Vice Admiral (Retired) Tim Barrett Looks Back at the Royal Australian Navy’s Seapower Conference 2019: Shaping a Way Ahead for the RAN


By Robbin Laird

It is always a pleasure to sit down and talk with Vice Admiral (Retired) Tim Barrett.  I learn a lot and have a chance to clarify and crystalize what I am learning about the evolution of the Navy and the ADF going forward.

This time we met in Canberra after the Seapower Conference which had been held in Sydney and before the Williams Foundation Conference on Fifth Generation Maneuver.

Question: What were the most positive developments which emerged from the Seapower conference from your point of view?

Vice Admiral (Retired) Barrett: The discussions at the Conference and the capabilities highlighted in the exhibitions underscored the recognition of the reality of our shipbuilding plan.

“And along with that plan, the importance of building in a sustainable fleet.

Laird Comment: That is why perhaps it might be called a “continuous shipbuilding and sustainment approach” rather than just a “continuous shipbuilding approach.”

Vice Admiral (Retired) Barrett: That makes sense, and even more so when you expand the lens of what sustainability is for the Australian nation.

“It is about safe and secure maritime trade as well underwritten in part by our seapower and those of our allies.

“My involvement with the Maritime Industry Australia Limited has been focused on the need to have a broader understanding that a more viable Maritime Industry is part of a sustained navy capability.

“It is a national endeavor, not just a purely commercial and legal effort by industry and the workforce in the civil maritime sector.

“In other words, the Conference provided an opportunity to broaden the discussion about the role of seapower to focus on building a new fleet, how to sustain it, and integral to that, how we can provide as a nation a more secure maritime environment for our society’s needs.

“In effect, we were able to focus on the broader maritime endeavor, rather than just the recapitalization of the combat fleet.

“And we need a broader understanding of the need for greater resilience in our industry and to be able to shape a more secure society.

“Norway is an example of note.  They have leveraged their energy resources as a way to build out their society. And having had that experience as a nation, they now are committed to defending their way of life against dangers posed by their near neighbors.

“It is about total defence for the Norwegians which they understand is a whole of society challenge, not a job simply outsourced to the professional military.

“To some degree, that has to happen in Australia.

“It’s not here yet.

“The shipbuilding plan is one small element, but it can provide a catalyst to try and drive national consciousness to embrace the wider concept of defence and security.

Question: Let us focus on the shipbuilding approach which Australia is shaping for its way ahead.

Clearly, the Navy is separating the decisions about hulls from the nature of the infrastructure on the ships themselves.

How do you see this as a key part of shaping your way ahead?

Vice Admiral (Retired) Barrett: This means that we can go into the global marketplace and find the most appropriate partner to build a 21st century ship, understood as robust, viable, and modular in terms of what we want to put on it.

“Since we are focused on building a navy which can contribute to an integrated force, not simply an integrated navy, we are focused on having systems and weapons on our ships which are upgradeable and modernizable over the long haul.

“Using your turn of phrase, if we are focused on a continuous shipbuilding and sustainment process, that includes the ability to have a workforce and an acquisition process which allows for modernization over time of the systems onboard our ships.

“It also allows us to look at the exportability of Australian systems which operate onboard those platforms. We might well have exportability from our Offshore Patrol vessel class.

“But a broader consideration is working with allies as we hone our skills and generate demonstrable combat capabilities onboard our ships, and leverage that to a broader consideration of the exportability of Australian products and know-how.”

The featured photo was taken during an event to honor the French Chief of Navy while he was in Australia during the Seapower conference.

From left, Rear Admiral Greg Sammut AO, Vice Admiral Mike Noonan Christophe Prazuck and Vice Admiral Tim Barrett (retd.) at the investiture ceremony inducting Admiral Prazuck as an Officer of the Order of Australia.