some of the challenges Creswell faced in his time at the
top, reveals to me that some things have not changed at all.
However, before I move into that theme, I would like to begin
with some reflection on the four previous Creswell orations.
I note that previous speakers in exploring the early history of
our Navy have in one way or another sought to identify the "father
of the Navy'. Jim Dickson, Brian Gibbs and Raydon Gates selected
William Rooke Creswell, which is indeed as conventional wisdom
would have it. Peter Briggs on the other hand spoke of Jacky Fisher,
Alfred Deakin, Paymaster Manisty and engineer Clarkson. He took
an unconventional view- but then again he would wouldn't he because
he is a submariner.
Such different ways of tackling a problem have made our navy great!
It is my view that this difference of opinion is actually quite
instructive because it highlights the nature of successful large
and important institutions and organisations. That nature, is
that there is inevitably a dominant figure who assumes the identity
of the organisation and espouses its vision. That is his job,
that is why he is put in charge and that is perhaps what Creswell
did. But behind him there must be a veritable factory of talent,
making the bullets for him to fire and ,to be really successful,
political backing for the cause. One man bands are few and far
between and they do not sound so good.
Three of our orators have highlighted the leader, one has turned
the spotlight on the backroom boys. If you agree with this view
you might see the direct translation to today.
Of further interest to me is the way in which the achievements
of the Creswell team and his successors and their teams, allow
the Chief of Navy to work today. I have nowhere near the direct
authority over the things that make the Navy that Creswell had.
Other organisations acquire the ships and equipment and provide
for their maintenance and sustainment. Others house, feed and
clothe my sailors ashore. On operations our ships and aircraft
work to a joint commander. Nevertheless I am still the professional
head of the Navy, and I alone set the course for its future and
take the lead in communicating that vision.
I remain, importantly, the statutory head of the Navy. Without
the direct authority that Creswell had I can mould the Navy of
the future because the position is held in high esteem. It is
a different way of working that I know is often lamented by those
who long for the past. That it works is only because of the very
firm foundations laid in Creswell's time and built upon by all
those who have served since. But rest assured, it does work.
That was a bit of an aside but one that I would like the wider
community to understand.
To return to my earlier point, no matter where you sit in the
paternity debate, the Creswell orations have served to bring our
early history into sharper focus. They have reminded us of the
struggle that was necessary to bring the Navy into being and the
dramatic achievement that took place between 1907, when the argument
turned in Navy's favour, and1913 when the first Australian Fleet
entered Sydney Harbour.
I congratulate John Wilkins for his lead in instigating these
orations and would hope that over time they spread to a wider
I now intend to briefly cast my mind back to Creswell's time before
making some comparisons with the debates over the future shape
and role of the Navy today. Firstly, some background.
On 1 January 1901, the Governor General became the Commander in
Chief of Commonwealth naval and military forces pursuant to section
68 of the Commonwealth Constitution. The power to make laws for
the naval and military defence of Australia rested with Federal
Parliament under section 51(vi) of the Constitution. On 1 March
1901 the States transferred their forces to the Commonwealth,
the maritime arm of which became known as the Commonwealth Naval
Forces. The ships were old, the budget was small. Successive British
naval commanders provided an assurance that the Royal Navy could
be relied upon to provide maritime protection. Australia paid
a subsidy towards maintaining Royal Navy vessels based here and
left matters of maritime policy and strategy to the Admiralty
in London. Local interest was mainly focussed on port fortifications.
Creswell recognised that, while the prevailing wisdom about Australia's
defence emphasised land forces, an attack by sea or maritime interference
with Australia would be devastating. He famously noted in a 1902
parliamentary report that: "The spectacle of some 5,000,000
Australians, with an Army splendidly equipped, unable to prevent
the burning of a cargo of wool in sight of Sydney Heads, is only
the ordinary consequence of a policy of naval impotence".
What he was getting at was Australia's trade was worth £170 million
at the turn of the century - and it required transportation by
sea. These trade figures were greater than those of Spain, Portugal
or Japan, but from a country with a fraction of their population.
Creswell argued that any restriction to communications or seaborne
trade would result in economic and industrial paralysis.
For the first decade of Australia's federation, Creswell passionately
advocated the development of an Australian fleet. He was constantly
rebuffed until the end of 1907 when Prime Minister Alfred Deakin
announced a scheme to acquire some vessels for coastal defence.
The decision was supported by the new government of Deakin's successor,
The first ship built as a result was the River Class destroyer,
HMAS PARRAMATTA. She was launched on 9 February 1910 in Scotland
and was commissioned on 10 September 1910. As we all know, more
ships followed and by the outbreak of war in 1914 the RAN was
well positioned to achieve some early success in independent operations.
Looking back at the life and work of Vice Admiral Creswell, I
can well imagine the pains he had to go to in order to justify
the necessity for the Navy he saw as necessary to combat the threats
of the time. Since Creswell's time there have been other periods
of great debate when the nature of Navy's development has been
called into question.
In my time the carrier debate of the late 70s early 80s is the
best example. Last Friday was the 23rd anniversary of the Government
announcement to buy HMS INVINCIBLE to replace MELBOURNE. We all
know that that did not happen and as a result the nature and capability
of the Navy changed.
In the period 2000 to the present we have been through another
such debate - some of you may be unaware of that. The capability
discussions related to Navy have primarily focussed on the need
for and acquisition of large aviation capable amphibious ships
and very high capability Air Warfare destroyers, themselves large
ships. Government has decided firmly in favour of these capabilities.
Not to do so would deny Australia the guaranteed use of the sea
as the highway that it properly is. Instead it would become a
moat which some perhaps prefer. But yet the dissidents seem determined
to press their case and perhaps to weaken Government resolve.
Greg Sheridan, not, I hasten to add, one of those dissidents,
opined in the Australian last Thursday that the battle over the
shape of our Defence Forces is really a metaphor for the battle
over the future of Australia. "Are we strong, self confident,
willing to take care of ourselves and capable of making a contribution
globally" he asked, "or are we timid, frightened, inoffensive
stay at homes who pullulating timidly (as A D Hope put it) hope
that history will never knock on our door?"
After reaching for his dictionary to get to grips with pullulating
( breeding, multiplying) I am sure that Creswell would have had
some empathy with that statement.
To be more specific about the current debate, some of you may
have read a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald and The
Age questioning the acquisition of the three Air Warfare Destroyers
due to enter naval service from 2013. For those of you who may
not have read this article - and I hope that very few of you would
be greeted by a thick wad of press clippings on your desk every
morning - let me do a quick summary of the issues raised.
The article argued that the main reasons for acquiring the Air
Warfare Destroyers are because the Navy has had destroyers in
the past, and because big grey ships are an icon of national power.
It noted that a 6000 tonne ship is bigger and more complex than
anything the RAN has ever had before, so we are not genuinely
replacing the DDGs, the last of which was decommissioned in 2001.
It concluded by asserting that fighter aircraft provide a more
efficient and cost effective way of defending the fleet from air
Let me start by saying that I have no doubt that the Air Warfare
Destroyers are absolutely vital for the RAN's future fleet. As
the current custodian of Australia's naval assets and defences,
I have a responsibility to argue for the procurement of capabilities
which reduce the military risk for operations we cannot foresee
at this point.
As in Creswell's day, the budget is not unlimited. Accordingly,
close analysis is required to align the conceivable threats with
the most cost effective capability outcomes. To explain to you
why I believe that the Air Warfare Destroyers fulfil this requirement,
I would briefly like to outline what their role in our national
defence will be, and why this is so important.
Most of you will be well familiar with the concept of Sea Control
- the ability to gain and maintain freedom of action in an area
of the sea for one's own purposes, and if required, to deny the
use of this area to others. Sea Control today means not just the
sea, but the area below the surface, the airspace above, the electro-magnetic
spectrum, and nearby coastal land.
Recent Defence policy has focussed on the uncertain and unstable
global strategic environment, and the likelihood that Australia's
national interests could be affected by events far from our shores.
This has lead to a renewed emphasis on meeting trouble before
it reaches our shores. With this aim in mind, as an island nation,
Sea Control would be critical for all future ADF operations. Indeed,
the successful deployment of multi-national forces in East Timor
and the Solomon Islands would not have been possible without Sea
As the then Major General Peter Cosgrove said at the time,
"Another military blinding glimpse of the obvious is the utility
of sea power in the East Timor operation. The persuasive, intimidatory
or deterrent nature of major warships was not to me as the combined
joint force commander an incidental, nice to have 'add on' but
an important indicator of national and international resolve and
most reassuring to all of us who relied on sea lifelines".
The lessons learnt in these joint amphibious operations, together
with in depth experimentation and analysis, have lead to the development
of a very clear picture of the future circumstances in which Navy
will be required to exercise Sea Control. Navy must possess the
ability to lift, to lodge, to sustain and withdraw a Combined
Arms Battle Group consisting of an embarked force of about 2 000
personnel, wherever the Government needs to deploy it. Equally,
we must be able to independently protect that force in transit
and in theatre. Whilst it is disembarked, Navy provides the ability
to reduce the size of the footprint ashore by providing command
and control facilities and logistics support from the sea. The
Air Warfare Destroyers are the ideal platform to provide physical
protection for amphibious forces and to maintain the Sea Control
necessary to achieve these tasks; in the approaches to our continent,
in our immediate neighbourhood, or in contributions to alliance
operations further afield.
As I mentioned earlier, the recent criticism of the Air Warfare
Destroyers emphasised the role of fighter aircraft in providing
maritime air defence to operations. What this comment fails to
recognise is the complexity of area air defence due to a broad
range of environmental, geographic and threat circumstances which
make it difficult to rely solely on any one capability solution.
The Defence Capability Review, which clarified the government's
intentions with respect to long term defence acquisitions, was
a cohesive and holistic strategy for the future force structure
of the Australian Defence Force.
This list of the ADF's future major capital projects was developed
in a coordinated manner. As a result, the potential of the various
capability components of this package will be maximised by working
seamlessly and together. It is intended therefore that the Air
Warfare Destroyers would work closely with the Joint Strike Fighters,
the Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, the Over the
Horizon Radar, the Global Hawk and ground-based air defence systems.
A combination of these capabilities would provide a continuous,
comprehensive and layered air and missile defence umbrella for
a deployed force. I willingly acknowledge the fundamental role
that fighter aircraft play in air defence. Among other things,
they are extremely valuable for the outer layer of defence in
a maritime task group. However, we also need the ability to defend
against long-range cruise missiles launched from ashore, from
ships, from submarines or from aircraft and for this we need long
range air surveillance radars, long range missiles with C2 systems,
multi-channel fire control radar, and we need self-defence weapons
and counter measures systems.
These capabilities are inherent within deployed maritime forces.
Another inherent characteristic of maritime forces is our ability
to operate considerable distances from home. Depending on where
we are called to combat, fighter aircraft may not be available
if air bases are denied in the forward operating area. In the
absence of the necessary land-based infrastructure to support
fighters, the Air Warfare Destroyers would be able to provide
high level autonomous air defence for protracted periods. Even
where fighter aircraft are available to participate in a joint
force, limitations in countering multiple attacks again demonstrates
the problem with being singularly reliant on one solution.
Similarly, there is no guarantee that sufficient aircraft would
be available to provide the required level of protection - they
may be needed for other tasks. In such a case, the Air Warfare
Destroyers would enable surveillance aircraft to continue to operate
in the absence of fighter escorts due to their ability to safely
retreat to the protective umbrella of the ship's protection once
a threat is detected.
The other main criticism made of the Air Warfare Destroyers is
that they are bigger and more powerful than what they are replacing
- the DDGs and the FFGs. This is true, however this is a positive
which goes beyond that of pomp and pride. Their substantial size
will give them greater range, flexibility, endurance, sea keeping
qualities, survivability, adaptability to modification or upgrade
through life as new technology or threats emerge.
Furthermore, while our frigates have given us great service over
many years, ships of that size simply cannot provide the sustained
area air defence that we will require. The ANZAC Class frigates
fitted with the Evolved Sea Sparrow are capable of looking after
themselves and defending against threats in close proximity. However,
they do not provide an adequate area air defence umbrella that
will be able to protect our other high value assets - amphibious
ships, their aircraft and deployed forces.
Four of our FFGs are being upgraded with the SM-2 missile to fill
the existing air warfare capability gap to provide us with an
interim air warfare capability. However, even with this enhanced
capability, the FFGs are only able to engage two air targets simultaneously,
whereas many countries have the ability to program multiple missiles
which could arrive simultaneously and swamp the ship's defences.
In any case, these ships are aging - the first of the class, HMAS
ADELAIDE, was commissioned in 1980, and they must be replaced
Last year, the Minister for Defence announced that the Air Warfare
Destroyers would be fitted with a variant of the US Aegis air
warfare system. Not only will this increase our interoperability
with our closest allies, but it is the most sophisticated air
defence system yet produced. This means that the Air Warfare Destroyers
will be able to remain well beyond the range of most anti ship
missiles, yet be able to destroy hostile aircraft with no advanced
warning to those aircraft that they are being engaged.
The Minister has also discussed the possibility of upgrading the
Air Warfare Destroyers to the next generation of missiles, the
SM3, which may be used for Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence.
I don't wish to comment on this, but suffice to say that the Air
Warfare Destroyers will be serving Australia for at least three
decades after commissioning.
In order to remain an ongoing return for the investment we put
into them, we would definitely want them to be big and adaptable
enough to be able to be modified or upgraded in the future. Of
course, as we respond to changing strategic circumstances, we
may find it is necessary to upgrade our capabilities, and the
Air Warfare Destroyers will allow us to do so.
Despite the immense combat power located in the Air Warfare Destroyers,
their utility is not limited exclusively to warfighting - unlike
other forms of defence. Naval vessels are fundamentally flexible
in their use of force, and are able to rapidly change roles across
the conflict spectrum as the prevailing operational situation
From naval diplomacy to peacetime constabulary duties, to high
intensity operations and power projection, our ships have amazing
mission versatility. Through the force restructuring process,
I have consistently said that high intensity operations must remain
our basic force determinant.
By preparing for the most difficult of circumstances, any other
operation will be easy. Obviously the reverse does not apply.
The Chinese military theoretician Sun Tzu nearly two and a half
thousand years ago in his treatise on the Art of War said that
"Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance
The sheer power of the Air Warfare Destroyers may reduce the likelihood
of actual combat, which is surely an admirable aim in anyone's
There are other issues for debate.
The size of the amphibious ships has been challenged with the
notion that three smaller ships are better than two large ships.
I can tell you that the size is dictated by two issues.
The task be done and the resources available.
The task is to lift 2000 men and their vehicles and equipment
and to land them simultaneously in company strength by helicopter.
This dictates in turn the size of the deck and the number of aircraft.
Three smaller ships than those we propose cannot achieve this.
On the issue of resources, three ships of say 13000 tons are 30%
more expensive to buy, man and sustain than two of 20000 tons
- and far less capable.
The final point of debate is far healthier for Navy. It is about
where the ships will be built and who will build them. I am sure
my concerns here are akin to those of the men who advised Creswell.
I am interested in the continuation of a strong, viable ship repair,
maintenance and modification capability in this country on both
east and west coasts. Any solution that contributes to those goals
is fine by me.
There is one final point I wish to make that has the potential
to be divisive, particularly amongst the more traditionally minded.
We will find in the next ten years or so that people will be harder
to come by than ships.
We will find that our ships can stay at sea far longer than we
can reasonably expect our people to.
We will find that traditional shoreside employment for many, particularly
the more junior is disappearing as we commercialise all forms
of shore support.
The notions of one ship one company and of the sea shore roster
will have to disappear if we are to give guaranteed respite, geographic
stability, job satisfaction and some social certainty to our people.
Multiple crewing concepts whereby a ship can be served by more
than one crew will be progressively introduced. We may end up
with a potentially numerically smaller Navy in terms of people,
but one that has a much larger seagoing footprint from the same
number of ships.
Many of our people will have primarily seagoing careers and they
will be rewarded accordingly. This is a cultural change that we
must make. In conclusion. This address has differed from its predecessors
in that I have shifted the emphasis from the difficulties encountered
in the Navy's early years to the very similar concerns we may
face as we seek to position Navy for the future defence of this
great, maritime nation.
I hope I have been able to give you some insight into the issues
as I perceive them. Perhaps the fact that I see similar threats
ahead in the barbs and arrows of our detractors says that we have
not come too far in our national understanding of the importance
of the sea to Australia.
That is probably a good subject for another series of lectures.
Whatever the truth I again commend those responsible for reminding
us of our debt to our naval forefathers and just as importantly,
our duty to keep the nation engaged in its maritime defence. We
must be vigilant in seeking to ensure that Australia avoids in
"the ordinary consequence of a policy of naval impotence".