30 October 2023
An Australian maritime strategy: resourcing the Royal Australian Navy
Australia is a maritime nation. The sheer scale of our sovereign maritime territory and responsibilities, our dependence on maritime trade for our prosperity and the increasing value of activity in the maritime environment must all be recognised in our maritime strategy. In a highly interconnected world, we face fundamental vulnerabilities from the realities of our geostrategic situation. In this report, the author argues that the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) lacks the resources to adequately protect Australia’s vast maritime interests. This concern isn’t unique to our time: maritime strategists have long lamented that, despite being uniquely an island, a continent and a nation, Australia struggles to understand the central importance of a maritime strategy to our defence and security. The underappreciation of Australia’s dependence on the maritime domain and that domain’s significance for the nation’s prosperity and security has consistently produced a RAN that’s overlooked and under-resourced.
In this report, the author examines whether the bipartisan thesis of a structural change in our strategic circumstances, as articulated in the 2023 Defence Strategic Review (DSR), also requires a structural change and an expansion of the RAN. The author argues that both are needed, through both an increased surface-combatant fleet that’s designed on the principle of a balanced fleet and a review of the RAN’s structure. Such a structural review should include consideration of bold changes, including reconsideration of a fleet auxiliary, a coastguard or forward basing of assets to support the workforce requirements of an expanded fleet.
This report looks mainly at the structure of the surface-combatant fleet, noting the recent finalisation of the surface-combatant fleet review. In the light of the Australian Government’s consideration of that review’s recommendations, the report makes eight recommendations for government consideration.
The author also argues that the status quo of 11–12 major surface combatants is insufficient for Australia. That was the case even when the force was structured around the concept of Australia having 10 years warning time of military conflict. That problem has become more acute today, given the new era of strategic competition and the capability and size of our potential adversaries, in particular China, as recognised in the DSR. The report recommends that a major surface-combatant fleet structure of 16–20 ships is needed.