Shaping a Way Ahead for the Royal Australian Navy in a Deterrent Strategy


By Robbin Laird

Sydney, Australia

During my visit to Fleet Base East in Sydney, I had a chance to talk with Captain Leif Maxfield, Deputy Commodore Warfare in the Royal Australian Navy.

At Garden Island, two of the latest additions for the RAN can be seen, namely the new amphibious ships, and HMAS Adelaide was in port the day I was there along with HMAS Hobart, which I reported on during my last article.

Captain Maxfield has a strong background in working in the amphibious warfare area and on the strategic shift worked by Vice Admiral Barrett while working on his staff. Currently, he works as the Deputy Commodore Warfare for the RAN, and among other things, the office is in charge of the Maritime Warfare Center.

The Royal Australian Navy is adding new ships, such as the amphibious ships, the air warfare destroyer, new frigates and new submarines.  But at the heart of the rebuild of the RAN is a very clear focus on two key elements involving concepts of operations and working a manufacturing/sustainment “continuous shipbuilding dynamic.”

With regard to the first, the focus is upon air-sea integration and working multi-domain warfare within an integrated battlespace.  As Captain Maxfield put it: “We area focused on integrated warfare approaches. Our maritime warfare center and the air warfare center have established a joint steering group to guide both centers down this path.”

At the heart of the focus is upon joint task forces and how to work the maritime and air components into effective task force operational capabilities. “We are bringing innovations on the air side and the maritime side into an evolving joint task force approach.”

The focus of the maritime warfare branch is upon force generation.  “We are focused on shaping force training packages to be able to deliver the kind of joint warfighting capabilities we need.”

Another key element of the maritime warfare branch is engagement in multi-lateral training exercises, such as RIMPAC 2018, where they provide standing staffs to provide for the maritime warfare component for the Australian force engaged in the particular exercise.

With a close working relationship with the air warfare center, shaping a maritime joint warfare training approach and participation in key multi-lateral exercises, the focus is upon shaping a solid foundation or building blocks for the journey forward into a more effective joint warfare capability for the RANand the ADF.

According to Captain Maxfield, “we are thereby laying the key stepping stones to how we take us to where want to be in 10, 20 years’ time in shaping a truly joint, integrated force capable of seamlessly interacting and integrating with allies in the combined operational environment.”

The integrated warfare approach being pursued by the RAN is intended to be highly interactive with the shipbuilding approach being crafted to build out the new fleet for the RAN.

The Aussies refer to this as a “continuous shipbuilding approach” which Vice Admiral Barrett then the  Chief of Navy described in an interview I did with him last year.

We spoke last time about the Ship Zero concept.

This is how we are focusing upon shaping a 21st century support structure for the combat fleet.

I want the Systems Program Office, the Group that manages the ship, as well as the contracted services to work together on site.

I want the trainers there, as well, so that when we’re maintaining one part of the system at sea, it’s the same people in the same building maintaining those things that will allow us to make future decisions about obsolescence or training requirements, or to just manage today’s fleet.

I want these people sitting next to each other and learning together.

It’s a mindset.

It puts as much more effort into infrastructure design as it does into combat readiness, which is about numbers today.

You want to shape infrastructure that is all about availability of assets you need for mission success, and not just readiness in a numerical sense.

Getting the right infrastructure to generate fleet innovation on a sustained basis is what is crucial for mission success.

And when I speak of a continuous build process this is what I mean.

We will build new frigates in a new yard but it is not a fire and forget missile.

We need a sustained enterprise that will innovate through the life of those frigates operating in an integrated ADF force.

That is what I am looking for us to shape going forward.

The importance of getting the manufacturing/sustainment approach was highlighted by Captain Maxfield as a key element of the strategic shift to an effective joint warfighting strategy.  If you do not design your ships with flexibility and agility in mind for a long-term effective modernization approach which encompasses joint integration, the RAN will simply not be able to get where it wants to go.

As Captain Maxfield emphasized, “We need to make sure that the integrated design concept and approach is on the ground floor as we build our new ships. We have shaped a navy-government-industry working relationship that we envisage will deliver life-cycle innovation for the joint force, not simply a one off build of a new combat ship. We are building a consolidated industry and service approach to ensure that will give us the best possible chance of delivering integrated output.”

When I visited Portsmouth this Spring, a key focus for the planners working the roll out of the Queen Elizabeth was how to ensure the best ways to ensure that ship availability and aircraft availability would dovetail to deliver best deployed capability.  For the RAN, fast jets and MPA capabilities are provide by the RAAF, which means that one challenge will be to work closely with the RAAF to ensure that aircraft availability dovetails effectively with ship deployments.

This clearly is a work in progress but does highlight how cross-cutting availability of separate service assets need to be coordinated if there is to be a maximum joint capability which can be deployed in a crisis.

Clearly, the coming of the new LHDs in the RAN has been providing a window into that challenge, as an amphibious task force is a very flexible force, which requires coordinated consideration of air and maritime assets appropriate to a specific configuration for an amphibious task force.  And this learning process is a good lead into the evolving task force approach being built by the ADF.

As Captain Maxfield put it: “We are on a journey of discovery with regard to the focus on an integrated task force approach. With the new LHDs and the air warfare destroyer, we have two platforms that are key elements of shaping the approach and forging or way forward.  But it is a journey of discovery for sure.”

Captain Maxfield underscored the importance of what Rear Admiral Mayer, previously Commander of the Australian Fleet, emphasized during his tenure: “It is about the network.”

“To deliver deterrence in the evolving strategic context, we need to deliver an effective integrated force and that relies on secure and capable networks. In the last few years, we have shifted from being a single-ship Navy to becoming a task group-focused organization that is appreciating the imperatives of joint integrated war fighting and what the sustainability and availability of assets delivers to the force.”

Vice Admiral Barrett emphasized in the various interviews I have done with him as well as his book on the Navy and the nation, how critical a comprehensive effort from the workforce as well as the uniformed military was going to be to get the kind of Royal Australian Navy the nation needs to lay a solid foundation for a 21stcentury integrated forces.

As Captain Maxfield concluded: “The ability to deliver new platforms, to maintain those platforms, to sustain those platforms, to repair those platforms and keep ahead with cutting edge technology will rest on our ability to support the effort with our educational system, our industrial system and effective cross cutting learning fromthe fleet back to the yards as we move forward.”

Featured Photo shows ship’s company of HMAS Melbourne standing at attention as she passes HMAS Adelaide during her departure from Fleet Base East in Sydney, for Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2018.

May 28, 2018.

Australian Department of Defece